It's My Face

I'm in a journaling group. One of the prompts was to write about your physical body. I was prepared to stretch boundaries and discover things. I never made it, though. I came to a screeching halt at my face. I've been journaling about it for days. There's a lot to say.

There's a popular term called Resting Bitch Face or Bitchy Resting Face. I have to admit I lost my mind laughing when I heard it years ago. I totally have that.

I own it.

But I like to call it Stoic Russian Mennonite Face. Half of my ancestors were Russian Mennonites. You know why they had those faces? They had been kicked out of country after country because they were pacifists. They believed people should be able to choose baptism for themselves after a certain age and that church and state should be separate. At the time, rulers were aligned with religions that baptized infants. My ancestors were a threat to social stability. Mennonites and the like were seen as radical and dangerous.

Every few decades, they'd settle in a country, work the land, contribute medical service or other labor in place of going to war. Eventually, the governments of the day would take their developed land, change the rules and say fight or leave. Most would move on, newly destitute. Others would stay and be sent to work camps or killed.

They led simple lives and believed that simplicity, toughness, and self-reliance made them better people. Imagine a Mama who just gave birth to her tenth child and is filling the outdoor oven with fuel by hand to get the fire to just the right temperature and bake bread for her family. She'll scrape the burnt part of the bread and make coffee from the scrapings. Bitchy. Resting. Face. 

Compared to that upheaval and diaspora, my life is cake. I still have "stuff'" though. I'm getting older. The laugh lines are mixed up with the stress cracks in my forehead. I have a zillion things going on in my head at once. Sometimes that's because of mania, but most of the time, it's due to motherhood and being a writer. 

Thinking about if my son has pink eye, scraping peanut butter out of the nearly empty jar, having a spark of an idea for a novel, and listening to my daughter tell me about her day all at the same time looks like hostile anger on my face. I can't help it. 

After days of writing about my hangups with my face, the most important discovery I made was that it's one more arena where I don't have control. It's one more chance to practice getting my respect from me, and me only. I can't control how people see me. I have to remember that I'm whole and I understand me, and I don't need other people to do that for me.

I've been labeled a snob, spacy, cranky, aloof, stuck-up (my perennial favorite), and bitchy because of my facial expressions. Oh well. I can't be me and contort my face to other people's liking. 

I also have no control of a culture that celebrates pleasing, demure women. I am that person sometimes and I recognize when it works in my favor. Other times, I let the gray grow out and eschew makeup. I yell at my kids in public (when it's absolutely necessary) and I see people scurrying away. 

I even kinda like it. I put on a large flowery mental housedress, cross my arms and flex my peasant-born man-back. I curl my top lip enough to look unapproachable and think, "Ya, this is my face." It's the best way to fully accept the shadowy parts of my nature and that feels fantastic.

Because this post wouldn't be complete without photos:


This is one of my great-great grandmothers. She had 3 husbands and 13 children. 
Isn't she pleasing and demure? 

(Not a Russian Mennonite, but every picture I have of her contains a Bible. 
Her son and grandson would go on to become outspoken evangelists in the South.)

2 comments:

  1. Everyone has a story, and not all of those stories are happy ones. Wouldn't it be nice if we could look at one another with eyes of compassion and perhaps curiosity, rather than labeling someone with "resting bitch face" because of their features or expression? It sounds like a joke, but really it's a judgement of disapproval. I do like the way you've related it to your heritage, and that you can embrace it as a positive expression of at least part of who you are. As always, I enjoyed your writing!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! It does sound like a joke, but it really makes a person feel like they're supposed to be and look happy all the time when that's not realistic. We value toughness in our pioneer ancestors. Maybe my great-great grandchildren will see my pictures and think, "Granny embraced her dark side. Excellent."

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I would love to hear what you think!