Thursday, 11 May 2017


Mona Lisa and I share a feature: the close-lipped smile, although I think you can tell when I'm really happy or really glum, but possibly not when I'm neither, when I don't really feel like smiling in either direction, with the corners very obviously turned up or down like a circus clown's painted lips.
Sometimes, even I'm not sure any more when I wear a smile in company if I mean it or not. Of course, a real up-curling of lips occurs naturally and touches other noticeable facial features: the eyes, the cheeks etcetera, and does feel, as your muscles perform it, to have more spontaneity, whereas others half-pulled have half that feeling. A polite half-smile that stops halfway and could, at times, be described as cold. A cloud has passed across the face, the warmth of the sun gone with it.
The close-lipped smile is not a new thing, done consciously due to false modesty or embarrassment, I've naturally always smiled that way; smiling like a crocodile would be most unnatural, and yet, it seems by not doing so I don't convey 'happy' as expected, which sometimes leads to strangers telling me to smile more and so I try harder. Try to exaggerate it as much as naturally possibly: still close-lipped but wider, my cheeks lifted higher like ripe, not-yet-picked apples until it reaches my small eyes and also pushes them wide, but then falls away quickly when released, my face suddenly flat, somewhat deflated as if both my cheeks have been slapped, instead of slowly fading till my features resume their accustomed plainness.
Smiling to a set criteria, or semblance of, is exhausting, like exercising muscles because you know you should and not because you want to. And I'm not sure it's convincing anyway, either to my internal self or to the people it's outwardly directed at. Is there a placebo effect for disingenuous smiles? Well, it works for laughter, the belly-laughing kind...supposedly. Although it is true that witnessing someone else's belly-shaking convulsions can provoke a fit of the giggles, even if you don't know exactly what the amusement is or even if you personally find it funny. Smiles too are returned by automatic reflex, yet, in my inexpert opinion, the spread effect seems, and feels to me, different, particularly if you're smiling back at a person before you rather than a still picture.
Then there are times you genuinely smile so hard you feel your face might crack as if it were as fragile as a china doll's, but still, even in instances like that the guarded smile is seen as just that: guarded.
When did smiles become all about teeth? Bright white, perfectly straight ones.
When did flashing teeth mean personality? There's far too much of the show biz about it.
Is it any wonder that people have smile hang-ups, willing to hand over hard-earned or loaned cash to correct imperfectly aligned, off-white teeth that in spite of these perceived flaws do what they're designed to do? Bite and chew food etcetera. Again, functionality is pushed aside for aesthetic reasons.
The cynical amongst you might say that perhaps that's the precise nature of the Mona Lisa smile: the concealment of crooked, discoloured teeth, which I suppose in that age was more than likely, and yet if it was I doubt she would have been mindful of it, enough to remain close-lipped, since others too would have had worse or similar. Although Da Vinci, I suppose, might have favoured an understated smile, preferred to give the eyes and mouth the look of possessing a long-kept secret.
Alternatively, perhaps people just smiled like that back then, as I do now, and to do so open-mouthed would mean something quite different, something threatening even. Baring teeth as if to fight as a snarling dog might do.
Have I given this too much thought? Probably, but only because I'm perplexed as to how a pencil-drawn smile can arouse people's suspicions.

Picture credit: Advanced Diagnostic Techniques, Barry Kite