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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
did smiles become all about teeth? Bright white, perfectly straight
did flashing teeth mean personality? There's far too much of the show
biz about 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.
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
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
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