What’s Your Default Face?

This is the face I’d like to present to the world. This is my Facebook profile picture. This is the picture I submitted to the New York Times.

This is probably the face that most people see.

The latter is what I call my “default face”. I don’t see this face often, but I am sure people around me have seen it plenty.

Knowing your own default face is a difficult, if not impossible, task. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle is certainly at work here. You can only see it if you are not looking for it.

I discovered mine through serendipity. A few years ago, I saw a face reflected in a subway train window. The thought — “she looks kinda familiar, but why so serious?” — flashed across my mind before I realized that I was the face in the reflection. I looked so different than how I looked in pictures. I looked so severe, so uninviting, so ugly…

Ever since then, I started noticing other people’s default faces. Everyone has his or her default face. They can often be found in waiting rooms, subway cars and sidewalks. They show their face (no pun intended) when the person is alone, relatively relaxed, not self-aware, not engaged in any expressive activities like talking or emotive activities like thinking deep thoughts. The person is not communicating with the outside world, yet his default face nonetheless can exhibit (or elicit) certain emotions. Some default faces look bored, while others look confused. Some look silly, while others look grumpy. Some look kind, while others, like mine, are off-putting.

Everyone wants to put his or her best foot (or face) forward. We spend lots of energy on make up, clothes and professional photography. Yet all these efforts can be sabotaged by the default face.

I want to be approachable and I think I am, but my default face often unintentionally gives the opposite vibe. It has been the bane of my social life. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to overcome this is to smile more (Duchenne or not), much to my dismay.

Why the dismay? I hate smiling. Despite articles like this extolling the virtue of smiling — how smiles can induce happiness — I resisted extraneous smiling before now. I thought people who smiled all the time were fake and many looked stupid. Well, I am hoping to join the legion of silly smiley people soon.

I am not going to smile because I think it will release some endorphins (though I won’t mind). I am going to smile more because I want to reveal the self that I want the world to see, my real self.

UPDATE: My husband said that the picture of my “default face” above is not representative — too much on the unflattering side. “Why flatter a picture that was suppose to be unflattering?” I asked him, but of course I was secretly happy to hear that my default face wasn’t as bad. Then I got suspicious knowing my husband’s tendency to flatter me (yes, he is a sweetheart). So I made him prove it. Here is the picture he took in an attempt to capture my more representative default face while I was watching TV. I gotta do something with my upside-down mouth.

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