I thought that I had created a fictional character with Poker Face Polly when I wrote The Diary of a Wrinkle, until I came across a little blurb about a real person who has not smiled in 40 years in order to avoid lines on her face. I promise you that I have not made this up.
Ms. Christian is 50; however, since age 10 she’s avoided smiling on purpose. She didn’t smile during her wedding or after giving birth to her child, although she promises that she absolutely loves life! That’s the type of statement that immediately raises a few questions in my mind, one of which has to do with the idea that her wrinkle-free face is solely the result of her refusal to smile, when in reality it’s probably her refusal to make any other natural expression in order to achieve this ‘fantastic feat.’ Does this mean that she’s never cried, felt angry, raised her voice, felt confused or undecided, or looked hopeful, eager or just plain happy? All part and parcel of emotions we feel daily and, naturally, the gestures that we emote on our face? For some bizarre reason, not one article that covered this ridiculous story dealt with this particular point, focusing on the smile issue instead. But there’s so much more to discuss.
Apparently the nuns at Catholic school helped ingrain the idea in her mind, when they would tell her to wipe the smile off her face she learned how to smirk instead. She takes pride in the fact that people always think that she’s had Botox treatment, because there’s not one single line on her face, and it’s all-natural. Is it though?
I’ve spent years writing about wrinkles, all in my attempt to help women accept themselves at any age, regardless of any silly line that appears on their face, and in the process I’ve read and learned about so many different treatments that women do in order to look ageless. But I must admit that the type of dedication that this particular woman has shown, in her effort to preserve her youthful appearance, completely baffles me. She’s learned how to control her facial muscles so that she never smiles. Though she gives plenty of examples to prove what a fun person she is, and how much her friends enjoy her company, and find her engaging albeit without a smile. Even her ex-husband was not particularly concerned with the smile thing. She admits that it took a while to perfect and learn how to control her facial muscles by holding them rigid, but sometimes the corners of her mouth still turn up, just a little, but she’s never looked anything more than faintly amused by something.
We’re all vain to some degree, but this takes vanity to a whole new level, I think. At the end of the day her concerns about wrinkles are no different to others who hate them just as much but use Botox or whatever else to get rid of them. So why go to that kind of extreme? She can give me a whole bunch of other examples of how ‘normal’ her life is, but her actions speak otherwise. As long as she’s consciously thinking about not smiling or laughing or showing any other emotion on her face, she’s always thinking about her vanity. The irony here is that she’s proud of having naturally smooth skin, but it does not seem to bother her that her behavior has not been natural at all.
If the focus here is on smiling, well, I can’t think of a day that I have not laughed about something, and how good it feels to laugh or what an infectious laugh my son has, and how much fun we have making up jokes and laughing together. Science has proven that laughter triggers many healthy physical changes in our body. It’s a powerful antidote for things like pain or stress. Laughter relaxes the body, boosts the immune system, and it triggers the release of endorphins—making us feel good about things, at least for a while anyway. Who hasn’t fallen for that person with a killer smile? A beautiful smile or a fun laugh will immediate connect you to others.
A few years ago I wrote a post about the evolution of our facial muscles, and how we use them as an extra tool to better communicate our feelings. Our ability to express from the face is so fundamental; it’s also part of what makes us attractive to others—that we can move our muscles to evoke certain moods and feelings. So by erasing that quality from the face, how well do these people really connect or communicate with others?
Also, when I look at this woman’s photo, I don’t see an image of a young person per se’, the fact that she has no wrinkles does not make her look younger. She may not have smiled for 40 years, but there are other factors that play a part in the aging of our skin, like the loss of collagen and elastin that naturally occurs at a certain age, no matter what. These proteins give the skin that much-desired elasticity that we all strive to maintain for as long as possible. The reality, however, is that as we grow older we produce less of these proteins; our skin becomes less oily and looks much drier and fragile. Our lifestyle of course, is also a mitigating factor in our aging process. Things like smoking, overexposure to ultraviolet light, and yes, repeated facial expressions—all contributors to a wrinkly looking face. But the bottom line here is that even if you avoid all of the above wrinkle-making-instigators, still, there will be other factors that make you look older.
When I look in the mirror these days, I do see wrinkles, I certainly don’t see the image of the person I was twenty years ago, or even ten years ago for that matter. However, I’m not particularly bothered by it either. I’ve laughed plenty and I smile daily, among other necessary facial expressions—I’ve found myself in trouble before when a crazy movie-goer decided to heckle me mid-movie because my laughter bothered him. One of the channels on my Sirius radio is always tuned into a comedy station, and another into radio classics where I can find old radio skits performed by George Burns and Gracie Allen, to name a few comedic greats whose humor brightens my day. I realize that sometimes when I’m laughing at a joke, there’s someone in another car who probably thinks I’m a complete lunatic. When I used to teach I loved making my students laugh; I try to incorporate my sense of humor into things that I write, hoping to generate laughter or at least a pleasant smile from others. I can’t imagine waking up my son in the morning without a smile, or not wincing when my husband tells another one of his corny jokes that I’ve already heard a hundred times. Without sounding too clichéd, I have to say that laughter is an important component of my everyday life, and I have all these fun memories plus the lines on my forehead to prove it, while Ms. Christian has flawless skin, and I bet none of the above.