The Strength to Find Your True Smile
She paints it on, her ruby red lips stretching as though they’re going to crack. Inside, a formidable storm circles and bubbles, but she has to suppress it. She can’t let it surface. She can’t let it ruin the perfect smile, the eloquently highlighted grin that reassures the world she’s fine, she’s great, she’s happy.
Because to show anything but the smile would be disastrous, especially in a world that shuns unhappiness. She must wear the face, play the part, and be thankful and gracious. She must smile.
Day after day, the red-lip façade carries on. Day after day, the storm brews a little more, threatening to usurp her. It simmers with feelings of anxiety, loss, and a lack of self-identity. It swarms her, making her feel heavy and exhausted. It’s hard working up the courage to wear a smile in the middle of an earth-shattering eruption. It’s hard to cover those feelings.
But smile she does because smile she must. She’s learned from childhood what it means to be a “good woman.” It means being thankful even when you’re frustrated or disappointed. It means being gracious and kind, sugary sweet words always dripping from your lips even in the face of injustice. It means carrying on when you’re weary in your bones and in your heart. It means doing more and complaining less. It means putting others first.
Most of all, it means you smile, even when you don’t feel like it.
So she smiles. I smile. We all smile.
Strong Women Don't Always Smile
But what good is this smile? What purpose is it serving? Certainly being appreciative and being kind are noble pursuits. However, does this mean that a fake smile trumps genuine feeling? Does it mean we must suppress our true desires, fears, anguish, and confusion just so the world can see the mask we wear? Is a smile really what we value in ourselves and in other women?
Instead of teaching our girls to grow up to be kind, smiling women, maybe our focus should shift. We should focus on teaching our girls to be appreciative and kind. We should teach our girls to be gracious and thankful. But we should also teach our girls that sometimes, life is hard. Sometimes, you don’t feel thankful or fulfilled. You don’t feel happy or appreciative. Sometimes you will feel walked on, underappreciated, lost, and confused.
In these moments, painting a fake smile on is not a necessity or requirement. In moments of struggle, it’s okay to show it. It’s okay to not be the smiling, strong woman who can take on the world every second of life. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to frown. It’s okay to stand up for yourself.
Smiling is a beautiful thing when it comes from a place of truth. But to be a strong woman is not to smile at everything in life. To be a strong woman is to be genuine. It’s to feel what you feel when you feel it. It’s to look past social expectations to find the real you, the true you, and to let yourself feel every part of what that looks like, smile or not.
So for you, I hope for many days of genuine smiles. However, I also hope that on days you don’t feel like smiling…you don’t. I hope you have the confidence to own your emotions. I hope you have good friends and family to lean on, who don’t expect the ruby red grin when you don’t mean it. I hope you have a support system strong enough to hold you up when you just can’t bear to smile anymore.
I hope you find your people, the people who can bring back a real smile to your face even when you don’t think it’s possible.
Above all, I hope you find the courage to go after what makes you genuinely smile and never force yourself to fall in love with a life that requires the art of fake smiling.