Memed, laughed at, and dropped in conversation for the past few years, RBF has taken on new life as the public, including scientists, have jumped into the mix. RBF: Resting B*tch Face (alternatively known as “b*tchy resting face” which came from a parody Public Service Announcement in 2013.) is a “condition” of looking angry, bothered, or irritated when one’s face is at rest.
In August 2015, The New York Times published an article called, “I’m Not Mad. That’s Just My RBF” in which they explored the sexist implications of the term. Women, in general, are expected to smile more than men, so they are the ones — beginning with celebrities — most quickly pegged with RBF and, often, assumed to be bitches in general. Just last February, The Washington Post published an article “Scientists have discovered what causes resting bitch face” discussing behavioral researchers Macbeth and Rogers’s latest findings. These scientists implemented a sophisticated tool called FaceReader to analyze the expressions of hundreds of photographed faces. RBF was identified in the faces that showed traces of contempt. Their findings also state that Kanye is not actually the only man to “suffer from” RBF, but that women and men exhibit it equally. Culturally, unfortunately, the term continues still to be used primarily for women.
I have had my fair share of laughs about RBF. I guffawed to discover its being discussed seriously and have cracked plenty of RBF jokes, myself. The whole phenomenon, though, has also given me pause. RBF may be genetic, the absence of botox, the sag of aging, but what it’s most made me think about is who we actually are when we’re at rest.
Socially, we can name when we’re a “b*tch face” — it sounds funny and can be comically accurate. There are other states, just as real and accurate though, that we would never say out loud. Few of us would claim being “resting sad heart” or “resting in-dread,” “resting self loathing” or “resting bored of life.” These terms tend to kick up a sense of pity and a quick distancing from others, even from ourselves. They are mildly (to severely) embarrassing.
Maybe this is why so few of us rest. At rest, we meet our faces.
Perhaps in this way, RBF is doing us a favor, reminding us that there are parts of us that surface between our efforts to meet people’s eyes, to laugh over lunch, to smile confidently during a presentation. There are parts of us waiting to be named.