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Fake smiles are real smiles: a more complicated view of authenticity

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
Fake smiles are real smiles: a more complicated view of authenticity
Photo by Fakhri Labib / Unsplash

What people usually call a fake smile is a deliberate smile rather than a spontaneous one. I just... so strongly dispute the idea that deliberate communication is less real than instant reaction.

If you're genuinely trying to communicate friendliness and warmth by making a mouth shape, that's a real smile, even if you had to force it and you're not smizing. For example! You're jealous of someone who's perfectly lovely and does not deserve your cold shoulder and so you really want to be nice to them but you can't summon it because you still have some weird feelings to process. Real smile! You're not trying to manipulate them, you're just trying to get your face to communicate your true intent, which is kindness.

I hate the idea that your first initial reaction to something is somehow more the real you than the reaction that comes after a lot of thought. Your first emotional reaction is your dumb animal brain, and it can give you incredibly important info, but it's not somehow true-er than all your collected knowledge and experience that lets you take a few deep breaths and not scream at a waitress.

Or jesus if you've ever grinned when someone tells you truly terrible news because your mouth has broken, what the fuck is that, some weird nervous laughter thing, totally spontaneous and not controlled, is THAT a genuine smile?? I do not think so, it is not conveying your intended message.

This article is kinda related - your facial expressions are more an indication of social intent than internal experience, even when you don't deliberately choose them. It makes sense: you laugh way more when you watch a comedy with someone else than when you watch it at home alone, but it's not like you feel at all like you're performatively fake laughing around others. Even if you were, that's probably less annoying than saying "that's funny" every few seconds, and it communicates the same message, which is all that matters.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #46 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

Unsolicited AdviceEQ & Interpersonal


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