Why do so many young men make the same vague face in all their selfies? Why do they all raise their eyebrows and tighten their lips like office workers greeting each other on a Tuesday? What are they hiding? What are they feeling? Vox asked a handful of them, and got some excellent self-deprecating answers.
Selfie-taker Max Levitzke, for example, says:
The raised eyebrows signal, “Oh, wow, you caught me off guard! Ha! Oh, a photo of me?” which deep down is a way for the subject to justify the fact that they’re taking a selfie. The smirk is like, “I’m too cool for school but I’ll still take this selfie because hey, I’m a fun guy.”
All the answers vary on a theme: Men feel embarrassed that they’re taking a selfie, and they pick the face that minimises that embarrassment. But if you’ve ever spent time with someone who’s trying to hide their imperfections, you’ve noticed that it just draws your attention. A man trying to look “respectable” in a selfie looks more embarrassing than one who’s just going for it.
To be fair to them, men do get punished for making certain faces. This comes absolutely nowhere near the punishment women receive for their expressions — most men have never been asked to “smile more” by a stranger, or accused of “resting bitch face”, or been called an ugly bitch because they refused someone’s advances on Tinder — but it is true that men are often mocked for daring to open their mouths in pictures. Right-wing detractors call it the “nu-male smile” and claim it’s a sign of an un-masculine “soy boy”.
Again, this is nothing next to what women face, so toughen up, guys. But also remember that the people calling you “soy boy” are wannabe Nazis who know no pleasure. Their hero is Jordan Peterson, a forgettable bigoted professor who thinks that posing with a frown will make him look smart.
I’m not saying you should do the open-mouthed smile, though hey, at least it’s something. Try a normal-arse toothy smile, or really lean into the smirk, or look very doubtful, or hopeful, or beatific. Just try an expression that isn’t an apology for catching yourself on camera.
Experiment and loosen up. Take a “silly one”. Make an ugly face. These pictures are free. And the wider variety of face you put out there on Snapchat or Instagram or Twitter or Tinder, the less any one pic can ruin someone’s impression of you. Like, one creepy Norman Bates face isn’t so creepy when it’s surrounded by your goofy and thoughtful and serious and handsome faces.
These expressions might still be jokey and defensively ironic, but they have some meaning other than “I’m sorry I’m taking a selfie”. And the more you take them, the more you can get used to selfies until you no longer feel bad.
Selfies are not shameful. Everyone likes faces. Your friends want to see yours. Play to them, not to the imagined (or real) strangers bored enough to make fun of your face on the internet.
Or just don’t post selfies, that is also fine! Or just keep making that one face, if that’s what your comfortable with, but know what you’re missing out on. I guess what I’m saying is, hey men… you look prettier when you smile.