Smile, the Photographer Said

"Smile," the photographer kept directing me.

"I am," I kept replying.

"Look at the girls and smile."

"I am. How could I not be smiling?"

On the way home, our five-year-old foster daughter asked why Daddy can't smile. I smiled. Or so I thought.

My wife finally explained, "If Daddy can't see his face, his brain thinks he's smiling but he isn't. He has to really work at it. It's called paralysis. The doctor broke Daddy, remember?"

And in that moment, I had a flashback to an annual review meeting when a department chair said I didn't smile or seem happy and probably wasn't a good fit within the program. It was the start of a very rapid decline at that job.

Everything I hate about being judged by social skills.

My voice, my facial expressions, my gestures… so many things I try to control yet fail to control properly.

When we tell autistics or other disabled people they need to "Be happy! Smile! Relax!" these are no better than telling a woman she should smile and be pretty. It is insulting to tell anyone to smile and adopt the excepted social face.

I do want to smile. I believe I am smiling. Yet, I often need a mirror or screen or at least some guidance to smile more obviously.

Forcing a smile or a range of vocal tones seems fake. It bothers people even more than my lack of a smile. No good solution exists. I either bother people because I am too serious or I bother them because I seem inauthentic.

Sometimes, people doubt my statements because my tone is wrong. I can tell the truth and sound as if I am lying. It is a confusing problem to have. The more I try to convey honesty, the more dishonest I seem.

Can't I simply look serious? Let me be myself, smiling without a visible smile.


  1. And resting face really does rest your face. It is why lots of Autistic people look younger and more peaceful.

    And, yes, tone being "wrong".

    When Feminists with Disabilities first pointed out the whole "smile" thing I rejoiced.

    Beauty from your insides and your innards.


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