Mona Lisa
Hello, Mona!

Do you know someone who is ‘read’ by strangers as safe?  Oozing a vibe that says “Yes, I can be your port in a storm”?  I don’t know if it’s cosmic energy or something equally mystical but I’m often that person.  You, too? The one who’s instinctively leaned on? 

Before you say ‘Hey that’s a great quality’ let me share that I often think, at least in my case, it’s misplaced trust.  I can be a nasty gal; grumpy and crabby and although I try not to sneer and cackle at strangers (I save that for friends and family – LOL!) I’ve always wondered why me?

I think I figured it out.  Do you know about the Duchenne smile?  I was clueless until a professor laid it on me in grad school.  Evaluating my technique as a therapist-in-training I received plenty of unwelcome feedback (You ask too many leading questions…You need to become more comfortable with silence).  Those were the most frequent critiques.  But when he offered ‘Hmmmm…Duchenne smile’ as stoic three-word commentary, it was a head-scratcher. Huh? Doo-whooo?

Maybe you’re more informed than I was. I was annoyed that I needed to look up this Doo-sHEN dude to understand the point my professor was trying to make.  Sheesh. It would’ve been easier if he’d just said, ‘You stink’.  But spewing a reference to a type of smile?  Throwing me off track, buddy.  His delivery was that emotionless and monotone. 

And so, I learned about Guillaume Duchenne and immediately regretted my caustic thoughts about my well-intending professor.  Turns out, the whole “Duchenne” thing was a compliment.  Yep – Guillaume Duchenne, scientist from two centuries ago was hell bent on mapping the human body and understanding musculature and movement – especially related to facial expressions.  His work, while ground-breaking, was also the stuff of nightmares (Happy Halloween!) because he experimented mostly on decapitated heads.  Ick. 

Despite his morbid methods, Guillaume was a pioneer, documenting the importance of the eyes in determining what’s most genuine in a smile.  Eyes engaged and crinkled?  Eureka! That’s an authentic, Duchenne smile.  Smiles that are more controlled, show less engagement of the facial muscles? Indicative of less authenticity, more reserved.  Now I understand.  The most famous example of all, is Mona Lisa’s non-Duchennian smile. 

So, to hell with the crows feet and wrinkles, bust out your big grins and smile, people!  Those half-hearted, staged-looking pouts are the stuff of indulgent selfies.  Not real life.

Why is this on my mind? Masks and Covid made connecting so much harder.  All the more reason to lean into the Duchenne smile, I say.  Maybe that’s why random people seek some of us out for assistance. Authenticity for the win! 😊

Me? Left to my own devices and tendencies, I navigate the world with a grin and open body language – just because.  I’m the one who greets people first with a ‘good morning’ or a hello.  Especially during the pandemic when my smiles (Duchenne or not) were hidden.  All the more important to get my crinkle on and “show” I was smiling, with my eyes.  Mask or no mask now, I think I’ll keep Duchenne-ing.

-Vicki 😉

12 thoughts on “Be More than Mona

  1. I’m one of those individuals who other people find harmless, so they tell me everything. It’s not like I ask, they just assume I’m interested. I smile like I mean it, so maybe that’s part of it. And I know how to listen. My point, if I have one, is that maybe I need to cultivate a fake smile so that I won’t find myself in some weird conversations.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Why am I not surprised to hear that folks gravitate to you? 😊 Great point about needing an incognito, more neutral smile — you are so right about that. There are days…where you just can’t abide another weird conversation. Agree! Thanks, Ally!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve thought about this question a lot at times in my life … it would be easier to go the Mona Lisa route. For me it would mean keeping my smile and my laugh under wraps. It would mean caring less and minding my own business. But I come back to one simple question: would it be authentic? Yes, I suspect I open myself up to problems by being the person others approach, but at least I’m being authentic to who I am. (And yes, that still means I make wise cracks to my family and friends. I’m certainly no saint.) If I were to try keep my Duchenne smile to myself though, it would be entirely too much work. Make sense? Or am I just crazy!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LOL – I hear you, 100%! It’s a balancing act. Wanting to be true to YOU but also balancing our energy, right? All of this is just a good reminder to me of how others read my expressions. Some days I’d like a Harry Potter invisibility cloak, but no such luck!
      Thank you for sharing, Brian and acknowledging that our friends and families sometimes take the hits, no matter. 😉 Good to know I’m not alone there…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this, Vicki! First, I learned something as I’d never heard of Duchenne or his smile. And second, I can hear your smile and your openness every time you write – and it makes me smile! Sending a big hug and good morning to you! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m so with you. It’s not that I don’t love and care about people, it’s just that sometimes I’d rather love them from afar. 😆 Which apparently, isn’t my lot in life. Beyond that, it was really fun reading about the Duchenne smile and learning how it originated! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It’s so interesting reading the comments! I, too, am the type that strangers have always approached and opened up to. While it’s nice, as an introvert, to effortlessly meet new people, the relationship often begins with either something heavy or frivolous gossip, neither of which I am really looking for. 😆 I smile, nod, and feign interests as I question, “why me?!” I must also have the Duchenne smile. Such a thoughtful and fun post!

    Liked by 1 person

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