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Not all, but a lot of men seem to feel comfortable publicly commenting on women’s appearances, whether it’s the guy who tells you you’ve got a nice behind or the one who suggests you might look better without glasses.

While there are probably exceptions, I don’t know too many women who offer unsolicited advice to strange men. Speaking for myself, I’ve never walked by a man I don’t know and offered my opinion on his calf muscles. Nor have I felt it necessary to suggest that a grown adult walking down the street minding his own business needs to smile.


However, just about any female pedestrian over the age of 10 can name at least one time she was instructed to adjust her face for a complete stranger. While it could be considered a compliment, it seems that most women don’t interpret it as such. Here’s why:

1. She doesn’t want to smile.

Taraji P. Henson in Empire

Maybe her tooth aches or she’s trying to dislodge a piece of spinach from between her back molars. Maybe her Invisaligns are painfully scraping her gums. Maybe she doesn’t really like her dimples, or she’s going for that mysterious, sultry look. No matter the reason, most women are aware that smiling is an option. If they’re not doing so, that’s their prerogative.

2. She’s ignoring you.

Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy in A Different World

Not all, but some men consider any minor amount of conversation romantic encouragement. There’s a chance that she noticed you a few blocks away, determined you were the type of guy who attempts to tell random women what to do, and decided to completely ignore you when you walked by. A smile would be counterproductive.

3. She’s not in the mood.           

Kerry Washington in Scandal
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Sometimes there’s a reason to frown. Eviction. Death. Illness. Breakups. Finding out The Get Down is not returning to Netflix. Part of being in America is being able to express your true emotions without persecution. So if she wants to walk down the street pouting because Barack Obama’s days as president are numbered, or for whatever reason, she can do that, hopefully without some stranger’s interruption.

4. She’s deep in thought.

Viola Davis in How to Get Away With Murder

The bills have to be paid. There’s a pile of laundry on the bed at home. A work deadline is fast approaching. Those shoes hurt her feet. There are a dozen things a person can have on her mind while she’s seemingly walking down the block carefree. The responsibilities of adulthood require serious consideration. The last thing she needs while she’s trying to calculate (math in her head!) whether that last check is going to bounce is to hear some stranger bark at her to smile.

5. She’s just been insulted.

Tracee Ellis Ross

Again, maybe some people consider it a compliment. Maybe this stranger believes your smile will solve all his life problems. So his asking you to reveal your pearly whites is an expression of faith in the magical powers of your years of great dental hygiene. However, there’s another way to interpret the “request.” He looked at your face and thought, “Her mug offends me. I’ll make things easier on my eyes by asking her to smile. Maybe that’ll transform her from eyesore to eye candy.” You’ve effectively been morphed into an object there to please the strange man you don’t know, which leads to the next point.

6. It’s sexist.

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Most women aren’t walking around the planet trying to make sure men they don’t know are satisfied with the way they look. Sure, Instagram—where scores of women post sexy pictures for which they’ve spent hours posing in order to look spontaneously effortless—might suggest something different, but the vast majority of women reject the idea of being birthed into the world just to please those who would gawk and stare. Believe it or not, there’s more to women's lives than looking pretty.

7. It’s the worst line ever.

Regina King in The Leftovers

Granted, not every man who demands a smile from a complete stranger is attempting to pick her up. However, most men don’t speak to each other that way, and if I’m not mistaken, this man just walked by five mean-mugging, Biggie Smalls-looking sisters and didn’t say a word. So, chances are there was at least a little hope that the order would result in some friendly chitchat. If that’s the case, maybe something a bit more original or thoughtful would be more effective, like “Are you related to Michelle Obama?” or “Are you my future girlfriend?”—something that would bring about the smile because of its wit. Do better.

8. It’s superficial.

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There are few people out there who are just attracted to a mangled mouth. Most like teeth lined up and contained somewhere behind the lips. So it’s not completely unreasonable that a man might want to check out a woman’s teeth before actually starting a conversation with her. However, if a few out-of-place incisors constitute a deal breaker, you’re focused on the wrong thing.

9. It’s socially awkward.

Issa Rae in Insecure
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Few people like to be told what to do, even by friends and family. Even fewer appreciate being told by total strangers. Imagine walking down the street and having someone walk by and command you to blink. Or maybe the order is, “Cough for me.” Not only is it startling; it’s a bit wacky. No?

10. She’ll smile at you if she wants.

Kevin Hart and Regina Hall in About Last Night
Screen Gem

Maybe you assume she didn’t see you, so you speak just to make sure you catch her eye. News flash: She saw you, and if she wanted to smile at you, wink, lick her lips, flash some leg or otherwise communicate her interest in conversing with you, she would do it, unsolicited, without encouragement. Sure, there are women out there who are shy, but telling her to “smile” doesn’t exactly break the ice. Now, instead of wanting to get to know you, she’s too busy wondering what was wrong with her face the way it was. Bottom line, just as men decide when and where and to whom to flash their chompers, women have the same ability to make those determinations for themselves. If she wanted to smile, she’d be doing it already.

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