A Year of Practising Smiling

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

A year of practising smiling

A pure and genuine smile! You can’t beat it! It’s contagious!

I have always thought I have a strange smile. It is too teethy and shows a wonky tooth that probably only I notice and squishes my eyes together to the point they look closed. In many ways an unflattering look. A silly self-conscious thought to have, because I would never look at someone else and think “they have a weird smile”.

I’ve never taken photos well. That’s not me being overly critical of myself it’s just a fact. The bloke in the mirror is a much more handsome chap than the guy who looks like me in photographs. But I don’t help myself. For some reason whenever a photo is about to be taken, I slip into this default fake smile instead of my genuine one. A placeholder. Eyes widened and mouth closed. A smile that fools no one. It is half as joyous and as pure as a real smile.

In times where my natural smile was favourite to make an appearance, I covered it up.  

But now there has been a year where the causes of my natural smile have reduced. This fake smile has become a permanent resident on my face, unconvincingly telling the world that everything is fine.

I have even found myself at times wondering whether the days of big smiles are gone. Have I forgotten how to even do this smile? Have I spent so long using this fake smile that I have missed all the chances to experience my real smile?

I’ve spent a lot of time smiling in the mirror. Usually when I admit something personal about me in an article I am reassured that someone somewhere will relate. But in this case I’m concerned it is just me being weird. I certainly would never want anyone to catch me doing it.

Waiting for those moments

I’ve been preparing for the moment where I see my friends again after the lockdowns. Holding back telling certain stories over messages so I can tell them in person. I tell them to myself in the mirror and prepare the way I look. I replay moments. I practise my smile. No longer out of concern for the way it looks, but just to remind myself what it feels like. Because it has been a year of closed mouth smiles instead of pure teethy grins.

I’ve been told many times that smiling releases endorphins that make you feel better. I have always assumed this is a lie parents tell kids, right next to “if the wind changes your face will stay that way”. But it is true. The fact is for me practising and pretending to smile has brought me temporary distractions.

The first significant moment in my lifetime that made me aware of suicide and mental health issues was due to Gary Speed. The ex-footballer, who at the time was Manager of the Wales National Team, took his own life in November 2011. I was 14 at the time.

He had appeared on Television the same day as his death. Later, his mother gave an interview discussing watching his final Television appearance, stating how she could tell he was not fully himself, “his smile did not appear genuine…it did not reach his eyes”.

I have thought about this idea a lot in the last 10 years. A smile that reaches the eyes! I think for those who know me well enough, it must be easy to notice my moments of feeling down and I pretend to be fine. You’d see clearly my smile doesn’t reach my eyes.

I once received the compliment “your eyes smile”. I took tremendous pride in. Presumably with the compliment making me do the very thing I was being complimented on. Now it is something that is often present in my mind. When I smile, when I see others smile. I ask myself whether the smile meets the eyes. Whether it is pure and genuine, or just a mask.

Smiling, even with a mask on

Speaking of masks. The fake, eyeless smile I pull in photographs no longer works with a facemask on. Give a smile in a facemask and if it doesn’t reach the eyes, no one knows you’re smiling, it just looks as if you are staring straight at the person completely expressionless like a psychopath. That seems like as good a reason as any for dishing out as many big cheesy grins as possible.

Since the easing of restrictions I have found myself in situations which call for a smile. In which a younger version of myself would dish out a soulless, fake, closed mouth smile. But having missed the feeling for such a long time, I’m smiling enough to let the whole world know.

While I have spent a large amount of my last year pretending to smile in the mirror in a hope to relive old feelings, I now find myself in summer, presented with reasons to smile. I finally have had the chance to see my friends and family and spend time in the sun. My smiles have been genuine and much more frequent, no longer holding back and hiding.

So here’s to summer 2021, the season of making our smiles reach our eyes.

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