When memes encourage you to honor your inner child, at what age do you imagine yourself? I visualize this specific picture.
Make all the faces you want — this remains one of my fave pics of me. I know that girl with her pre-braces smile and boy haircut, and I. love. her. She wasn’t choosing to give no effs; she had no effs to give.
Little did she know that even through middle school, she’d still be thriving.
One morning, right before I opened the middle school’s front doors, I paused. You can make today a good day, Jamie. Put on a smile, and go get it.
It worked. I was already in a good place in life; choosing to add a smile was the icing on the cake.
I paused for that moment so many days before entering the building, and my goodness I loved it. I loved my classes and my friends and being a cheerleader. I loved having a locker, and our band/choir room with built-in amphitheater-style seating, and pep rallies! They were my favorite.
I was confident, fun, and not yet aware of moments when I would later consider myself to be “too much.”
While my approach to making it a good day by starting with a smile worked in middle school, it morphed, dangerously so, in high school. In middle school I was aok to begin with and then added a smile; in high school I started putting on a smile to mask hurt. Or confusion. Or snide/mean/cutting remarks. You know. High schoolers.
And that is exactly when I started to become fake — if you aren’t real on the inside, it’s impossible to be real on the outside.
When I’ve traced my own bouts of anxiety and depression back to its beginning whispers, it goes back to masking reality with a smile. True happiness can’t start from the outside in. It has to come from the inside.
Doing all the things on the outside that the world tells you to do — attend moms groups, show up to pta meetings, serve on the event-planning committee, and help out in the nursery — won’t generate happiness if they don’t resonate with you. At best they’re distractions. At worst they’re oppressors.
But since you “should” be there and it “should” make you happy and you forced yourself in the door, why not force on the smile too, right? Except it’s likely to be the kind of smile that doesn’t reach your eyes. The strained smile. The dead smile. Because that’s how it feels inside.
For the love of all things holy let’s turn this ship around!
If it feels like too much of an ask to say no to things that you really don’t want to do, start with this instead: Don’t smile if you don’t mean it. So simple, yet surprisingly difficult, which is exactly why it’s a good staring point.
The best place to practice? The grocery store.
Think about all those times you’ve made passing eye contact with a stranger and the corners of your mouth automatically raise even though you’re cutting it close to when you need to pick your kid up, you’ve got to pee, and you forgot to grab bananas while in produce. Does smiling really feel authentic in that moment? I’m gonna go with no. Resist it, just like you’re resisting the urge to abandon your cart and try again later with the kids in tow. You know better.
We’re going to travel back in time once more to 2004, between my sophomore and junior years in college. My summer job was with the Decatur Park Singers, a professional show choir (singers/dancers and band) comprised of college-age kids that toured the state. We set up our own stage, lights, and sound for every show, plus the tents that served as sound booths and changing areas.
I didn’t at all mind rolling into Decatur at 2 a.m. following late shows and long drives. I didn’t love 6 a.m. wake ups for more long drives and mid-day performances, but still, manageable. The combo of the two, however, left me feeling like this:
Look at who didn’t fake-smile her way through that interaction! (And please note dad showing considerably more tact than I, per usual.)
Clearly, over time, it became difficult for me to not wear my feelings on my face. Add a heap of tiredness to the mix (like above) and that shiz is on display for the whole world to see, just like underwear on a clothesline.
Speaking of which, the thing about those Betty briefs blowing in the wind is, snicker though you might, we all (or, at least, most of us) wear undies, just as we all experience being sad, mad, or put off. We all experience it.
The way I see it: Why act like you’re a lacy g-string if you’re really a full-coverage 100% cotton?
Masking hurt with a smile is like putting that thong on over your old Hanes Her Way — it’s uncomfortable for you, and the rest of the world can tell something’s a little off. No way are you smiling normal with that get up.
Had enough of the underwear metaphor? Okay. I’ll stop with that, and you please stop with the fake smiles. You may think it’s a harmless act. You’re right insofar as it is an act, but it can be far from harmless. My inner high-schooler can attest to that.
Unlike my high-school self, the more I’ve focused on returning to my truths, including the truth of how I feel at any given moment, the more I’ve reconnected with my inner tween.
Gives me something to smile about.