Source of article The Jury Room - Keene Trial Consulting.

Resting Bitch Face’ is, in case you missed it, the condition of having a neutral facial expression that people perceive as sour, unpleasant, and generally bitchy. Long before was RBF was a thing, a woman in my graduate school class told me that professors often thought she was angry because her face carried a flat expression when she was thinking. “It’s just how my face is!” she protested. Years later, allegedly not until 2013 (although it hit the Urban Dictionary in 2011), the phrase went viral.

It is a “real thing” say scientists, is seen in the famous and the not-famous, has caused some to become depressed, is mostly attributed to women but also seen in men, and some say it reflects contemptuousness. There is support for RBF from social media (sort of), it inspires creativity and career advice, and constant social directives to ‘smile’ or ‘be kind’. There have also been multiple (tenure-seeking) scientific studies on first impressions (which includes the impressions made about RBF particularly in women). RBF even resulted in a video parodying all those direct-to-consumer medical ads.

The term has many detractors who do not think it is at all funny (for the most part) and they wonder why women are expected be always smiling and inviting. They say it is a variation on the “Smile honey!catcalls from men congregated in groups as the woman walks by. As the name would suggest, it is a sexist distinction. There are slide shows designed to show multiple other meanings for expressions deemed to be RBF. Detractors also have career advice, decry the constant focus on women expending energy to appear pleasant to everyone, have created posters, have published articles on the costs of RBF at work, and made angry comments about health professionals giving advice on avoiding the RBF expression as you mature.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we actually rely on first impressions when doing pretrial research with mock jurors and have blogged about the importance of the first impression and strategies for being more likable a lot here. But the concept of RBF is not something we’ve discussed, and frankly, it is a dilemma. Gravity and age give all of us a more RBF facial expression. We need to disconnect the initial negative impression some jurors may have formed due to RBF. Some good advice comes from, of all places, the Business Insider:

“I’ve heard people with resting bitch face sometimes tell me that they’ll contextualize it verbally for other people. That they’ll say, “I’m not unhappy with you. I’m not displeased with the situation. I just look this way.” And that’s a really honest way to talk about this facial expression that they’re giving, because facial expressions are so critical to how we perceive what other people are telling us.”

This is just part of the video transcript on the website (with the author publicizing his new book) and this may be a good way to talk to witnesses, or parties, or yourself (if you have RBF). The message is so similar to what my friend in graduate school said to me as we first met, “That’s just how my face is”. Humanizing the party/witness with the RBF can help jurors (many of whom will have RBF themselves) reshape their first impressions of him or her.

What is instructive is that the speaker on the video has a constant grin on his face (perhaps Resting Happy Face) that makes his spoken message much less empowering than the written transcript provided under the video.

When you are testifying in court, interposing a laugh, or learning to ‘force’ a slight lift to the corners of your mouth can negate the ‘resting’ expression that may look a bit sour or unhappy.

Perhaps the best advice to give to someone who is concerned about being observed (and judged for having RBF) is just this:

So listen to me. You do not have Resting Bitch Face. You just have a face. There’s nothing wrong with it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.