Dec 18, 2009

Trans-dental Meditations

I will start off here with a pretty “male” declarative statement. Everyone ready?

The male smile has an aggressive aspect to it, while the female smile has a sympathetic aspect to it. Venus and Mars are not all right tonight. Our pearly whites light different paths.

I am quite certain that my interpretation of smiles is hardwired to, and a captive of a long evolutionary history. Our smiles have evolved with purpose, perhaps in the same way as our capacity for glib generalizations. I thank you in advance for allowing me mine. Generalizations that is. This topic will force a few of them out of me.

And odd confluence of things took me to thinking about smiling. My very first
post here on Voyages en Rose made mention of my smile, and how I felt that it did not work en femme. My feelings are not unique. I have seen a good number of the CD/TG set indicating that the smile is a trouble spot for them. There are so many things that can act as “tells” and can trigger the erosion of confidence and happiness that we hope to enjoy while out and about, or simply in front of a private mirror. The smile seems to be one of them.

Thinking about this then, I paid a little attention to the photos of some of the “natural born women” who visit here. Warm, full, and welcoming. Beautiful and free, different entirely.

Recently, New Yorker magazine featured a photo essay entitled “
Portraits of Power” (link is subscription enabled only) featuring the work of the superb lens man, Platon. He had set up an ad-hoc studio on the campus of the United Nations, and over a few months cajoled as many global leaders as he could into the booth for a quick snap.

The resulting portfolio is a small epic. Rogues and saints. Self important and self effacing. Fathers of the revolution, and sons of bitches. And largely male (41 of the 44 featured subjects). Their smiles, or at least the expressions around their mouths cut a pretty wide swath through guarded, confident, serious, fierce, happy, at ease, and full-on, pissed-off at the imposition of sitting still for even a moment. Page after page.

Flipping through them, you could be forgiven for not noticing Madam President Tarja Halonen of Finland as being different from the other subjects, so sadly denatured of signals of gender she is in her portrait. Then, 20 pages in, catch your breath. Side-by-side, Silvio Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy (at left), and Christina Fernandez of Chile. (below right, click images to enlarge).

Photography is editorial of course. It reveals artist bias and draws out your own. What do you make of this editorial statement?

To me, Berlusconi is the leering satyr, jacked up on Viagra and immune from consequence. His smile says ‘” ... that is tasty, I may take it for myself. You may now envy me my freedom from the petty rules that limit your life”.

Fernandez on the other hand and the opposing page is ready to cradle, comfort and to come to an appreciation of the your needs. Her smile says “I can understand, if perhaps you share more. You can trust me to be kind”.

The contrast is stunning.

A little research here and there shows that we are all born, boys and girls both, with the same propensity for smiling. Things seem to change though at the onset of puberty, the ribbon cutting ceremony for our shiny new testosterone factory. Boys start smiling less. Girls, under different influences, beam brighter still.

I will confess to never having fully understood or bought into the purported link between smile and submission amongst us biggish apes in general. But I can buy into the idea that our more serious, wary and combative male ancestors were likely giving all the right signals about strength and survivability to prospective wives by keeping their mouths shut except when their teeth might be employed to frighten the crap out of a competitor. This reflex is our inheritance. Gee Dadthanks... I guess. Just what I wanted.

I think we (fellows that is, full time, part-time, and past-tense) have an equally unshakeable evolutionary response to the smile of the fairer sex. We are fools for flattery lads, and quick to interpret the female smile, that gradual, shimmering parting of the red-lipped sea as permission to engage, to come closer, to provide what we can, and perhaps take what we might.

And so here, in our pre-history, the smile diverges, and serves in distinct ways for the distinct genders to assure the longer journey of the genetic stuff that drives us all.

This is perhaps the very root of the issue for those of us whose gender is just a measure or two less distinct. It was Mary Richards who turned the world on with a smile, not Lou Grant. I do carry with me a useful, rich and persistent tool kit of guy behaviors. That tool kit perhaps understandably makes it difficult to master the very distinct art of smiling like a woman.

I am not convinced, even with my background in theatre that there is a mechanical, technical solution to the problem. I rather will hope for more moments of un-selfconscious being, both in drab and en femme, where, free from my own editorial processes, a more thoughtlessly smiling subject may emerge, happily for moments or instances at a time.

How about you? I am all ears for whatever is between yours. Ears that is.

Do take a moment to visit Platon if you love beautiful pictures. Don’t forget to smile this weekend. :)


Treacle (Stockings Addict) said...

Oh dear...I'm afraid I can't buy into evolutionary motivations for why 21st century men smile less. It would seem primarily a matter of social conditioning (and even then, Western social conditioning) rather than any overriding genetic imperative.

Petra Bellejambes said...

Hey Treacle - I am more with you then not ... we are all subject to a pretty big bag of influencers no doubt. Nature and nurture make for a serious one, two punch, and are perhaps slightly overlapping magesteria.

I promise a similar spin early in the new year with a tighter focus on social conditioning...

Greatly appreciate your views too. Thanks ...

lynnd said...

Dear Petra,

I have to say great minds do think a like, I was having a coversation with Green Eyes this morning about smiles and suggested that be what I write next, lol.
I think there is a definite difference between men and womens' smiles. I do believe there are both evalutionary and social influences to this.
As for a solution...technically as you mentioned women's smiles are more open mouthed. But I think that more so it comes from expressing true emotion, genetic women are often(not always)more likely to take the risk of showing emotion and vulnerability in turn with that.
All that to some teeth and smile with joy and abandonment! (and a nice lip gloss)

Couture Carrie said...

Intriguing post, darling Petra! Made me think... and smile!

Have a spectacular weekend!


P.S. That pic of you at the piano bench is fantastic ~ you are gorgeous!!

Tights Lover said...

Wow, that is very interesting...can't say I've ever thought of any of this.

Oh, and this may just be the Italian in me, but there's something about Berlusconi's smile that I just can't trust...hahaha.

Lynn Jones said...

"It's what you wear from ear to ear." :)

Smiles: there's a topic of conversation - and for blogging :) I think a good - as in a natural - smile lights up the whole face.

On some people, especially celebs faking one, the gesture doesn't reach their eyes and that weirds me out a little. Then there's the awful smug grin, a gesture of 'the cat who got the cream', that a certain UK newscaster used to do. [shudder]

Faking aside, in the times I've visited the US and Canada, people seem to smile and say hello more. In the UK, I think people here are a little more reserved.

Leah said...

The smile post... love this Petra and thanks for introducing me to Platon. He is awesome. Love when a photographer can capture the real smiles of the subject.

My thoughts about smile? Petra, you know that if there's a contest for Ms Smile, I will gladly join that. I'm such an advocate of genuine smiles and I love to smile.

My kids (although they are males) have the same smile like I have so I guess smiles can be contagious.

Have a smiley weekend Petra!

Leah said...

PS...I have an award for you. check out my blog. Big hugs!

Treacle (Stockings Addict) said...

I don't mean to stop by before the next post, but there's a lingerie giveaway for a black satin bra, panty, and garter belt set worth $85 happening on my blog. You should go enter! :-)

Jade "Purple" Brown said...


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