We all know of Simone Biles; the gymnastics wonder girl who has swept the floor at all of the national and international competitions since, according to NBC Olympics, she won the All-round at her first senior competition in 2013. The same article details how, at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, the world watched as Biles brought home five medals, and upon her return to the United States, she announced that she would be taking a year off from gymnastic competitions. Soon after, it was revealed that she was in the line-up for the 24th season of “Dancing with the Stars.” To no one’s surprise, Biles excelled on “DWTS,” taking home high scores from the first week and onward.
So far, the “DWTS” judges’ main critique for Biles was her facial expressions and emotional connections with her performances. Judges Julianne Hough and Carrie Ann Inaba both expressed their concerns, saying that since she smiles so much, they cannot tell if she is being genuine when she shows emotion during her performances. Many fans expressed frustration at these critiques, for Biles herself has responded to the criticism by admitting that she is just a happy person and therefore, truly is always smiling. The same night that Biles received these comments, she performed a second dance; an Argentine Tango Trio with her own partner, Sasha Farber, and another contestant, Brittany Cherry. The judges were more positive with their remarks on the routine than they were with Biles’ own solo routine earlier that night. However, Biles did not visibly smile or look happy when she received the good feedback. Afterwards, one of the show’s hosts, Tom Bergeron asked her, “Why didn’t you smile when you heard the positive comments?” to which Biles hesitated briefly before replying with the now internet-famous words: “Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals.” Cue mic drop.
Now being lauded as one of the greatest lines of 2017 sports history, Biles’ quote speaks to more than just the sports community. For women everywhere, there was probably a time when they were told to smile for reasons that don’t make sense. I don’t mean smile because it’s the polite thing to do or smile because you’re trying to appear friendly. I mean smile because it’s better for business, because you’ll get somewhere if you do — because you need to be a smiling, happy woman if you are to be valued by people or by the place where you work. Too many times women have heard the line from a guy, “You would look so much prettier if you’d smile.” That may be true, but saying that assumes that a woman wants to look pretty for a specific guy. Especially if the attention they’re receiving is unwanted, it is most likely not the case.
The expectation that women should constantly be smiling enforces the idea that a woman’s appearance is what matters first and foremost, and that in order to be taken seriously, she needs to smile. The idea of the importance of outward appearance can go even further; even when women smile, they are told that they also need to wear makeup to make their face look nice, and then to wear heels to make their legs look nice. The list goes on and on until they’ve forgotten what they were trying to achieve in the first place because they’ve spent all their time working toward achieving society’s idea of what beauty looks like.
Any artist will tell you that some of the most beautiful and moving paintings and photographs in the world are of people who are not smiling, such as Frida Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” or National Geographic photographer Steven McCurry’s “The Afghan Girl with the green eyes.” A smile doesn’t define beauty any more than make-up or high heels do — and no one should ever tell anyone when it is time for them to smile. Even more so than the clothes you wear or the products that you apply to your face, a smile is a personal reflection of how you feel inside. Being forced to fake a smile is problematic, for the moment one fakes a smile, smiles become less and less valid because they are no longer a true indication of one’s feelings, as they were meant to be.
Biles said that smiles don’t win gold medals. What she didn’t say, but what I can imagine she was thinking, is that hard work does. For her, hard work did just that. Smiling as she ran for the vault would not have made her score any higher and the same needs to apply to women everywhere, and every day. It shouldn’t be “understood” that women who smile and look pretty will get the promotions and the relationships. If a woman doesn’t smile often that is, and should be, OK because that just means that woman is being real, both with herself and the people around her.