Masks Are Causing Our Smiles to Evolve
All smiles are not created equal: We have different smiles for different situations. There are spontaneous smiles that indicate true joy. And then there are “social smiles,” the ones people use to communicate — like the no-you-go-first smile at the grocery line, the hello-neighbor smile when you pass someone you recognize on a hiking path, the hey-good-lookin’ smile when you spot someone attractive you’d like to know better, and the sorry-not-sorry smile when you one-up a rival.
Most of those don’t have much to do with happiness. People smile to communicate social acceptance, to set others at ease, or even to express dominance. But it’s impossible to pull off any of these social smiles when you’re wearing a mask over your mouth and nose to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.
Walking around in a mask and sunglasses makes many people feel invisible. “There’s a large experience of deindividuation.”
So given the need to mask up, we have to adjust our facial expressions. One of the ways many people are doing this? Meet the Duchenne smile, named after French neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne de Boulogne. A photographer and scientist, Duchenne did pioneering research on facial expressions in the mid 1800s, using electrical current to stimulate different parts of the face. He discovered a special smile that both lifted the corners of the mouth and crinkled the corners of the eyes. Duchenne believed that since the muscle around the eyes, the orbicularis oculi, can’t be moved voluntarily, this was the queen of smiles: one that signaled true joy.
But Msr. Duchenne never met Tyra Banks. Today, we know the Duchenne smile as the “smize,” Banks’ term for smiling with your eyes. It was one of the skills contestants had to master on the supermodel’s show America’s Next Top Model. “It conveys your energy, your inner confidence, and your aura,” says Andi Parsons, a veteran fashion model who walked the runway for Oscar de la Renta, Tom Ford, and Carolina Herrera. “That was an ingenious term. It actually works. I train new models as well so I always give Tyra her credit for smizing.”