Wag the Smile

Feb 10, 2010 at 12:05 AM
Why do people say that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile?

The first time I heard that, I was three (and some change), and another child on the playground had stolen my orange. Rather than go give that kid a talking to, which I wanted, the teacher  said "You know what?" (forcing me to say a pointless "What?" so she could say...) "I'll tell you what. Scientists have proven that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile."

I frowned deeper and looked up at this woman while heartily disagreeing. And she knew I disagreed. I saw it in the disappointment in her eyes. I was forever disappointing Miss Barbara. But sometimes Miss Barbara was just wrong.

She was wrong about how I should learn to read, she was wrong about certain salient math issues we were currently confronting, and she was definitely wrong about frowning.

I looked up at her, waiting for some response to my plea for citrus-related intervention.

She smiled patronizingly, tilted her head to the left, and said "Come on... smile for me." So, for the sake of appeasing her so we could move on to the real point (oranges!) already, I smiled. Little did I realize that meant no justice on the orange front. All washed up as far as oranges went, and she was done, turning away to talk to that pesky Bradley and his tag-along friends. Problem solved because I tweaked my cheek muscles in the correct direction to appease her mob of mistaken scientists.

Later that afternoon was the very first time I really wondered at my own assumptions. I wondered whether there was any justice built into the fabric of this world, or if I was at the whim of the Barbaras and Bradleys of the world. I was a bit scared of how much growing up I'd have to do to really be ready to defend myself against all that orange-stealing and name-calling all on my own. I guess it was at about the time I was on time-out in the storage room  for standing up for Renée against the pesky tag-alongs, bullies all, later that afternoon. I was the wounded hero of that piece. And I was the only one with a time-out. But whatever. Off topic.

The point is, I still hate that mindless phrase about muscles.

Even if it wasn't a diversion from the point of whatever you're mad about, it's patently untrue.

Here's why: I'll bet you if you got all those scientists together and asked them to, rather than measuring the pure number of muscles involved - a pointless endeavor to my mind, asked them to instead measure the force being exerted my those muscles, a frown of equal caliber to a smile would exert less force overall - and isn't that what matters? Not how many muscles you use, but how much force you exert in the process? For instance, I use the same muscles when I've got my monthly cycle that I use in childbirth. But the force those muscles exert is extremely different in both cases.

Admiration just has more force to it than dislike. Admiration is the one that can solve deeper problems and remove roadblocks. It has so much more force than pretty much anything else in the emotional range, albeit a smoother, less obnoxious force.

I can't help but think the muscles would prove out my theory with testing.

Force matters.

And being forced to smile when there is a real situation about which you feel like being a frowny-pants is just not cool. Even if my smile would be the better solution, stay away from drippy platitudes when you want ME to cooperate.


Why do we even smile to show admiration? Most animals show their canines only when threatening.

And. why do dogs wag their tails to show appreciation and admiration? Which one started the practice, and how did he spread the word that it meant good things?

If we still had tails, would they wag when we were excited or happy? Is that what a frisson is? The little electrical signal trying to make it to your nonexistent tail still, but being sent back home over and over? If we had tails, would they wag and twitch? I wonder if I still have that little signal station in my brain somewhere, a connection to my tail, but since I don't have a tail, I just don't use it?

What I'm saying is, if I got a tail put on by some extremely fantastic super modern nano-bio-technology-weilding surgeon, would I be able to find and twitch my tail?

Maybe even wag it?

And if so, what would people say instead:

"It takes more muscles to frown than to wag your tail?"


It is surprising how thoroughly adult even childhood thoughts are. How they press and weigh just as heavily at 3 years old as they do at 33 years old. And how your delights are just as strong. How your will is just as strong and your failures or successes just as potent. And smiling or frowning, life is just as vital and amazing at both ages.

Perhaps I should stop dreading getting older and just press on, smiles and frowns, good times and bad - they will all be equally mine.


  1. Mr.Pete. Says:

    Thanks Des.
    And happy tail-wagging.

  2. Kat Says:

    I want a tail.

    And I kinda want to tell that teacher off for being such a patronizing moron instead of getting your dang orange back.

  3. desi Says:

    That's OK, Karma got her good for me. She now buses tables, I've heard.

  4. It takes even fewer muscles to smack someone upside their head and take back your orange :-)

  5. Robin Says:

    We of the human stripe have developed the smile in reverse of the rest of those that have canines because we know we are the badest' sum'bitches walkin' the planet. Growl at me? I don't think so. Here is a 100 megaton nuclear bomb for you to chew on. Top of the food chain lets you smile when others are are trying to bluff their way out of a tight spot:^)