On Smiling...Or Not
Anyone who has a continuous smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.
― Greta Garbo
I smile a lot. I was told in high school as a freshman by a junior girl I admired that she liked my smile. So I took that as a cue to keep smiling. I don’t smile just for smiling’s sake, nor do I smile at the expense of my authenticity. My face reflects my insides on a consistent basis.
Now that I’ve entered this new world of pastors and churches I often wonder if my smile is a detriment to my professional life. As I enter the world of men, I think maybe my smile diminishes my offering, my strength. I wonder if I’m written off as “just a mom” or as friendly or sweet or hospitable by the people who don’t know me well.
It’s a concern I have more than I’d like to admit. I wonder if my doctor takes me seriously or my boys or fellow pastors. I wonder if my smile reduces me to cute, not worthy of being heard. I wonder how many women believe they must play nice in order to be loved and smile to be regarded.
I like to work out at our local recreation center. The equipment and facility are fine, not as state-of-the-art as our neighborhood gym, but I like the intersectionality of the place. I like to cross paths with people I would not interact with in my everyday life.
I show up happy most days, depending on how much sleep I had the night before and what is being reported on NPR. One particular day I was excited to be there and saw some of my favorite folks. We bantered and shared a laugh. A man I didn’t recognize walked over, stood before me encroaching my personal space, and complimented my smile and said how much he enjoys my laugh.
In the past I would’ve made a silly, offhanded comment, but instead I offered a terse Thank you and carried on with my scheduled workout. I had no desire to cater to him or try to make him feel better. I just wanted him gone.
I’ve been working on listening to my gut. And in this space, as much as I love the people, there are a few I find suspect, who raise some intuitive red flags. Since the election, I find great difficulty in trusting older, white men until I get to know them. I wonder, with this particular man if my smile makes him feel better, if it makes him less uncomfortable around me.
I work hard when I exercise. I push heavy weights and oftentimes scowl into the mirror. A time or two men have told me to smile, but I’m not sure how to repeatedly lift a 25 pound dumbbell into an overhead press without a scowl. I will not smile at the expense of my muscle mass.
There’s an odd dance I think women have to engage in to be heard and to function in our spaces. I’m recognizing how hard it is, deciphering on the fly what is needed in the moment. And my heart breaks realizing the number of years I spent trying to impress and placate men, while attempting to be liked, seen, and heard. I felt I needed to be small and cute so as not to be a threat or to be named a bitch.
I like to write and preach from my scars not my wounds, as Nadia Bolz-Weber recommends. But sometimes things remain open wounds and they need to be discussed. I suspect the longer I operate in this world I will gain traction and learn and associate with men who are good and generous, but how many women felt they had to compromise themselves to placate men? When I think of this, I feel grief. This shouldn’t even be a thing.
I want to be myself. I want all women to be themselves. I don’t want our size, shape, intelligence, talent, monetary worth, fashion selections, hair color, facial lines to be a liability. I want to smile and frown because it’s reflective of how I feel in the moment. I want to be me without catering to people who feel uncomfortable. I want to show up as myself – sometimes happy, sometimes not. I want to demonstrate my ferocity as a woman, a mother, a pastor, as an advocate for people who need advocates. I want to be known as I am.
It might be a lot to ask. I don’t know. It’s still a wound, but I am committed to figuring it out – for our girls, our daughters, our sisters, and mothers.
So today smile if you want or don’t. It really shouldn’t matter.
Beyond the work of homemaker, Jen now finds herself in the official position of “pastor”. Jen takes seriously the call of Micah 6:8: He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Jen lives in Longmont, Colorado and carries a deep love for the community of Boulder County where she has lived for 22 years. After achieving a Masters in Nutrition from Colorado State University, Jen began birthing babies and chose to stay home. Her involvement in church never waned, until she quit, exhausted and conflicted by the rhetoric and exclusion of certain groups. As a recovered evangelical, she is seeking the myriad of ways in which she can bring love and light to the lives of the marginalized, beginning with her own community. Jen sees that her work and greatest joy, beyond keeping her children alive, is to continue the work of discovery and compassion, while assisting others in their own process as we do our best to follow Jesus.
Jen is married to Eric and they have three teenagers. When she’s not perusing Twitter (@jentjepsen) or Facebook, you can find her writing a blog post (www.jenniferjepsen.org) or running, hiking, reading, eating, retreating to the mountains, drinking strong coffee, or taking naps.