The term Resting Bitch Face (RBF) has been circulating for quite some time and was even more widely popularised by the YouTube Video ‘Bitchy Resting Face’ which you can view below.
The term refers to the forlorn, sad, worried, stern or ‘bitchy’ expression held by some when they are in a state of complacence, relaxation, concentration or rest. The syndrome has female connotations (bitch = female dog) and is generally applied to women. However, a recent study has determined that both men and women suffer from the seemingly gender-bias condition.
A study designed to categorically determine what causes RBF utilised software called Facereader to analyse over 10 000 images of human faces. By mapping various points of the image, the technology recognized and documented a degree of expression based upon eight human emotions.
Resting Bitch Face was (perhaps surprisingly for some) found equally in both male and female faces, which says more about our prescribed gender expectations and norms than anything else. The issue lies within the perpetuation of normative social and gendered values, which predetermine (in western culture) that women should appear happy, amicable and friendly. It is not unusual to hear a female being told to ‘smile sweetie’ and ‘cheer-up’ or asked ‘what’s wrong?’ if they are presenting anything but their pearly whites. In contrast, men wearing similar expressions are commonly perceived as serious, thoughtful, pensive and focused, highlighting the disparity between gender expectations.
Behavioural researcher Abbe Macbeth reiterates “RBF isn’t necessarily something that occurs more in women, but we’re more attuned to notice it in women because women have more pressure on them to be happy and smiley and to get along with others.”
The findings of this study seem to suggest that classifying RBF as a female-dominant expression of ‘bitchiness’ is actually harmful, and should probably be more closely linked to unwarranted and unhelpful societal expectations of women instead.