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Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart, one of Hollywood’s best known examples of the resting bitch facePhotography David Sherry; styling Katie Shillingford, taken from from the September 2009 issue of Dazed

Science proves ‘resting bitch face’ is not just a girl thing

A study reveals the reason behind the phenomenon – and it has nothing to do with gender

What do Kanye West, Kristen Stewart and Anna Wintour have in common? Well, according to popular belief, they all have a ‘Resting Bitch Face’ or ‘Bitchy Resting Face’, in other words, their default expression isn’t exactly a happy one. Two behaviour researchers – Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth – have spent some time investigating the phenomenon, reports The Independent. Not only did they discover the physiological reasons behind RBF, but that it has no correlation with your gender.

Rogers and MacBeth used Noldus’s FaceReader, a tool that identifies specific expressions from a catalogue of 10,000 faces, matching an image with one of eight different emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and “neutral.” First they got FaceReader to look at some images of expressionless faces, which registered about 97 per cent neutrality with a few “blips” of other emotions.

Then they put images of West and Stewart’s expressionless faces. “The big change in percentage came from ‘contempt,’” Macbeth said. Apparently this is down to “subtle signals” such as “one side of the lip pulled back slightly, the eyes squinting a little,” Rogers explained. Or, “It’s kind of a tightening around the eyes, and a little bit of raising of the corners of the lips — but not into a smile,” Macbeth added. Put simply, those with a Resting Bitch Face look slightly more contemptuous than their more neutral counterparts.

Though Resting Bitch Face is commonly viewed as something specific to women, it turns out this is a myth – rooted in gender bias, not science. FaceReader, which doesn’t differentiate between genders, identified the phenomenon in women and men – in equal measure. 

“It's funny how it always seems to be random men who tell me to smile or cheer up,” said one (anonymous) female sufferer of Resting Bitch Face, speaking on this myth. “It's as if my outward appearance – moody and unapproachable rather than polite, smiling and girlish – is an affront to their expectations of femininity, which should be docile and accommodating.”

“These men don’t actually want me to be happy, obviously; it’s a power thing,” she went on to say. “Personally, I’d prefer to stick with my natural frown rather than plaster a smile on my face for the sake of upsetting the gendered expectations of men I walk past in the street.”

h/t The Independent