A Smizing Revolution
by Mj Bain.
To begin, let me say that this is not a revolution in a military or violent sense. I can’t promise
that I won’t break out in song, but I can promise that I won’t be building a barricade from
your wardrobe. Instead, my revolution means there’s a small chance that you may be
confronted in the street by somebody’s best attempts at a smize; most likely, mine.
‘Smize’ is a verb meaning smiling with your eyes. It was first coined by Tyra Banks as a
contraction of the phrase ‘smile with your eyes’ in relation to modelling and having playful
or alluring eyes. We are arguably in the throes of a modelling revolution already with the
constant stream of photoshopped selfies on social media, however I am not referring to
that. Instead, I am talking about the absolute need in the current climate of 2020 for all of
us to start making more use of our remaining visible assets to make our streets a little
brighter and happier. I am of course talking about us no longer being able to smile at
strangers in public because of the required face masks.
Whilst I know some people find the idea of smiling at strangers weird at best and creepy at
worst, there is evidence that being the recipient of a stranger’s smile can lift your mood.
According to Dignity Health’s ‘Power of a Smile’ survey, 96% of respondents said seeing a
smile brightens their day with 60% of them saying this is still true when it’s a stranger. This
is supported by a different study reported by the Society for the Study of Motivation who
say that people who have been acknowledged by a stranger feel more connected to others
than those that have not been. These are both survey based reports as opposed to peer
reviewed academic studies. However, to me this seems the perfect way to study them as
what is a smile other than a question and answer communication? I smile at you, and you
either have your mood boosted and smile in response, or get creeped out and run away. To
my delight, it seems that a majority of you are in the first camp and that a smile truly does
brighten your day.
Furthermore, I can personally support the findings. This is because for three years myself
and my various housemates conducted our own investigation into the subject. Admittedly
this was in the form of a wager, but I would defy anybody to suggest that scientists don’t
bet on their findings. Regardless, the research/game was simple: Whoever received the
most smiles in response to their own smiles on the London Underground was the winner.
This was done over the space of the academic year with there always at least three people
taking part. And, it is my pleasure to say, I won three years out of three. It is perhaps
possible that I took it more seriously than other people and would occasionally go for
outings just to increase my numbers. And it is also true that we weren’t required to report
how many people didn’t return our smiles, or indeed swear at us for smiling at them.
However, it was a three-year study and over that time I had over 400 strangers return my
smile and our combined efforts generated over 1000 smile replies. (I incidentally also won
three takeaways of my choosing.)
Not only is it an issue that we cannot currently do this and spread positivity because of the
masks, but their existence is also causing negativity for some. Indeed, a number of mental
health charities and organisations are reporting on the detrimental impact that the masks
can have on people. For example, the mental health organisation Mind have a section
dedicated to masks on their website. A key area they explore is that they are a visual
reminder of the virus and thus seeing people in the masks is a direct visual portrayal of the
virus. Furthermore, Mind also say that ‘seeing people covering their faces might make you
feel uneasy or scared of others’ because ‘they might seem threatening, sinister or
dehumanised.’ It seems that more than ever we need happy smiles on the street, and yet
we are unable to do so.
It is important to state that this is not an essay against masks and their use with them
currently a legal requirement in many countries. Indeed, whilst Mind explore the potential
mental health implications of wearing a mask and seeing others in them, they also state that
if you are able to wear one, then you must. Instead, this essay has explored their impact on
our streets and the need for us to look at a way to spread positivity in this new age without
us being able to smile. For me, it is clear what we need to do: We must smize. Whilst babies
learn social smiles between 6 and 8 weeks old, many adults are not fully informed about
smizing. This is why we need a revolution, to make it commonplace on the streets. Not only
could this help to start filling the void for those 96% of respondents that said seeing a smile
brightens their day, but it could help reduce the stress of seeing masks on the street if their
wearers are spreading positivity with a twinkle in their eye as they smile at you via their
remaining visible assets.
Stay safe. Stay positive. Smize.