Permission not to smile

My first boyfriend was a 6’3” linebacker and Chicano. We worked together as fundraisers for groups like HRC, Sierra Club, and Save the Children…going door to door.

When we worked, I watched him smile a big, silly smile that wasn’t really his.

He was trying to make himself seem safe for the small white ladies that would answer their doors in the wealthy neighborhoods we worked in.

Every woman I’ve ever talked about smiling with has agreed that we smile in part because part of us knows that pleasing can be life-or-death.

It’s a potentially life-saving skill to be able to smile and laugh…to pretend…when you slip away from someone who feels scary, for instance. Or to try to come across as *extra* harmless so that the police aren’t called on you/might be less likely to kill you.

Bottom line: No shade regarding smiling when you don’t mean it. It’s a luxury and a privilege that I almost never have to smile for my safety. So I stopped doing it. It’s a way that I honor myself and other people, which gives me more energy.

If you’re a leader (a person), smiling when you don’t mean it to rally yourself is one thing

(I once read a study about how if you put a pencil between your teeth, you activate the muscles for smiling and actually feel happier)

but if you’re with others and your facial expressions aren’t congruent with your feelings, many people have the capacity to discern that, and they probably *won’t* tell you, because the fact that you’re being incongruent makes them lose trust in you and thus feel less safe. 💓


Emma Garrett is an Executive Career Coach, helping high-integrity leaders position themselves for what’s next in work and life. Ready to start doing things differently? Consider scheduling a free call to share your situation and goals or checking out the resources at