Picture this: You learn a complicated dance routine for an upcoming competition. It requires a third person with whom you don’t normally perform. There is a lot of money on the line. You rehearse for hours and hours with your partner. The day of your competition comes, and you’re feeling the pressure. You sit through hours of hair, makeup, and wardrobe. You pull off your routine, the second one of the night, in heels and in front of millions of people you're trying to convince to vote for you.
And then comes the judging panel.
They offer mostly positive commentary and constructive feedback. You’re tired, but you listen and take it all in. And then the host asks you something: Why aren’t you smiling? This happened to Simone Biles during last night’s Dancing With the Stars. And when Tom Bergeron inquired about why she wasn't smiling at the positive feedback, he wasn’t expecting the answer that Biles had to give.
“Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals,” Biles — who, I shouldn’t have to remind you, is a four-time Olympic gold medalist — quickly and coolly shot back to the host, finally releasing a coy smile for the world to see. And it worked, Bergeron quickly moved on to get feedback from the next judge. It was definitely a buzz-worthy moment for Dancing with the Stars, but Biles’ message hit home for too many women. The policing of women’s bodies, a problem that has reached epidemic proportions, reaches beyond reproductive rights. Women’s facial expressions are also up for debate and critique, and susceptible to others' demands.
Women are expected to be gatekeepers of friendliness and pleasantries. At work, we worry about being seen as too bossy or overbearing. We are constantly toeing a line between being perceived as too emotional or too frigid. We are expected to be graceful and nice all the time. On the streets — when we are exercising our right to daydream, run through our to-do lists in our heads, worry, listen to music, or just breathe — we are given the unsolicited advice to smile. It’s become such a problem that artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh created a whole series called "Stop Telling Women To Smile." For those of us who ever feel the urge to reply, this young Olympian just gave us the perfect response.
There are some mantras that stand the test of time. They always work to help many women feel inspired, motivated, and generally more comfortable in our skin. For example: “Well-behaved women seldom make history” and, “You have the same amount hours in a day as Beyoncé.” Biles just added her clapback to the list. I hope there is a T-shirt coming soon.