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On smiling in pictures

Laine magazine

If you’re not a knitter (and even if you are probably) you might not have heard of all the kerfuffle that happened recently about the photo above. The pattern designers Brooklyn Tweed posted the picture, which is from Laine magazine and features one of their jumper designs. And then everyone went a bit mad. Some people started complaining about the model’s facial expression, saying that her looking angry put them off knitting the jumper, why can’t she smile. One person said she looks like a man. Then lots more people started reacting to that, pointing out the sexism in telling women to smile, that male models look similarly grumpy all the time and no one says anything, and that just cos someone doesn’t smile doesn’t make them masculine. People also point out that it’s usually men that make those kind of comments about women, but here it is women themselves (knitters being like 95% female). There are now 315 comments on that photo, mainly defending the photographers/magazine – there were maybe 10 or so negative comments at the start.

I totally agree with all of that, no one owes anyone a smile. This is an editorial photo, telling a story, not the pattern photo whose main purpose is showcasing the pattern design, and I think it works wonderfully as that. I don’t read her facial expression as anger at all, though I do agree it is striking and makes you think what is going on. Which I’m guessing was the reason for including it!

But what I do wonder is why people have jumped on this photo in particular, as opposed to the 99,999 other photos just like it. Because, as a person who often smiles in outfit pictures, I am very aware that that’s actually pretty unusual. As far as i can tell, outfit bloggers tend to take inspiration from three areas:

1. Haute couture advertising and editorial, where the models’ facial expression mostly is like this Laine models. I guess the difference is that those kind of models also tend to be 20 and extremely tall/thin, so maybe the fact that this woman is older and of a more average/everyday body shape, makes the picture not read as that.

2. Magazine editorials, which often feature women in sort of pretend candid situations, walking along a street, having coffee, getting out of a car, or whatever. I guess the predominant facial expression here is sort of almost smiling looking away from the camera into the middle distance?

3. Streetstyle photography. The usual thing here is looking straight at the camera with a neutral expression.

I feel like most bloggers go for one of these approaches, and few people smile at the camera, the way you would if you were on a night out and someone was taking a group picture. Which makes it doubly weird that people had that reaction to this photo!

P.s. Not saying that either smiling or not smiling are ‘better’. I like to smile because I prefer the way I look when I smile (society, blah blah blah), I figure if I’m taking pictures with a self timer, I’m obviously posing so I may as well smile, and because I’ve got a major case of bitchy resting face. Which, in honour of the Laine model, I’ve taken a photo of in my latest outfit photos. Here is is in all its glory:

grumpy face

I will tell you about that yellow jumper soon!

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