General Question

choreplay's avatar

Can someone change their countenance?

Asked by choreplay (6290 points ) January 1st, 2013

As my wife says my expressions belie what I’m really like. Short answer is I look pissed off all the time. If I’m thinking, I look pissed off; if I’m concentrating, I look pissed off; if I’m frustrated, I look pissed off; if I’m pissed off, I look pissed off.

If I determine to be deliberate about it, can I change my countenance?

Has anyone had any experience with anything like this or have any suggestions?

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25 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Check to see whether you frown on a regular basis. The frown and its lines and squinty eyes can give you an oafish, irritated or boorish expression.

It’s pretty easy to countermand.

choreplay's avatar

@gailcalled Any experience or advice on how to countermand? Do you know anyone who has accomplished that?

cookieman's avatar

I have the exact same problem. I try to countermand it by being genuinely warm and funny toward people. I’m not sure how successful I am at it.

bossob's avatar

You described me to a T. My wife can tell where I’m at by looking at my eyes, but most people cant’ read me. The advantage to that is that I don’t get crap from people. The disadvantage is that it can keep good people at arms length.

I make a conscious effort to look people in the eye, give a half smile, and say something pleasant. Sometimes I can see their defenses fade away in an instant when they realize I’m not a bad guy. I’ve become more gregarious in my later years, and that makes it easier too.

syz's avatar

I apparently have; I never used to get bothered by talkative plane seatmates, strangers in stores, etc. I was told by multiple people that I looked unapproachable. But that’s been changing lately, and I’m not happy about it! (I recently got trapped into a conversation with a lady in her 70’s wanting relationship advice about her gentleman friend and their love life – yikes!)

choreplay's avatar

@syz, great story, there are advantages and disadvantages, aren’t there. lol

SABOTEUR's avatar

lol…people that don’t know me think I’m pissed all the time ‘cause I wear a perpetual scowl.

I developed that scowl long ago as a mask to ward off possible street confrontations.

I often forget to remove it.

But yes…it is possible to change your countenance by being mindful of how you look to other people. You then make a conscious effort to relax your facial expression.

I guess whatever success you have with this will depend on how “hard” you look. I have soft features so the effect is rather significant when I choose not to scowl.

(still laughing)

Good luck with that!

SABOTEUR's avatar

These answers are a revelation to me. I thought I was the only one who purposely hardened their expression. I’ll be damned…!

hearkat's avatar

A few years ago, in my early 40s, I started to notice that my frown lines were starting to make permanent wrinkles above the inside corner of my eyebrows. I did not want to go into my later years looking perpetually grouchy, and I am opposed to botox and injectable fillers. I also have an underbite, so my lower teeth protrude beyond my upper teeth, which causes my mouth to appear downturned even when my expression is neutral, and my smile is disorted as well. At the same time, I was experiencing other personal revelations as I shifted my attitude from a chronically depressed cynical pessimist, to a more even-keeled, hopeful realist. So my transformation technique involved attitude and physical expressive changes.

I started paying more attention to what was good in my life and the world around me, and began looking for the silver lining in negative situations. Practicing gratitude is an ongoing effort, but like all habitual changes, it gets easier with time. I also chose to distance myself from the people and situations that do stress me out or make me unhappy – mostly through emotional detachment and learning to let other people own their issues, instead of taking them personally. I’ve focused on finding like-minded people and I laugh more now than I ever have in my lifetime.

Physically, I have to put in a mindful effort to make a more alert and interested expression. Around this same time is when camera phones and social networks were becoming popular, so photos were being taken regularly – and I am not naturally photogenic. So I did spend some time in the mirror and with my own camera, learning how to strike a flattering but not exaggerated pose and facial expression. It feels silly and unnatural, but like all behavior changes, it becomes more comfortable over time. I started consciously working on my posture about 20 years ago, and that has become second-nature now. Sometimes I have to correct myself, and if I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror I take note and make adjustments.

Lastly, I did invest in a pricey anti-wrinkle system and got some microdermabrasion treatments done back then, and now, those frown lines are only visible if I really look for them – I did catch them in the very early stages, so I had a good result. I’ve decided to accept that I am growing older and I will wrinkle, but I want the wrinkles to represent a life well lived; so I choose happiness and positivity.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@hearkat Thorough, informative response.

Sunny2's avatar

I was working in a hospital and walking along the corridor thinking my own thoughts and people would ask me what was wrong? Why was I sad? I realized that my face, in repose, had a kind of sad look, although I was feeling fine. I worked at having a smile on my face, (just a little one) and the comments stopped. Over the years, it’s become habitual. If you frown all the time or your jaw is tight, what ever makes you scowl, try relaxing those muscles consciously. It may take practice, but you can do it. Good luck.

bossob's avatar

@SABOTEUR said: “I developed that scowl long ago as a mask to ward off possible street confrontations.”

Interesting! I did just the opposite. I made a point to look people in the eye, give one nod of my head upward, and offer a half-gutteral ‘Hey’ to avoid confrontation.

Cultural and regional differences?

Bellatrix's avatar

I don’t think you can constantly be conscious of the expression on your face or of the impression it gives to others. I think you may just have to live with looking fairly serious and stern.

I have a quite sunny disposition but at work when I am lost in my thoughts (as @Sunny2 has found) people will ask me if I am okay because I look sad or upset. I’m not. I’m just thinking about something fairly intensely.

If you try to force things by keeping a smile on your face, you run the risk of looking inane!

As a side note, I think you are a very handsome man and you look very dignified in the photos I have seen.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@bossob Perhaps. As I said previously, I had soft features in my youth. Soft features and a polite manner seemed to attract unwanted attention. Like I was someone who could easily be taken advantage of.

Which I was. I’ve never been a fighter or had many friends, which makes living in an occasionally rough environment a bit of a disadvantage. I found, though, that adapting a bit of a swagger, slurring my speech and looking like I was half crazy made me less of a “mark”.

@Bellatrix Thanks for the compliment. I believe many of my co-workers would agree with you…

now. I currently mentor employees who require retraining. In a few weeks I’ll begin teaching. Some of the students I mentor said they were initially intimidated ‘cause I looked angry all the time, often speaking “aggressively”. Didn’t take long for them to discover I’m more like a comedian, and that I speak with authority (when required) to get my point across. My disposition turns out to be an effective teaching too, it seems, since they’ve found I’m congenial enough to approach, yet I don’t take any nonsense.
They walk away knowing what’s important and what’s not.

gailcalled's avatar

You can frown deliberately and then relax your face. if you check occasionally, you can see what your default expression is.

Similar to standing up straight or sucking in your gut, without being vigilant every second, you can have some control over what your muscles are doing.

When I mind my posture and put a pleasant expression on my face, often people ask me whether I have lost weight, inherited a lot of money or gotten younger. It is interesting.

SABOTEUR's avatar

@gailcalled It is interesting! I often amuse myself by watching the reaction of people who work in my building. Someone approaching from another direction is greeted with “The Scowl”. As they’re about to pass I smile, make eye contact and pleasantly greet them.

The startled expression on their faces as they mumble a reply is priceless!

Judi's avatar

I think if you studied The Alexander Technique you might be able to change the way you appear to others.

SABOTEUR's avatar

What does it say about me that I read a comment addressed to someone else and see my name? Sorry Bellatrix!

Bellatrix's avatar

Lol, well you are a dignified and good looking man so I chose not to correct you :D It also made me giggle so all good here!

SABOTEUR's avatar

To Do List
1. Slow down.
2. Put on glasses.
3. Scrape egg from face.
(Thanks @Bellatrix)

augustlan's avatar

Unless my husband is smiling, he looks downright scary, so I know where you’re coming from. A smile never hurts, but of course you want it to be a genuine smile. Maybe thinking about happy things will help?

wundayatta's avatar

I think it’s really hard. You have to be conscious of your expression all the time and deliberately put a smile on your face. I think if you work at this for a couple of years, you may find that your expression may start to naturally smile, but you have to work at it. You have to never relax. And even then, I’m not sure your face will end up relaxing into a smile.

Another option may be to start working on your confidence. I recently went through a set of experiences that helped me believe that I am more attractive than I thought I was. Now when I walk around, I will engage women in eye contact and smile at them, and often they will smile back. Even more odd, women have been looking at me first, from time to time. I attribute this to a difference in my belief about how women see me.

Or it’s just random chance.

Or perceptual vigilance.

choreplay's avatar

Wow, didn’t come back for a few days and so many great answers. Thank you all. All of the advice and encouragement was appreciated.

gailcalled's avatar

@choreplay. Frown deliberately and look in the mirror. Then relax your facial muscles. Look agein. Turn the corners of your mouth up just the least amount.

gibby's avatar

Simply smile more often. Surprisingly you will find you actually feel happier along with being precieved as happy.

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