Iyanla Vanzant returned to OWN for another season of fixing broken families, parenting and love lives. She forces clients to dig deep and do the work often leaving them all distraught and despondent.
Nonetheless I’m still intrigued by her tactics to encourage introspection and openness on such intense topics all within a mere few days. So what could she do for us folk with less emotional issues? Perhaps something like my facial expressions problem. My face changes from stoic to disgusted, or maybe even from a smirk to a grimace, within 0.62 seconds just from a few words or actions.
Sure, I’m not the only person who gives quizzical looks. It’s an art for black women. Extra points for those who can cover the “head-to-toe” with a smile. It’s also true we can read others’ expressions most times. But mine? They’re extra. Words are optional because onlookers can read my thoughts. All of them.
But what exactly would Iyanla do for me? Draw out those thoughts? Ask me if they have sound? Or would she ask me why I can’t stick with simple expressions like happy, angry and sad?
Perhaps I give a lot of face because I’m shy and over time I’ve created this facial language to converse, especially when it comes to negative messages.
Let’s take for example how I write all day every day but neighbors can only process that I’m at home so I must be watching TV. Or tweeting. Not that I’m actually working, no matter how I verbalize it. I’m one interruption away from “Leave me the hell alone. Please.” But that’s too blunt and bitchy. So they knock on the door. For three straight minutes. By the time I answer, I have major ‘tude. No “Hi.” Just an automatic blank stare. And a tight lip.
“Oh, you busy, Tee?” most stutter at that point. “I’ll come back later.”
It’s the facial cues.
And then there are the instances when some man pimp walks in my direction, which automatically puts me on alert. Silence is often safer in these situations. We all know how that goes but it’s often one of those times when my face takes over and I don’t even realize what it’s doing.
I recently attended a cookout where I knew very few guests. Those of us who did know each other people-watched from one of the distant tables. While we chatted and laughed, an older man strutted toward us.
He spoke and added a few more things I ignored. Something along the lines of “pretty ladies” and “way over here.” The usual. We all exchanged pleasantries but he immediately directed his attention toward me, putting my face and I on blast.
“Why you look at me like that?” he asked.
I assumed I had smiled, albeit weakly, throughout the casual exchange. Wasn’t I was just laughing? But I guess it wasn’t a smile after all. Not even close.
“Like what?” I feigned innocence. Was it an eye roll then? The one where your eye travels in a half moon deep into the lid.
“Like you didn’t want to be bothered or something.”
Yep that’s the “what” eye roll followed by an exhale and probably the look of exasperation that said, “Okay here we go. Nobody over here wants you. So keep it moving.” But again that’s blunt and bitchy and bound to elicit some unwanted words on his end.
I tried to lie and say I misunderstood but of course I can’t do that very well because a lie requires a straight face. Surely not a strength over here. And a major weakness for someone like me who wants to learn how to play poker. But I don’t think Iyanla would advise me just so I can perfect gambling skills.
Although many say, “Your facial expressions are hilarious,” I’m aware they can be problematic because I’ve offended many a target. The poor man from the cookout may have genuinely wanted to check on our comfort since he was a relative of one of the hosts.
Still I really don’t mean to initiate honest face talk. Some things are just better left unsaid. And unread. I want to appear friendly, inviting and calm. Not defensive and presumptuous. And when I really don’t feel like it, at least fake that warm coverup smile. It shouldn’t be that difficult. Should it? I wonder what the trick is. Iyanla needs an episode on that.
Washington, DC transplant Teronda Seymore is a writer and an undercover Twitter addict whose work has also appeared online at xoJane. Follow her @skinnydcwriter.