Simone Biles is one woman who will not be smile-shamed. No sir.
The four-time Olympic gold-medal winning was having none of it when “Dancing with the Stars” judges told her that they’d like to see her smile more often during her performances.
“Your skills are unquestionable,” Carrie Ann Inaba told her. “You hit every line with precision and perfection. But once again, I’m going to come back to performance and authenticity about who you are when you perform. … You have this beautiful smile and you are a megastar with your energy, but once in a while, there’s beauty without a smile. There’s beauty in pain and all of the other emotions, and I’d like to see more of that.”
Judge Julianne Hough agreed, adding, “I don’t know if the smile is authentic because you want to smile, or if it’s just because you rehearsed it that way. … I really just want to see some rawness come out.”
Biles allowed that, “I’ve lived in a gym 14 years of my life, so it’s hard to show something I’ve never felt before,” before shutting down the idea pretty emphatically.
“Smiling,” the 20-year-old gymnast told host Tom Bergeron, “doesn’t win you gold medals.”
Good for her. She is an Olympic athlete, not a beauty-pageant competitor even if this was just the froth of a made-for-TV dance competition. Besides, she smiled at the appropriate times.
Women have been told to smile for years, but it really began rubbing people the wrong way during last year’s presidential campaign, when Hillary Clinton was criticized for not smiling and then for smiling.
“The sexualization behind telling women to smile is alarming,” Erika Hardison wrote on Huffington Post. “It makes women feel that we are only meant to be happy and pretty and it’s a passive way to engage into an unwanted conversation.”
Joe Scarborough, the host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” found out the hard way when, a year ago, he said of Clinton after primary wins, “Smile. You just had a big night.”
Women were probably not smiling as they tweeted: “Frown. You just had a big night of proving you’re a dope,” tech journalist Kara Swisher wrote. “Way to condescend to a potential future world leader,” wrote another. Plenty of women did respond with smiles, some of which were extremely creepy.
The Post’s Jena McGregor cited Deborah Gruenfeld, a professor of leadership and organizational behavior at Stanford University, in writing about this last year. In Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” Gruenfeld said: “We believe not only that women are nurturing, but that they should be nurturing above all else. When a woman does anything that signals she might not be nice first and foremost, it creates a negative impression and makes us uncomfortable.”
The social media reaction to Biles’s comment? A lot of people identified with her feelings.