Smile? Of course I know how to smile. Smiling is a basic facial expression that normal human beings make dozens of times a day without even thinking about it. And I’m definitely a normal human being who smiles on a regular basis.

Oh, you mean smile right now? For the camera? Uh, sure, no problem! Just give me a minute to get into the right pose. What kind of smile are we going for here? Like, did someone tell a joke that’s kind of dumb, but I’m trying to be polite? Or am I a minimum-wage worker who’s really excited to welcome the next person in line to this Subway sandwich bar? Or is this a gesture of peace, where I’m a fifth-century Saxon warrior approaching a rival Frankish tribe, and I want to show that I’m not hiding weapons between my teeth? A little direction on this whole smiling thing would help. I don’t want to overdo it and look like a serial killer. Or underdo it and look like a serial killer.

Why are you looking at me like that? Is it because I’m thinking about serial killers? Oh god, can you tell from my face that I’m thinking about serial killers? I’ll stop thinking about serial killers.

All right, here goes. Lips parted, cheeks pulled back, all my teeth on display. Is that too much? Sorry, I’m a little nervous. How about just the top row of teeth, along with the entire upper gumline going back to the molars? Does that look correct? Is this a normal smile?

On second thought, you probably don’t need to see my teeth. Let me try again. I’ll keep my mouth closed this time, stretch the corners as far as they’ll go, and make very intense eye contact with the camera. Am I doing it right? Is this what regular people look like when they’re happy?

Maybe I should do some mouth exercises to warm up my facial muscles. Eeeee-ooooo-ahhhhh. I’m a little out of practice right now, but I swear I normally smile all the time. I mean, not all the time. I’m not the Joker, ha ha!—oh god, I’m not supposed to think about serial killers. I just mean I have an appropriate amount of experience in smiling for a normal adult person, which is why I’m opening my mouth wide enough for you to see my uvula. That’s typical to do while smiling, right?

Oops, I forgot about the eyes. What’s supposed to happen with my eyes during a smile? Do I open them extra wide? Or scrunch them up so you can see crow’s feet? Should it be subtle, like a hatchling crow poking its foot out of an eggshell? Or are we thinking extra-squinty, like a whole murder of crows claw-fighting? Sorry—I didn’t mean murder! I’ve never even murdered anyone. I almost never think about murder. Like most normal people, I spend most of my time thinking about whether my smile properly conveys my non-murderous intentions.

Okay, I’ve got it this time. I’ll purse my lips together, hike them up towards my nose like high-waisted suspenders, and tilt my head back, so my face is about 60 percent chin. Am I doing a smile correctly? Does that look normal?

It does? Great! I’ll hold my expression just like this.


Have you taken the photo yet?

Still holding.

Any chance you could take the picture sometime soon? My cheeks are going numb. My teeth are chattering from being clenched so tight. And I’m about to pass out from holding my breath.

You get it? Awesome! Let me just massage my jaw to get the blood flowing to my face again. Phew, that was a rough start, but I think I managed a decent take of this social cue that babies usually master by the age of eight weeks. Can I see how the photo turned out?

… Oh god, I look like a serial killer.