The Fake Smile vs. The Real Smile

Don't Confuse the Two

I follow a lot of students on Instagram and I’m friends with a lot of you (their parents) on Facebook. I see a lot of photos on social media every day. A vast majority of those photos feature smiling people. The smiles I see on Facebook and Instagram are different from the smiles I see in real life. It’s the difference between a person’s real smile and his fake smile.

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock/fidelio

The real smile, also known as the Duchenne smile, flashes across a person’s face while experiencing genuine joy. The fake smile is the one we’ve all been trained to put on when posing for pictures, myself included.

I love seeing junior high students flash their real smile, partially because it is rare. Genuine joy is difficult to come by when students constantly face the allure of iPhones, iPads, Xboxes, and TVs—all of which provide nothing even close to the beauty of a moment that brings out the real smile. “Cheap entertainment” really is cheap—available in mass quantities and lacking much value or meaning.

Seeing the real smile is a constant challenge that can only be overcome with presence and intentionality. Personally, it brings me great joy whenever I can say or do something that brings out the real smile in a student.

Social media isn’t bad and I’m not suggesting photos with the fake smile are fake. I’m not accusing anyone of intentionally living a double life because of what they post on Facebook. Perhaps referring to it as a “fake” smile is a bit too strong.

Regardless of what you call it, I am convinced there is a difference between the smile of genuine joy and the contrived smile we put on for a photo. That’s why we love those rare, candid photos that happen to capture a moment of genuine joy on someone’s face.

What does it say about us that we even sense the need to “put on” a smile for photos? Is it a coincidence that “Say Cheese” is related to the word “cheesy?” I don’t know exactly what to feel or think when I see a photo and have an internal gut reaction that tells me, “That’s not his real smile.”

Don’t stop posting staged photos with smiles. Just be careful that you don’t confuse the fake smile with the real smile, and don’t be content with fake smiles. If our lives are merely filled with fake smiles, that’s a problem.

I’m aiming for real smiles from myself and the people around me, even though they’re harder to come by. They’re infinitely more valuable and have much greater meaning.