'Resting bitch face' could date back 9,000 years

The reconstructed face of Agvi, a young woman who lived around 7,000 BC in a cave in Greece. (Photo: Reuters/Costas Baltas)
The reconstructed face of Agvi, a young woman who lived around 7,000 BC in a cave in Greece. (Photo: Reuters/Costas Baltas)

“Resting bitch face,” a colloquialism for an unintentional but frequent scowl, isn’t necessarily an enviable trait. Ask anyone who has RBF the reason why it’s not so coveted and they’re likely to point out the volume of unsolicited advice that’s flung their way: “You should smile more!” “Stop looking so angry!” In recent years, women have begun to reclaim the facial expression and its derogatory moniker, going as far as using it as a symbol of power and plastering signs with phrases like “This Is My Resisting *Bitch* Face” at marches nationwide.

But for those who still find themselves playing defense because of an unintended mean mug, there’s finally a perfect comeback — it’s human nature. That’s how it appears, at least, after the reconstructed face of a 9,000-year-old girl was put on display at the Acropolis Museum in Greece last Friday. The teenage girl, named Agvi (Greek for dawn), appears with an unmistakable scowl — comparable to the one seen on, say, Kristen Stewart, an actor who has been called out for RBF so many times that she’s publicly addressed it.

Photo: Oscar Nilsson; Getty Images
Photo: Oscar Nilsson; Getty Images

Agvi was initially unearthed from a tomb in Ancient Greece back in 1993 and is estimated to have been between 15 and 18 years old when she died. According to National Geographic, it took a team of doctors to reconstruct her face — including an endocrinologist, an orthopedist, a neurologist, a pathologist, and a radiologist. The team was led by an orthodontics professor from the University of Athens, Manolis Papagrikorakis, who tapped a Swedish archaeologist and sculptor to help.

To achieve the silicone reconstruction, Papagrikorakis and his team first had to perform a CT scan of Agvi’s head, which allowed them to create a terra cotta copy of her skull. They used this, he told National Geographic, to map out her face down to each muscle, gluing pegs onto different parts of her face in order to outline each feature.

The result is an unmistakable glare, with eyebrows drawn inward and a clenched jaw. While it’s unclear whether this was the face she was making when she died or just a typical face she made, we do know that Agvi lived during the Mesolithic period (the seventh millennium BC). This means she would have been a hunter-gatherer, just beginning to sow crops and create tools out of polished stone.

While it seems irrefutable that she’s scowling in the reconstruction, it’s possible that the fact she’s a woman shapes our interpretation. That’s a concept two behavioral scientists explored in 2016 using a computerized tool called FaceReader. Jason Rogers and Abbe MacBeth, working with the international research and innovation firm Noldus Information Technology, used the software to analyze 10,000 images of human faces. To their surprise, they found RBF in men and women in equal numbers.

The implication of their research is that the plethora of stories on females with RBF has less to do with its prevalence in that demographic and more with society’s prescribed gender roles. “RBF isn’t necessarily something that occurs more in women,” MacBeth told the Washington Post. “But we’re more attuned to notice it in women because women have more pressure on them to be happy and smiley and to get along with others.”

MacBeth’s research supports the notion that RBF isn’t a reflection of the person’s actual mood but rather a facial expression that is interpreted negatively. In the case of Agvi, Papagrikorakis adds a new layer: Maybe she was in fact miserable.

“It’s not possible for her not to be angry during such an era,” Papagrikorakis jokingly told Reuters when questioned about her angry stare. While it was a quip, he says there is truth to the idea that Avgi may not have been the happiest teen. Her protruding jaw was apparently the result of “chewing on animal skin to make it into soft leather,” and she showed potential hip and joint problems, as well as possible anemia and scurvy.

So life may not have been pain-free for Avgi — but the truth is, we’ll never know. So if RBF sufferers need a shield against the smile police, her story seems like a solid candidate.

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