RBF, it’s real. Oh, is it real.

Lisa Sugarman

I’m often amazed by how many mind-blowing phenomena there are out there in the world. And there are a lot of them, believe me. I’ve checked.

You’ve got your natural ones and your fascinating ones and your ridiculous ones and your cultural ones, all ranging from bizarre to beautiful to seemingly impossible. Stuff like volcanic lightning and super storm cells and snow donuts and the phenomenon of Justin Bieber’s continued popularity.tumblr_nkau9fSwRd1spdt2jo1_540.jpg

Some of them have clear cut reasons behind their existence and some are just a mystery. Either way, they attract our attention and make us say Wow, that’s pretty wild.

But there’s one phenomena that’s gotten a lot of press lately. One that’s piqued a lot of peoples’ interest, including mine. In fact, it’s drawn so much attention in the news over the last year or two that a couple of scientists took it upon themselves to find an explanation for it.

Now maybe you’ve heard of it or maybe you haven’t, but I can promise you that if you accuse any high school or college-age girl of having RBF, they’ll probably smack you. And that’s because RBF stands for Resting Bitch Face, which, as I’m sure you can guess, is not a compliment.

Broken down in simplest terms, RBF refers to the expression that a lot of people wear that gives off the vibe that they’re annoyed. You know it, it’s that lack of affect that some people have that can very easily be misconstrued as being pissy. And it just so happens that a lot of people out there (predominately women, hence the bitch part) wear this expression pretty regularly.untitled.png

And where this becomes problematic in today’s relationship-driven society is that it creates the illusion that the person with RBF is cold or annoyed even when they may not be at all. And that can be a real issue when you have to work or spend any kind of time with that person because it’s very challenging to figure out where you stand when you can never truly read them.

Back in 2013, when the phrase was born as a joke Public Service Announcement and went viral on the Internet, it was more or less just a parody. Ultimately, though, it became such a big issue on such a global scale that the scientific community decided to throw some money and some resources at the “condition” to determine once and for all if there’s any real validity to this whole RBF thing. And wouldn’t you know, there actually is.

According to a CNN Breaking News report from earlier this month, RBF is real. And we know this because a bunch of actual scientists said so.

Here’s an excerpt from the CNN article with their actual findings:

In October 2015, scientists Abbe Macbeth and Jason Rogers from Noldus Information Technology, a company that develops software for observational and behavioral research, used the company’s FaceReader software to analyze the faces of celebrities like Kanye West, Kristen Stewart, Anna Kendrick and Queen Elizabeth II, notable public figures who have been known to occasionally wear a less-than-pleased expression. What they discovered was that celebrities who had bored or annoyed looks were showing underlying levels of emotions that are not seen in people who don’t have RBF.

Fascinating, right?

Now onto what it really means.

Broken down into simplest terms, it means that even though many peoples’ neutral faces are just expressionless and more or less benign, there are at least as many more people roaming around out there whose neutral faces project contempt. And that’s sucky, both for them and for us. Which is the underlying thing about RBF—it sends such a mixed message even when the wearer of the bitch face isn’t trying to send any message at all. And that throws people off because the expression almost always projects an air of discontent.test-facereader-participant.jpg

Now granted, according to the guys from Noldus who studied the condition, there are obvious cultural differences and gender bias that factor into RBF. They took into consideration that Eastern European people are seen as very stoic and not showing a lot of emotion and … a lot of the people touted as having RBF are women, Macbeth said.

So is any of this really all that important? Of course not. If you ask me I think it’s completely absurd. But it is intriguing because it gives you some valuable insight into what that blank, bitchy look on your friend’s face actually means. And knowing that up front is a valuable life skill.

Significant or insignificant, it’s still interesting that RBF has morphed into something that’s really real. And it’s got me thinking that I might submit my headshot to the folks at FaceReader to see what they say. You know, just for s**ts and giggles.

Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.


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