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A Coronavirus Guide to Smizing in Your Face Mask

Maybe nobody can see you smile, but the eyes are the windows to the soul. Make Tyra proud!

The silver lining to these stringent and emotionally exhausting quarantine conditions is that masks are a little bit fun. They’re like a disguise! Nobody knows what I really look like, and they definitely can’t tell what I’m thinking by my expressions. I’m enjoying the complete anonymity of it. 

But admittedly, it also presents some problems. Like, does the dog that I saw across the street the other day know that I would die for it? Does the grocery store cashier sense the sincerity of my “thank you”? 

While our ability to express is limited by the mask, our most powerful feature is still visible. It’s time to put those years of watching America’s Next Top Model to work, and smile with our eyes. 

When Tyra Banks told aspiring models to “smize,” she was encouraging them to show emotions through their eyes, rather than actually smiling. In a video for Marie Claire, she instructs the viewer to think of something that makes you feel “delicious” and to “relax the face, as if you put novocaine in your mouth.” Then, squint, and think of that “delicious” thing. 

The result is more of a glare, though it certainly works in modeling contexts. IRL, it probably looks a bit Zoolander-ish. But according to Sarah Hartshorne, comedian and former contestant on Cycle 9 of ANTM, you can still make smizing work in everyday life. “Smizing takes practice, but it’s basically thinking about smiling, narrowing your eyes and then not actually smiling,” she says. “That sounds weird, but it’s like how the best way to act drunk is to try really hard to seem sober. If you look in the mirror, make eye contact with yourself and then think about smiling and narrowing your eyes, but don’t.”

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When we authentically smile, most of us involuntarily squeeze the muscles around our eyes. In a study from Bangor University in Wales, the presence of small wrinkles in the corners of eyes were found to be the difference between a real smile and a fake one — when someone fakes their smile, their eyes don’t move. In other words, the people around you might still be able to tell that you’re smiling at them while wearing a face mask, even if they can’t see your mouth. 

In selfies, though, the smizing technique can really shine. “When you’re taking a selfie or having your picture taken, you want to make sure to make eye contact with the camera, not yourself. The real trick is to look through the camera, like you’re looking behind it,” Hartshorne explains. “Your eyes look best the second after you pose them. The picture right after the one where you pose is usually the best. So, for example, widen your eyes, and then snap the picture a millisecond after that for a more natural wide-eyed look.”

“Also, for smiling (or smizing) you want to take the picture at the top of your inhale,” she continues. “That’s more for the mouth, but it affects your eyes too. So you make eye contact, breathe in, smize and snap the photo.” 

In short, smiling and using our words are probably still the best method of expressing ourselves when out in the world, but we certainly don’t need to let those face masks stop us from delivering some fire selfies to our beloved Instagram followers.