I know I am. As a child, I struggled with smiling. A doting relative would approach me, wielding a camera—which in those days was an actual thing—with the hope of immortalizing some idyllic childhood moment. I would tense up, my face contorting into a ghastly mask: eyes soul-dead, lips ghoulishly retracting to cover my teeth. Aunts and uncles would flinch, my parents would worry that perhaps I suffered from a physical or emotional deficiency, my brother would insist I was an alien.
These days, I’m not doing much better.
I suspect I’m not alone in my struggle. Scoff if you will, but check this out: the smile is shockingly similar to the grimace. The open mouth, the bared teeth, the lifting at the corners of the lips caused by activation of the zygomaticus major muscle (thanks, Wikipedia): these may be cues that your witticism about Obama’s apologia to art history majors landed, or that your audience simply has indigestion. As you spiral into the depths of social anxiety, you are doomed to reveal your own mandibular inconsistencies as you fight to shroud your shame with a smile, only to realize you’ve merely smirked. And as your smirk and your selfhood sinks into a scowl, it hits you: even Grimace smiles better than you.
Merrily forcing us down the path to a perfect smile: the Beauty Smile Trainer. A beautiful smile is a gift; but the real beauty behind this device, developed by Japanese designers, is that you no longer have to experience emotions to induce a smile.
Japanese product designers seem to have a deep understanding of the problematics of the human interface, coupled with a mastery of the vast taxonomy of social cues. From developing an exhaustive repertoire of standard emotions to convincingly reproducing facial expressions that communicate them, the Japanese get it: we all suck at smiling. What’s more, they get that there is no hope that we’ll manage to turn our hideous frowns upside down without cramming something in our mouths.
We can gather the entire story off the packaging. It’s easy to see that the model’s toxic, toothy sneer isn’t doing her any favors. In all likelihood, her misguided attempt at smiling has only served to cruelly distance her from her fellow man, even as she hopes to draw them near. But she need not despair: in terms of righting the tremendous wrongs of a poor girl’s abomination of a smile, the Beauty Smile Trainer is on point. Superficially, I’ll grant that the Beauty Smile Trainer is pretty pedestrian, resembling a night crawler in shape and color. But if form must follow function and if these convincing before and after images are any indication, this thing really works.
If there is a design flaw here, it is that the Beauty Smile Trainer neglects the eyes. The most convincing smile activates the orbicularis oculi muscle (ditto Wikipedia) around the eyes, forming crow’s feet. The paradox here, of course, is that crow’s feet make you Ugly, whereas my complete inability to read Japanese leads me to determine that the Beauty Smile Trainer promises to make its user Not Ugly. Admittedly, though, Duchenne smiling, as it is known, or “smizing,” as Tyra Banks neologized, is the kind of smiling only high-earning supermodels have perfected. Even Grimace ain’t got it.
But anything beats a lifetime of awkward facial expressions—and dying alone. I am hoping for an opportunity to road test the Beauty Smile Trainer, if I’m able to get a particularly impressionable friend to bring one back from Japan. For those who are not fortunate enough to have friends abroad who are open to smuggling things in their cavities, the Beauty Smile Trainer is available on eBay for the completely reasonable price of $79.80. (Brook Rosini)