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A couple months ago I was overjoyed when a Bed Stuy artist plastered the area with posters saying “Don’t Tell Me To Smile”, with drawn pictures of non-smiling ladies. If you are someone of any gender going around minding your business, or perhaps even feeling down, it never really helps the situation to hear some random person order you to do something, however well-intended. It also doesn’t help that in many cases, the suggestion is absolutely gendered, with some random guy telling a lady he doesn’t know from Eve what to do. AT BEST. I say ‘at best’ because in many instances this is followed up by said guy hitting on the girl, or yelling at her when she fails to comply. Oh, how I loved someone had taken that sentiment and painted the town red with it.

So recently when my sister sent a link to this Jezebel article on a sweater bearing that same message, I was happy the message was available in wearable form, but thought the design was hideous. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but here’s my quick mockup, to be executed by interested parties in permanent marker on any available t-shirt handy:

 

don't tell me to smile
(click for a larger image)

(and yes they make Sharpies in that exact shade of pink, should you so wish)

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An entry from (I kid you not) The Dorcas Magazine, May 1885:

CHARMING WOMEN, AND WOMEN IN EARNEST.
IT is the business of a woman of the world to be agreeable. She spares no pains to make herself just as good-looking as possible, and just as charming. And she is always tolerant. She may think you a fool for your beliefs, but she doesn’t tell you so brutally, or try to crush you with an avalanche of argument. She tries to look at it from your point of view; in short, she feigns a sympathy, if she have it not. Your woman with a purpose thinks it wrong to feign anything. They won’t pretend to be sympathetic any more than they will powder their faces, or let their dressmaker improve their figures. That’s why they are so boring; they are too narrow to be sympathetic, and too conscientious to be polite. It is earnestness does it; earnestness is naturally narrowing. It is earnestness, too, sets their nerves in a quiver, and makes them so restless. They can never sit still; they are always twitching, don’t you know? That’s earnestness. It has a kind of electrical effect. Women in earnest have no repose of manner. But a woman of the world feigns that, just as she feigns sympathy, because it makes her pleasent to other people. Oh, there’s no doubt of it-women with a purpose are vastly better than other women, but they are not nearly so nice!

I’m guessing ‘niceness’ was a list-topper in sought-after wifely qualities of 1885. Their advice of ‘if you don’t have it, fake it’ in order to appear pleasant is also rather disconcerting. So, if I’m an earnestly fidgety woman with purpose, I should continue to be so(because I’m better), but pretend to everyone I’m agreeable and nice? With tips like these, it’s no wonder so many women were treated for nerves.

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