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I’m told I have a terrific smile when there are no cameras around, but the second someone points a lens my direction, I turn into a robot who cannot muster a genuine grin. I look like I’m being held hostage and forced to send a false signal of comfort back home with a ransom note. It’s this “this is fine” meme personified by a man’s tentative smile, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way for me (or for you).
If you’re like me and look like an awkward middle school kid on picture day, don’t despair: You can work on having a more natural smile in a few easy steps.
How to perfect your smile for the camera
It might seem unnecessary to exercise your face in order to improve your smile, but there are forty-two muscles in the face, giving it one the most varied muscle groupings in the human body. Some people offer the dubious beauty advice that the face can be exercised for various purposes, including reversing the aging process (though there is little rigorous scientific evidence to back that up).
There is, however, a way to train your face to smile more naturally. The most common way to do this involves smiling as wide as possible for intervals of ten seconds followed by puckering your lips. The idea is to give you more control over your facial muscles, so you know what you’re doing when the camera is trained on you.
One way to do this is conveyed by Ozarko Dentistry:
You want to smile as widely as you can with your lips open, holding the pose for at least 15 seconds and repeating 10 times. You’ll know you’re smiling widely enough if you feel some mild straining in your cheeks. If you don’t feel anything, then try to smile a bit wider. As you continue this exercise over several days, you’ll quickly notice an improvement in how wide you can smile.
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Another one advocated by Ozarko Dentistry is called “the Rabbit,” but you don’t necessarily need to call it by that name in public. As always, do this kind of thing in front of a mirror:
Start by smiling as wide as you can while keeping your mouth closed. It can help to visualize that your smile is extending from ear to ear. While smiling, try wiggling your nose until you feel your cheek muscles engaging. Hold the pose for about five seconds, and repeat 10 times.
Despite it not having a huge place in mainstream science, a 2014 article published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research did tout the benefits of doing facial exercises to improve one’s smile. If anything, this will get you accustomed to having more control when you’re actually asked to smile, instead of attempting to will an authentic grin to life.
How to trick yourself into smiling
The trick to smiling, as anyone with real, human emotions can attest, is thinking about something that makes you feel happy. Sometimes this doesn’t work, though, as conjuring images of your beloved dog might still produce the smile of a goon (especially if you’re me).
The Art of Modern Dentistry recommends a trick that photographers often use:
One trick is to first make an unnaturally grumpy face. Many photographers use this trick on their clients to get natural smiles. When they tell their clients to make a grumpy/serious face and hold it, the clients can’t resist eventually reverting to a natural smile.
There are more psychological tricks you can try, too. For starters, you can imagine someone you like, or who makes you laugh, behind the camera. If I were to imagine Danny DeVito or someone else who amuses me behind the camera, my smile probably wouldn’t be as awkward. These psychological components, combined with learning how to control the movement of your face, might help you get a little better at smiling on command.