How Facial Expressions Could Hurt Hillary Clinton's Election Results

Hillary Clinton
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at the Black Women's Agenda Annual Symposium, Washington, D.C., September 16. Carlos Barria/Reuters

Hillary Clinton uses her “grandmother smile” to avoid the sexist taunt of “resting bitch face” during the presidential debates, body language and facial analysis experts tell Newsweek.

"Resting bitch face” is a facial expression (or lack thereof) that unintentionally appears angry, annoyed or irritated.

When a fly landed on the 68-year-old’s eyebrow mid-argument at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, during the second debate earlier this month, Twitter became a swarm of memes, jokes and puns. “Proof she’s a robot,” one account holder posted, when Clinton did not so much as flinch.

But according to psychologists, the Democrat—and her face—have an impossible task.

Voters have been socially conditioned to associate dominant, strong, reliable attributes with masculinity, Elizabeth Kuhnke, author of Body Language For Dummies, tells Newsweek. The reason they do this, she explains, is because men still tend to be at the top of the majority of industries—especially politics.

“No man would ever be at fault for having a serious look on his face,” Kuhnke said. “The resting bitch face doesn’t exist for men because it is simply a face of authority.

“A lot of people are threatened by this strong visage on a woman. Hillary’s advisers will be telling her to use her ‘grandmother smile’ as much as possible. It works, as well, because she has a nice smile and it brings warmth to her face.

“But when she’s deep in thought, she slips back to this ‘resting bitch face’ state. Her smile is not her comfortable spot.”

Clinton, who was criticized for both smiling too much and not smiling enough during the first presidential debate in September, has this week had elements of the inner workings of her campaign exposed. Emails posted by WikiLeaks reveal a buttoned-up campaign that analyzes nearly every decision, mirroring Clinton’s reputation as a methodical and tactical politician.

“Hillary is a careful and diplomatic person and so her natural, default face is a calm, contained, thoughtful expression,” Kuhnke said. “Hillary doesn’t use extreme gestures. Like Michelle Obama, she moves her hand toward the heart or gut when she’s talking about something emotional.

“Trump is the complete opposite. His body language and facial expressions are very similar to that of a child. He stamps his feet, he puts his thumb up a lot, he purses his lips and waves his arms around. Donald Trump gives every inch of his being away on his face.”

“Any incumbent or experienced leader—male or female—has the problem of having to stand there looking stoic while the other candidate slams them for every wrong move they’ve made in their career,” psychologist and body language expert Judi James tells Newsweek .

“That’s why [former U.K. deputy prime minister and ex-leader of the Liberal Democrats] Nick Clegg was so successful during his first debate. David Cameron and Gordon Brown just had to stand there, looking like they were being custard-pied.

“But women are expected to smile three times as much as any male counterpart. It’s why women are told to ‘smile or ‘cheer up’ at work so often.

“So, as a way to deal with that, Hillary’s advisers will have pushed her to smile. Unfortunately, it comes across hugely rehearsed. In fact, it comes across smug and arrogant.

“I don’t think Bill and her team worked it all the way through psychologically, when it comes to the smile.

“Plus, it’s inappropriate to smile when your opposition brings up a serious matter. And so she slips into ‘resting bitch face.’ She can’t really win.”

During last month’s first presidential debate, at Hofstra University, in New York, Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times while she attempted to answer moderator Lester Holt’s questions.

Shortly after the debate, The Huffington Post proclaimed: “This is what manterrupting looks like.”

But James says the human aspect of Trump’s on-stage pacing and interrupting will not be losing him too much support.

“The electorate will identify with the person who is making a fool out of themselves, which in this case, is Trump,” James explains. “This is how he wins empathy. Yes, Clinton looks calm and regal and presidential, but when it comes to psychology, it is almost so right that it can be wrong.

“Trump is a reality TV star and he has treated this whole campaign like a reality TV show. He uses gestures that people can mimic and when he gets frustrated, he lets it show. He knows that the more you show, the more you become the people’s champion. It’s the perverse voting that we see on Big Brother.”