AI and the American Smile

A writer signing their name as “Jenka” on Medium describes a Midjourney experiment to envision selfie photos throughout history, which gave the subjects big smiles, making them all look American.

Smiling is not a universal language; the big, confident grin is uniquely American, Jenka says. Eastern Europeans see someone who smiles all the time as foolish or dishonest.

Jenka quotes French-American journalist Camille Baker, who writes about a woman Baker calls “Sofiya:”

“The expectation was, you have to smile eight hours a day,” [Sofiya says]. A 41-year-old Russian émigré who had been living in the United States for the past decade, Sofiya “was a proficient English speaker,” Baker writes, but it was in her job as a bank teller that she “came face-to-face with her deficiency in speaking ‘American.’ This other English language, made up of not just words but also facial expressions and habits of conversation subtle enough to feel imagined. Smiling almost constantly was at the core of her duties as a teller. As she smiled at one customer after another, she would wince inwardly at how silly it felt. There was no reason to smile at her clients, she thought, since there was nothing particularly funny or heartwarming about their interactions. And her face hurt.”