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June 2, 2017

Smiling is a funny thing. We’ve almost become conditioned to smile on request, to pose for photos without smiling is akin to unwittingly commit a crime against social norms. I was told that the more you smile, the happier you feel. That your brain sends you a lovely chemical cocktail of endorphins that make you feel good. Smiling has become an automated response, a way of signalling well being, and a way of signalling approval and attraction to others. But where did this come from? Well, I think we can trace the smile a long way back. Imagine the scene, you are a paleolithic hunter. You want to mate, to create babies, to bring sons into the world to both strengthen your tribe and aid you in your daily tasks. So, you want to signal your intent, but social norms and even language are in their infancy. So, unless you want to pander to stereotypes, and simply throw the woman over your shoulder, take her to your cave and ravish her, how do you communicate complex concepts and subtle ideas in a moment? you simply show her your teeth. In that fleeting glance of teeth and gums, you have sent a signal to your intended mate. You have shown her that your teeth are healthy, that your breath is healthy, that you have a good diet, that you do not carry disease, that you can hunt, provide and breed. In essence, you are showing her that you are worthy of her companionship. Of course, this goes both ways; she’ll show you her teeth too, thereby signalling her age, social status and health. In time, this glimpse of the mouth, this almost intimate look at the internal workings, evolved into a smile. And this smile carries with it reminders of sex, through chemicals that make us feel good. So, association, both ovate and subtle, a smile tells a story. It shows the world so much more than our ability to take a good selfy. It reminds us of our past, are ancestors, and shows us that before Tinder and we had only our mouths, and our biological and social signifiers. 


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