Well, I don't know how or why, but until a week ago I had never come across the initialism RBF. I read it in a comment that had a very nasty tone, like so many of the comments posted nowadays on social media, so I guessed it had to have a negative slant.
The target? A young North American woman currently working in television. For what it's worth, she's attractive-looking, slim, and appears to come from a good family.
Finding it impossible to work out the meaning of RBF on my own, I asked Google and found a Wikipedia page containing the following information.
Resting bitch face, also known as RBF or bitchy resting face, is a term for a facial expression (or lack thereof) which unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous.
The initialism appears to be sexist, and offensive because of the word bitch. Which Merriam-Webster defines as
- a often offensive : a lewd or immoral woman
b often offensive : a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse
And, as I discovered two years ago — to my chagrin — bitchy is an emotionally charged expression on EL&U, far more than I had anticipated, when I posted a question with that adjective in its title. In the end it was rewarded with 9 downvotes.
Although the terms bitch and bitchy are not compliments in the UK, they are (or were) less loaded. Dog breeders, and dog lovers use the term bitch for female dogs, as is only right and proper. I doubt whether the following title, first printed in 1988, The Book of the Bitch: A Complete Guide to Understanding and Caring for Bitches, would be possible in the US.
Thanks to Breaking Bad, we (non-Americans) know that bitch can be directed at both genders. But would an American English speaker describe Conan's relaxed face as being bitchy?
He might look sour, grumpy, tired, drawn, or depressed but a “bitch face”? I don't think so.
Grant Barrett, a New York Times journalist, said the concept of a person's sour expression by default existed at least ten years before Resting Bitch Face, Bitchy Resting Face, and Bitch Face came to light in 2013.
And an article on CNN reports,
RBF first gained attention when a meme took over the Internet in 2013. That, plus a viral mock-public service announcement on "Bitchy Resting Face" made the "condition" somewhat of a joke.
The YouTube video, Bitchy Resting Face, posted 22 May, 2013, is a parody of those TV commercials which talk about pseudo afflictions and disorders.
The Guardian, a British paper, dedicated an article to the neologism in July that year, stating
The real cause is that it wasn't coined until – amazingly – May of this year. Needless to say, it instantly grabbed the media's attention. Truly, a titbit with such potential for female anxiety and self-loathing is like an iron filing to the media's magnet.
Further on, the British journalist smugly added
The weirdest thing is the BRF does not actually exist: the video that coined the term was made by comedian Taylor Orci and is a joke, as some of you might have guessed from the very name BRF.[sic] Yet this has not stopped plastic surgeons eagerly offering cures for this non-existent problem.
However, digging around, I found a teen magazine online called xo Vain, and an article by Olga, dated April 10 2013, in which she wrote:
I've been afflicted with chronic bitchface for as long as I can remember. The first time a girl said to me "You know, I really don't like you, but now that we have to work on this project together, I'm having so much fun with you," was in the third grade. I was eight.
Bitchface starts early, y'all. Like really early.
On the very same day, a YouTube video by Madeline Mann, entitled: “My Struggle With Resting B*tch Face”, was posted. In the video she utters the initialism, RBF, and confesses earnestly to the camera
So, erm, this song is about, er... well, I've been told that I have an RBF, which is a ‘resting bitch face’. And that pretty much means — like my friend once told me that he would never come up to me in a bar because I just look so freakin', like I would just—like, bite off his head.
Digging further, I discovered what might be the predecessor of RBF, the term chronic bitchface. The British blogger/illustrator, Kristina, mentions it in her post dated March 26th, 2011, two years before “resting bitch face” had became viral.
Just doing my bit to spread awareness for this common, but little understood condition. Thousands around the world are affected by chronic bitchface, with sufferers having to endure being told to “SMILE” and “cheer up” by well meaning, but irritating strangers. There is no known cure.
In light of the comment posted by ‘justposting’ above, is RBF an emotionally charged term in the US? How offensive or derogatory is it?
Has this initialism, or expression caught on in the UK? If not, is there an equivalent?
When did RBF, Rest Bitch Face, or any of its variants first appear?
1. Resting bitch face (Wikipedia)
2. A Wordnado of Words in 2013 The New York Times
3. Resting bitch face' is real, scientists say CNN (February 4, 2016)
4. Non-derogatory word/phrase analog of "bi**** resting face" but for a young kid (EL&U)
5. Bitchy resting face: must it be taken so seriously? The Guardian
6. Does My Snobby Face Make Me Less Attractive?
7. My Struggle With Resting B*tch Face (YouTube)