A Word from Robbin

Robbin Orbison



to smile with your eyes


a smile with one’s eyes

I have recently discovered this delightful word, which was coined in 2009 by Tyra Banks on America’s Next Top Model. On the show, Ms. Banks coached contestants on how to maintain a neutral face while bringing expression to the eyes, apparently a skill highly valued in modeling.

The word itself is interesting because it combines the word smile with a phonetic spelling of the word eyes, i.e. ize, which not only sounds like eyes but bears its own meaning as a suffix connoting transformation, as in to turn something into something else. In this case, it turns smile into something more specific, and, as it turns out, more meaningful. You end up with a conveniently descriptive term that is both a noun and a verb. So I can both smize and wear a smize. How fun is that?

While Ms. Banks coined and popularized the word, it actually has roots from long before 2009. I have seen some articles that claim the smize was regularly practiced in Renaissance portrait art. If you look at the Mona Lisa, for example, it’s possible that she is smizing, but there is of course no proof of that.

In the mid-19th century, a French neurologist named Guillaume Duchenne identified two distinct types of smiles, one that involves the facial muscles around the mouth, and one that also involves the facial muscles around the eyes, which became known as the Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is thought to be more sincere than a plain old mouth smile.  You can get a quick understanding of this by thinking of something that truly delights you, and you will notice how the muscles higher up on your face spring into action in a way that does not happen when you are smiling for effect. Too much Duchenne, however, may also be a sign that someone is lying!

Later, in the mid-20th century, several researchers identified something called “microexpressions,” which are described as involuntary and split-second facial expressions that are thought to be most revealing of one’s true thoughts, as we don’t have time to edit them. A quick smize would be a microexpression, adding to the theory that a smize is more sincere than a mouth smile.

This would have been a timely blog a year or two ago when we were all still wearing masks all the time and trying to guess each other’s facial expressions. But I’m a person who opened a coworking center two months before a pandemic, so no one ever accused me of having impeccable timing.  Nevertheless, we do still wear masks sometimes, and if you want to appear friendly in your mask you can practice Duchenne smiling – or smizing. You can even watch YouTube videos on how to do it. Click here to watch Tyra herself giving a tutorial.

In conclusion, it’s worth a minute to reflect on where smiling, or smizing, fits into our current lives.  We’ve now been living through quite a few years of angst and stress in the world – vicious politics, scary viruses, social unrest, wars, threats to our environment, crazy global markets. Plenty of reasons not to feel like smizing, but maybe a few more smizes is exactly what the world needs. Maybe Louis Armstrong is right, and when you’re smizing the whole world smizes with you. Worth a try.

Wishing you all many heartfelt smizes and encounters with other smizers!