When “Why Don’t You Smile” Becomes An Art Form

by Yesha Callahan


I’m sure just about every woman has been victim of the “Why don’t you smile” creep. You know, you could be walking anywhere, down the street, down the grocery store aisle, and you come across that dude who feels the need to ask, “Why don’t you smile?”.

Typically, my answer is usually a snide remark:

Because I have fucking craps.

Because my dog just died.

Because a fly landed on my face and now this mean mug is permanent.

Because I don’t want to look  dumb smiling for no damn reason while I’m picking out my spaghetti sauce.

Now most of the time men are shocked and speechless after I answer the question, other times, they just laugh and look at me crazy. For shits and giggles one day, as I was walking down H Street in D.C., I figured why not try harassing some poor unsuspecting guy.

Me: Hey handsome, why don’t you smile? (see I figured I’d be nice and throw in handsome)

Him:  Huh?

Me: Uh.. never-mind

Needless to say, he probably thought I was crazy.

I say all of this to introduce you to Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Fazlalizadeh is an oil painter / illustrator whose work focuses on portraiture and social/political themes and her street harassment art. Her art has been making appearances in the Bed-Sty neighborhood of Brooklyn.  The website, Stop Harassment recently interviewed Fazlalizadeh about her work:

Stop Street Harassment (SSH): What inspired your art project about street harassment?
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (TF): The project was inspired by my daily experiences with street harassment. Being harassed on the street is exasperating. I’ve wanted to do some art work on the issue for a while now, but I couldn’t figure out how to properly communicate what I wanted to say in my primary artistic medium – oil paint on canvas. Over the past year or so I’ve started working in public art as a muralist. Thinking about  creating art in a public space led me to this idea of wheat pasting posters. Because what better medium to create art about street harassment than street art.
SSH: Some of the prints are up on walls around Philadelphia, right? How many did you put up and how did you select where to post them?
TF: Philly, yes. As well as other places that I’m often in, mostly Brooklyn and other parts of NYC. This project is still very new and I plan to continue it and expand it, that includes venturing to different cities. I’ve placed them in areas that receive foot traffic, areas that I’ve personally been harassed, and spots that work well for wheat paste.

SSH: What reactions have you received from people who’ve seen them in person and from people who saw them on your Tumblr page?
TF: I’ve received a lot of positive reactions from women who relate to the captions on the posters. I’ve been having a lot of conversations, and a few debates, about street harassment as a result of this.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because the state of this medium is very temporary; it’s likely to put up a piece and for it to be gone a few days later. So to have the pieces captured and widely shared online was surprising but, I’m also very happy about that.

To learn more about Fazlailizadeh, visit her websites:

http://tlynnfaz.com/Stop-Telling-Women-to-Smile &  http://fazstreetart.tumblr.com/



  • http://twitter.com/KiaJD Nakia (@KiaJD)

    Shout out to Tatyana, Chakka, and all the other women involved in creating this work. Art as a statement, art as activism, and art as a voice for those who cannot speak (particularly under the silencing hand of street harassment) is so very important.

  • Anon

    There is this one, certain, now famous athlete that harassed me on the college campus where I was a student some time ago about this very thing. I would not smile at him. Then I had a slew of guys telling me to smile (jerks like him, some athletes, some not, some locals who hung out on campus, like drug dealers)…Next thing I know, people were calling me a bitch for no reason – I’d started getting harassed by random chicks as well, all because I would smile a dude who had a God complex. I can be friendly. It’s not like he came up to me and tried to hold a conversation, but was just dictating to me what I should do with my facial expression, as if he knew me, by default, just for being a chick on campus.

  • The Moon in the Sky

    I discovered these drawings several months ago. I posted a similar one on my Facebook page and a guy commented that the woman in the picture probably doesn’t like men.

    Don’t you wish everything in life could be a joke, for you?

  • http://www.urbanexpressive.com J. Nicole

    I used to give off the cusp responses also (my :random family member: just died- but I only used the ones who were actually dead). It’s one of the most annoying things, and most men don’t see it as harassment even though it is. I tell my male friends all the time not to use that line & stop trying to “holla” at every woman outside, especially when you don’t know whats happening on the inside.

  • Jeanette

    Yes, when you counter these jerks for telling you what to do they come with the weak as “she probably doesn’t like men” remark. No, I just don’t like dumb as men like you!

  • wordybnature

    I’ve never felt that a man was harassing me when he said “why don’t you smile.” I also don’t believe that all guys are trying to spit game when they are saying this. It is true that we don’t owe them conversation or time, I believe that sometimes basic platonic conversation is fine/healthy.

  • The Moon in the Sky

    Why don’t men tell other men to smile?

  • wordybnature

    Thats a question that is best answered by a man,lol.

  • http://gravatar.com/ceecollegegal CeeCee

    Are there any other locations to get a Stop Telling Women to Smile t-shirt? I went to stopstreetharrassment.org and the t-shirts are sold out. I guess I need to contact the site representative and see; I got to have one of those t-shirts.

  • http://yeshacallahan.com Yesha- Daily Editor, Clutch Magazine

    The only place to get one for now is via her store online, but they’re sold out. I would contact her directly for stock-updates.


  • SayWhat

    It could perhaps be because women are seen as softer, and gentler. I personally feel that when someone tells you to smile it is because they think your ‘mean mug’ is taking away from your beauty, and since they don’t see other men as pretty, then why ask them to smile?
    I have to say that I don’t see being asked to smile as some form of harrassment, the cutsie names (boo, baby, shorty) yes, but wanting to see my face light up with a smile…..not so much.

  • The Moon in the Sky

    A man telling a woman to smile is because he doesn’t want to see a ‘pretty’ woman not be pretty?

  • I agree. I really don’t think it’s that serious either. I couldn’t get emotional or angry about this topic even of I tried.

  • SayWhat

    @Moon…..’A man telling a woman to smile is because he doesn’t want to see a ‘pretty’ woman not be pretty?’….that is not what I said or meant.
    Let’s say someone sees a picture of you not smiling, they are likely to say ‘it would have been better if you smiled’. Not smiling can take away from you, no one is suggesting you grin like a hyena, but let’s be honest, it’s not uncommon for folks to ask ‘what’s wrong?’ if you look overly serious.
    Like I said, i’m not willing to label a request to smile harrassment, and unless a dude is gay (no shade), i’m not sure he would really care about another dude not smiling.

  • The Moon in the Sky

    A random man on the street telling a random woman to smile is not the same thing as someone seeing a picture of you and saying ‘it would be better if you smiled’.

  • http://gabandgraffiti.wordpress.com marloweovershakespeare

    I figure the men that always want to tell a woman to smile are the ones that are either simply incapable or just don’t know how to really make her smile. Next time I hear this line, I’ll be like,

    “Make me.”

  • Guess

    A complete stranger has zero right to presume, interrogate or cross social boundaries in any way at any time. Casual greetings such as “hello”, “goodmorning/afternoon” are acceptable. Anything beyond that should be determined by the response from the recipient or lack thereof. If a man (or womam for that matter) can’t pick up on basic social cues, can you imagine what he would be like as a friend or mate – can you imagine the inappropriate comments, offbrand humor, etc. that would follow?

  • http://melodymoose.deviantart.com/ Catpopstar

    I’ve always wondered about that response. Like women are not allowed to have a set of standards different from the man wants them to have.

  • Dallas

    But you found the energy to comment?

    Next time stfu.

  • daphyne

    I have to say. I have always felt the why don’t you smile, stop looking mean harassing. I mean who asked them anyway? It is not like they engage me in a dialogue, just dictating how a woman is suppose to walk down the street and smile at strange men. I don’t think it is as serious as a art project but I always found it uncomfortable just as uncomfortable as hey girl, look at you, you all know the rest…

  • Lol it takes little to no energy to leave a quick comment.

  • http://www.clutchmagonline.com jenn dunn

    nothing wrong with smiling its a beautiful thing

  • Ms. Information

    Soooo question…if he is cute and attractive and you have been eyeing him from a distance and he asks you to smile…is this still harrassment??? Or if he is unattractive and not your type is it only harassment? – I understand the REAL harrassment like touching and cat calling…not the smile thing so much.

  • P

    I’m not smiling because obviously you’re getting on my nerves. Lol

    What make matters worse it’s usually the guys who ask are the same ones that lack a sense of humor to make you smile. I think men don’t realize how far a sense of humor can take them in getting to know a woman. Instead of asking questions, I think they can focus on a project of how to approach a woman.

    Each woman is different. It is a form of harassment. For that particular moment, you may just prefer your own space.

  • D.T.

    I don’t have this problem. I don’t walk around with a big grin on my face but I do have a pleasant demeanor. I don’t think it’s necessary for a man to tell a woman to smile however women should understand how walking around like we have lemons in our mouths is a bad look. If you don’t care about looking like a sour puss then so be it.

  • P

    Exactly…you know that man has to be fine!!! Most women will automatically smile. Otherwise, he may fall into the harassment category or think of something quick to make you smile.

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    Seeing this article I couldn’t help but remember this piece http://www.ebony.com/news-views/when-i-stopped-asking-women-to-smile-981#axzz2MCfkSlN6

  • http://www.clutchmagonline.com jenn dunn

    i would like to see more art work with black women looking happy and smiling not hard and angry

  • Treece

    This man hit it right on! Nothing but the truth. The idea that a man would insist that you smile, having never met you, is based on the fact that he wants you to look more attractive to him and he wants you to be easier to “charm”/beguile. It has nothing to do with being “nice” or pleasant. It’s manipulation and dehumanizing. You don’t know me, what my life is like, or what my day was like. If you really want to make me smile, do something that will make me smile (tell a joke, pay my bill for the food I just ordered, by me a flower from the vendor on the corner). And you know what, that still may not work. But it’s better than you telling me (a stranger for all intensive purposes) to smile as a way for you manipulate me into talking to you.

  • Orange Starr Happy Hunting

    Yep all of this Treece is why a lot of women respond the way they do when being told to smile by some stranger.

  • Job

    I think you meant “for all intents and purposes.”

    Why does a stranger need to buy* you things just for you to be pleasant? People make this way to big a deal. An annoying smoker who smelled terrible at my job used to say “hey hey good morning” or “how’s it going” to me 3 times in 20 minutes every morning. I just smiled and politely said hello. Not a big deal. Definitely not harassment. People are making a big deal out of nothing and imputing sinister motives to something that’s annoying but completely harmless.

  • Treece

    @ Job

    Well, “for all intents and purposes” I did not mean to intend that person had to buy me something in order for me to smile. The point was that basically, I’ll smile when I feel I have something to smile about. Even if you were to buy me something, crack a joke, pay me a compliment…whatever….I STILL may not smile depending on my circumstances. I’m human, I have bad days, bad weeks, bad months….etc. The point was that getting me to smile just because you insist, and you want break me down a little bit to make it easier for you to get in, is more likely to piss a woman like me off than make me want to smile. Why? Because I can see through bullshit.

    It is more than just saying good morning to someone. Good morning is not request. “How are you” is not a request. Asking a woman (a stranger) to smile because a man feels like she’ll be more attractive that way is offensive to me. Why don’t more men ask other men who are frowning to smile?? If you didn’t read the Ebony article, please do. The gentleman who wrote it expresses in more detail my point.

  • memyselfandi

    “Why don’t you smile?” is just like “Why don’t you have a man?” to me – questions guys ask because they think they sound good and/or are a compliment without really thinking them through.

    I’m a pretty pleasant person in general, so if I’m not smiling, it’s because I’m not happy. From time to time, I’ve told a guy on the street that after he asked me why I wasn’t smiling, and every time he looked shocked that I answered him honestly and had no idea what to say next.

  • The Moon in the Sky

    They were shocked because they never cared about why you weren’t smiling in the first place. It was just their poor way of flirting with you.

  • MCasey13

    I had a cute guy make a point of coming up to at Whole Foods to tell me to smile. He said something like “You should smile. I still approached you because I’m black but white guys probably wouldn’t”. I think he also made a comment about my looks as if I needed his approval. I found this very annoying because his comments were useless. Had he actually engaged me in decent conversation I actually would have given him my number if he asked. I don’t know why black men think that every black woman they see in public needs their advice/input/approval and it’s thier duty to say something.

  • A.

    It’s rude regardless of how attractive the guy is or isn’t. I’d never ask a random stranger to arrange their face in a way that’s more pleasing to me, because I’m not entitled to that. Unwanted attention is unwanted attention.

  • SayWhat

    It is not an interrogation to ask you to smile. Now you guys want him to say ‘good morning’?, in the last article regarding street harrassment a simple good morning was a step away from rape.
    I have friends who mean mug and quite frankly, there have been times when I had to ask if everything was OK. The funny thing is that these are the same women who want to meet a man. When you ask them how they intend to do that when their ‘aura’ says stay away, the reply is ‘he should be confident/man enough/aggressive enough to still approach’.
    On one hand a man can’t say a simple good morning without being labeled a ‘harasser’ of all things, in the next breath you want him to man up and approach you?
    It’s not suppose to be that hard to find your soul mate. Sorry.

  • http://gravatar.com/keimia Kam

    It’s still RUDE. Look, the individual guy might have the best of intentions, but it’s annoying when one guy does it, then the next guy, then the next guy. I like to see beautiful men as well as the next women but I don’t believe it’s my place to tell every guy I see walking on the street to smile. And who does that anyway? The only people I see smiling to themselves while walking down the street are those with mental issues. Men don’t tell other random men to smile, and women don’t random men to smile, so there has to be some other motive than people just wanting to see other people smiling on the streets.

    It IS a form of harrassment. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again, growing up it seemed once a little Black girl got breasts she was fair game. Unless I was walking with my mother and father in my neighborhood I felt unsafe and unprotected. No random man would protect me from another man’s unwanted advances. If I went missing I know the police would not move mountains to look for me, no Nancy Grace show for me, no one caring. People who saw me giving those guys on the street a chance might spread rumors that I was “fast”. Let’s be real. Until we provide a safe environment for Black girls to smile in there’s no point asking them to smile because just doing that comes with it’s own set of landmines. It doesn’t just stop at smile. In some places we don’t have the luxury of being vulnerable.

    Now I’ve moved away and I am pretty happy. I’d never raise my daughter where I lived.

  • http://www.poshmiss.com Posh Miss

    I agree with you!!! This is not that serious. Honestly we need to get over ourselves. If a person asks why are you not smiling, that is only them trying to say your face looks like you have been punched in the face with a sack of lemons and maybe it might help you to put a grin on your face. We as women need to stop making it okay to be angry or upset at the world because someone else made us upset.

    This topic reminds of a blog I did called just call me wo, because of the bad name “women” have gotten and how we are too strong for our own good.


  • Gena

    This reminds me of the time this flirtatious older man came up to me at an old job and demanded I smile for him. He actually cornered me so I couldn’t get away and said it aloud. Now I probably would have brushed off his rudeness and struck up a convo, but I was in the process of moving a ton of clothing, keeping an eye on customers and running after a bunch of unruly children. Dude. I’m hard at work, sweating — about to accidentally impale myself in the eyeball with a bent hanger, all while being simultaneously run over by shoppers looking for a sale — and you want me to smile like a jacka$$ while it’s happening? GTFOWTBS! I said, “I’ll smile when you buy something,” which he thought was the funniest thing ever. SMDH

  • Felicia

    For a while now, I’ve been formulating a response to those individuals [typically men] that imagine they can just walk up to me and instruct me to smile (or to do anything else that has nothing to do with them): Here goes:

    “I do not exist on this earth for your viewing pleasure. Who do you imagine you are approaching with that s*$#! What is your name? Because the next time another person comes up to me and says that, I may slap them, and I want to make sure they know that you’re the one to thank for my response.”


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