A neon sign I saw at Roppongi Hill, Tokyo :)
My daily routine starts with turning off my alarm, checking my mails, and doing a little writing or document review. Then as my driver arrived, I usually rush to get ready for work. Forget the make up, or proper hairdo. I would just hop in the car without make up, except when I have to go directly to a morning meeting or workshop. In the mornings when I arrive at work, I must first walk pass a metal detector gate, and then the security guards would run their metal detector bar over my bag. I cannot just walk into my office unoticedly. My first ritual at work is greeting all the security guards, have a little chit chat, and with a big smile, I excuse myself then walk another floor to my office. In Aceh I often arrive at work with bare face - without any make up, but something never leaves my face: my smile. :)
This kind of life is so different from when I worked in broadcasting industry. I was always neat and camera-ready, because people recognized myself, and they would expect me to look as good as how they saw myself on TV. I could not go shopping in flipflops with messy hair, because I felt like I have the responsibility not to let them down, added with a little ego of not wanting them to say that I looked messy in reality.
The make up session before my shows - news or talk show usually was done for at least one good hour, with neat shadings, eyeshadows, fake eyelash, blush-on, and lipstick, and really good hairdo that involves the heat of the blowdryer and good salon products. I also sometimes wear designer or boutique-sponsored outfits, that sure looked good. It felt good, but in the last few years I feel good to live without the obligation to always look flawless.
I love my life and my works today. I can wear things that fit my personality. I often say that one thing that I love about working with the my organization, in the field office, is that I can wear my jeans to work.:) Physical look is not our capital, nor our commodity here. But still, looking good makes me feel good. I love to see people dressing up and groomed well, and thus I want myself to be as presentable. I can go with my jeans, but time to time I can also go with my nice suits. How good is that? :)
Here I have figured out that the important beauty factor from a look is sincere smile. People who knows me know that I am very generous about smiling. I even put a lot of smileys on my informal writing, naturally, because that is the way I converse. How do I start my smiling habit? I don't know exactly, but I think just like any other custom, or cultural properties, I took it for granted from the culture where I grew up.
Some books, including traveling guidebooks about Indonesia describe Indonesians, especially the Javanese, my native tribe, are the people who are generous about smiling. Smiling is part of our acts of greeting. Smiling is our ways to say that we agree and disagree, sad and happy, accepting and refusing. Confusing? Yes. Many foreigners may get really confused about it. They thought that we agree when we actually strongly disagree. Often a Javanese just stays quiet, shakes his/her head, and smiling, and it could mean that he or she was strongly disagree. Smiling is our ways to maintain harmony. To get the harsh messages of disagreement across without being harsh (to our standard of culture). This potentially-confusing uniqueness got some people from different tribes simplifying their conclusion by saying that we are the most hypocrite people for not willing to strongly express our stance. That, is the case of cultural misunderstanding, that is enforced by the fact that Suharto, our second president who ruled with an authoritarian power for 30 years and enforced some human severe human rights violations was known to the world as the Smiling General.
At first I reduced my smiling habit as I live in Aceh. People here do not smile as often as the people in Java. The first gesture that people here shows when I smile at them is mostly crinkling their forehead and looking at me with awkward look. In Java, it is so easy to exchange smiles. I haven't got any literatures that explains why the Acehnese don't smile as much as the Javanese but I think that with the prolonged conflict, it must have been difficult to trust even the simplest friendship gestures. Added with the implementation of Sharia law, a woman like myself should not initiate such friendly contact. However, it is still easy to exchange smiles with people in rural villages, and the kids I meet on the streets or in the schools that I visited on my duty travels.
Anyway, I have built some kind of closeness with my colleagues. They say I always look bright and happy, and many have said that my smile brightens up their days. I am happy just to hear that. :) Some weeks ago the marketing manager of an event organizer that I usually hire told me that one of her co-worker was my big fan. In our events, he often said, "I want Asri's picture!", and pushed their photographer to take some of my smiling pictures, paparazzi style. Creepy? Not really. That guy is very polite and professional that I didn't even know when he did that. :)
Curious about how much smile matters to my look, I made a little experiment. I came to work without make up, and without a smile to our security guards or anyone I passed at the corridor of my office. Surprisingly, almost all of them asked me, "you look different., are you ill?", or "are you okay?" Then I put on some mascara and blush-on. Still without smile, I passed the corridor during lunch hour. People still thought I was not feeling well. A male colleague told me, "your eyes look smaller than usual". He didn't want to buy my explanation, that I was make-up-less. He insisted that I must have been ill.
Then the next day I came without make up, but I smiled to everybody as usual. I greeted them, also as usual, and I walked into my room. I chatted with my Coordinator, a very nice guy who is like my own brother now. I asked him if he noticed if I didn't put on any make up.
"Really? You look the same like how you are everyday."
It was his answer.
My female colleagues didn't notice that either.
Then I put on my make up during the break. I asked my Coordinator again, if he saw the difference.
"Mmmmm... not so much. Yeah, your eyelashes look longer."
And that was it.
In daily life's human interactions, people's eyes are naturally drawn first into smiles and bright expressions or gestures more than to the rest of the face.
When I feel down, I think of good things, watch nice things, or listening to good music, to invoke the simple sense of bliss. I feel much better when I sense the movements of the muscles on my face that draws my smile. Then when I start to smile again, the burdens feel lighter. When I see myself smiling, I see the strength within.
When I meet new people in some awkward situation I smile. It helps erases the awkwardness. When I made mistakes in my presentation I smile a little, take a deep breath, apologize, and continue. Smiling is relaxing. Smiling is like the sunshine to the iceberg. It melts the hard surface... when it comes with the right dose, off course.
So. Why don't we smile more often? :)