What is a Duchenne smile?
Very simply, it is a smile that is characterized by the raising of the lip corners which in turn raise the cheeks and form crow’s feet around the eyes. French physician Guillaume Duchenne first recognized this smile while conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid 19th century. According to Duchenne, that distinctive smile is associated with a strong positive emotion.
My conclusion—21st century men are still intrigued by those Sirens of Greek mythology, preferring to focus on their physical beauty and enchanting songs. Male minds can easily conjure up images of wavy auburn tresses, mesmerizing green eyes and a curvaceous body.
So, when I describe the protagonist of Between Land and Sea as an overweight, middle-aged ex-mermaid, I’m not surprised to see a variety of facial expressions. The men usually laugh and joke about Isabella’s extra years and pounds.
At a workshop, an argumentative lawyer was very blunt in his criticism: “I don’t understand why your mermaid has to be old and fat.”
“Fifty-three is not that old.” I ignored the weight issue.
He persisted. “It is when it comes to mermaids. Why couldn’t you let her be young, thin and beautiful?”
Thankfully, the conversation was interrupted by the facilitator’s call to resume the workshop. A few minutes more and I might have lost patience with the annoying lawyer who couldn’t accept my vision of an older mermaid.
Very few men are as argumentative as the lawyer. My male friends and relatives want to hear more about Isabella of the Mediterranean Kingdom aka Barbara Davies and the international banker who dumped her. Several are amused by the concept of a mermaid carrying extra pounds, and one friend asked if the artist was planning to feature an overweight mermaid on the cover.
In The Coming of Arabella, the unexpected arrival of Barbara’s perfectly-preserved twin sister evokes more traditional responses (and more Duchenne smiles) from the men of Carden, Ontario.
How would the men in your circle react to an older, wiser mermaid?