Few of us love what we see in the mirror. I am not talking about the spirit behind the windows of our eyes, or some other sort of inner quality we might imagine lurks under the skin.

Human society as we know it is quite judgmental about appearance and, where the discernment of others leaves off, our own self-consciousness generally steps in. At our time of greatest beauty – late adolescence and early adulthood – we are rarely objective enough to understand our bodies’ true perfection.

One of my ongoing projects as a photographer, begun when I was a reporter producing hundreds of head shots a year, was what I called “portraits without faces.” While my grandparents’ generation saw a family photograph as a serious moment that might come a handful of times in their lives, most everyone you know carries a video recorder in their pocket. Those born in the Northern Hemisphere during this century are likely to have had their face committed to digital memory thousands of times; for the selfie-prone, tens of thousands.

We school our faces, teaching them set expressions. We rarely catch our own selves off-guard, and most of us either tense up or play to the camera when we think a lens is aimed our way. We all know that smile, the one that says, “hurry up and take it, already.” It is the expression we think shows us at our best, full of assumptions about how we are supposed to look.

What serves as a neutral position, the face at rest, is a combination of what we were born with and what we are taught.

A 2016 study by Noldus Information Technology researchers Jason Rogers and Abbe Macbeth sought to clarify the difference between a neutral or expressionless demeanor and one that others see as, to use common parlance… well, you know. Using software called the Noldus FaceReader, Rogers and Macbeth reviewed a catalog of faces to identify the expressions underlying different emotions. Turning to famous faces they were able to find in some the common physical habits of expression that are perceived as anger, disgust, sadness, or contempt by those of us who are on the outside looking in. A resting face with the acronym RBF.

I have long known that I give off a vibe that others perceive as unwelcoming, judgmental, or superior. It is rarely my intention, but there it is. Those who study RBF can point to the corners of my eyes and mouth, the furrows of my forehead, and the set of my jaw to calculate just what emotions others pick up from my resting face.

A couple of weeks ago my boss asked if she could take my picture for the school’s online staff directory. I had my glasses on and, since I like them and am often told by others that they look nice, I kept them on for the photo. She took a few with her phone and I picked the one that seemed the least frowny. Then, this week, I was offered the chance for a retake by a teacher with a real camera and fancy lights. He made another half dozen images and sent them to me for review. I picked five of those to run through the face reading website at testrbf.com.

The results told me four of the six images showed some level of neutrality. The two that were too animated to be considered truly resting were gauged as having elements that expressed me as happy, scared, and disgusted.

Three of the more or less neutral expressions carried traces of anger, sadness, and disgust. All this while I thought I was enjoying myself with a coworker.

In addition to using quirks of expression to define my mood, the online facial reader identifies the following characteristics: gender, age, beard, moustache, and glasses. Two of my faces had the age labeled as 45-55, one was 45-50, another two 50-60, and one 55-65. I am 69 years old and I think the touch of henna must have fooled the algorithm.

The look that had me neutral and happy, with just a hit of anger, disgust, and contempt gauged me to be at the young range. It was the one in which I was wearing the glasses, and also the one in which, despite wearing the same clothes, hair, and face the website identified as male. No beard or mustache was found in any of the pictures.

In spite of RBF’s name, Rogers and Macbeth found the phenomenon to be equally spread among the genders. The difference in the social perception of these faces, they and other researchers have found, was that people see a man with lowered eyes and a closed mouth as truly neutral, while a woman needs to smile if she wants to be seen as other than sad or angry or disgusted.

For those who cannot overcome their inherently… well, you know, appearance, Haas School of Business psychologist Dana R. Carney says putting a hand to your chin can change the way your are perceived. Instead of being mean, that inward look is just you being thoughtful or coy. Fresno dermatologist Dr. Kathleen Behr offers Botox and cosmetic fillers to fake your face into appearing more friendly.

As for me, I have my maternal grandmother’s eyes and my father’s lack of an easy smile. I am also strong-willed, not always the best listener, and raised to believe I was special, before Fred Rogers popularized the idea that all of us are. I have, from time to time, earned the uncomfortable title and am trying, as I age, to notice when my RBF is worse than any intended bite.

Smiling does not help. In the photos where I smiled, the software read me as scared and disgusted. Glasses were the only things that made me look friendly – like a happy man, apparently.

So here is a blanket apology to those who think I come across as unwelcoming, judgmental, or superior. It is just my father’s mouth and grandmother’s eyes making you think that. Remind me to put on my glasses. Then I will see better, too.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.