Tess Christian, 50, (pictured) does not allow a flicker of a smile to pass her lips, and hasn't for almost 40 years, in an attempt to ward off wrinkles
Tess Christian's female friends look the picture of merriment when they get together for their frequent Friday nights out in a local restaurant.
Champagne flows, the conversation gets steadily more raucous and peals of laughter hang over their table.
But there’s always an odd one out in the happy scene: Tess, 50, who sits stony-faced while her friends giggle around her. Not even a flicker of a smile, let alone a laugh, escapes her lips.
‘Yes, I am vain and want to remain youthful. My strategy is more natural than Botox and more effective than any expensive beauty cream or facial.’‘I don’t have wrinkles because I have trained myself to control my facial muscles,’ says Tess, ‘Everyone asks if I’ve had Botox, but I haven’t, and I know that it’s thanks to the fact I haven’t laughed or smiled since I was a teenager. My dedication has paid off, I don’t have a single line on my face.
Tess (right) is pictured here with Jane Vintner (left) in 1982, aged 19. Tess says she has trained herself to control her facial muscles
As unorthodox as Tess’s regime may sound, she is not alone in her drive to suppress facial movements, such as laughing or frowning, in a bid to stop wrinkles forming.
Even celebrities such as U.S. TV star Kim Kardashian, 34, have admitted trying not to smile or laugh ‘because it causes wrinkles’.
And some experts believe that this bizarre trick might work. Dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe says: ‘It can be an effective anti-ageing technique. Undoubtedly, there are some actresses who have retrained their facial expressions to this end.
Tess, pictured here in 2001, aged 36, admits she is vain because she wants to remain youthful but says her strategy is 'more natural than Botox and more effective than any expensive beauty cream or facial’
‘Wrinkles happen because of the constant creasing of smile and forehead lines by the muscles in your face, which fold the connective tissue under the skin. If you can train yourself to minimise your facial expressions, you won’t get as many lines.
‘We know this because it is exactly how Botox works — by reducing muscle activity. Not smiling is a DIY option, although I would have thought it difficult to keep up, not to mention boring for your partner and confusing for your children.’
So, is a life full of laughter really worth sacrificing for the sake of a few lines? Tess, who works as a cooking instructor for a vegetable produce company, thinks so. ‘It’s not as if I’m miserable. I love life. I just don’t feel the need to show it by walking around with a rictus grin on my face.’
Tess, 43, (left) pictured with her daughter Stevie, 16, (right). Tess says she has learned to control her facial muscles to stop herself from smiling
Her decision didn’t start off as an anti-ageing device. Instead, it was a reaction to the strict Catholic school she attended.
‘The joyless nuns there didn’t like children to smile. I was always told to wipe the smile off my face so I learnt to smirk instead,’ says Tess.
By the time she reached adulthood, she realised a sombre expression suited her. ‘If I did smile I developed big hamster cheeks that made me look deranged. I looked up to old-school Hollywood icons such as Marlene Dietrich for inspiration; she never smiled and I loved the way she smouldered glamorously.’
Tess, (left) aged 23 yrs, in 1985. Tess says although she was overjoyed when her daughter was born and when she got married, she kept a straight face the whole time
Staying tight-lipped required effort at first, however. ‘When I found something funny or I was tempted to laugh — which happened on a daily basis — I learned to control my facial muscles by holding them rigid,’ explains Tess.
‘The corners of my mouth might go up a little, but I never looked anything other than faintly amused. Friends knew I was fun to be around, so it wasn’t an issue.’
She met her ex-husband Nigel, now 54, a photographer, at a bar in 1990 and they had a daughter, Stevie, in March 1991. ‘Nigel was never bothered about me not smiling, because I kept him entertained — I am engaging company. If you spent a day in my presence you wouldn’t even notice.
‘After Stevie’s birth I was overwhelmed with joy, but still didn’t feel the need to smile,’ adds Tess. ‘By that stage, keeping a straight face had become second nature.’
She and Nigel married in February 1993. ‘Of course, the wedding photographer was urging me to smile for the pictures, but I refused,’ she says. ‘It just wasn’t me.’
By the time Tess — who divorced in 1998 — reached 40 she realised that while friends had developed lines around their mouths, her skin was wrinkle free: ‘It dawned on me that I looked younger because I’d spent my life not smiling.’
At her London home, Tess has mastered the art of laughing inwardly at TV shows such as Absolutely Fabulous. But even after years of practice, remaining poker faced in public isn’t always easy.
‘My friends have nicknamed me Mona Lisa, after the da Vinci painting,’ she says. ‘Mona Lisa was said to have been quietly amused, as am I. I just won’t show it. Recently, an interior designer friend was telling me how a Spanish client kept referring to the department store John Lewis as “Juan Lewis”. I found it hilarious, but kept a straight face. I never crack.’
Thanks to her unwillingness to smile, Tess's friends have nicknamed her the 'Mona Lisa' after da Vinci's famous painting. Tess is pictured here in 1985, aged 23
The men she dates, meanwhile, often ask her to smile. ‘I assure them it’s not because I’m not interested,’ she says. ‘My pet hate is men who call out, “Cheer up, love, it might never happen,” ’ in the street. ‘I wouldn’t dream of criticising their appearance.’
Tess insists Stevie, now 24 and a film production assistant, has never been offended by her mother’s refusal to smile. ‘She is the opposite of me — she has a pretty smile that, of course, I would never stifle,’ says Tess. ‘She knows my sullen expression doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy her company.’
But London-based psychologist Amanda Hills says smiling is crucial to our mental health. ‘When you smile you release endorphins, known as “happy hormones” that make you feel good,’ she explains. ‘Not only that, but the more you do it the happier you feel, because you are telling the neural pathways in your brain you are happy — even if you aren’t.
Tess, pictured in Gordon's Wine Bar in 1985, says her pet hate is men calling out 'Cheer up, love, it might never happen'
‘Your brain doesn’t know if you are faking a smile because it’s just picking up muscle movement. Studies have shown you can increase happiness by smiling, even if you feel unhappy, which is why some medical professionals treating depression tell patients to practice smiling in the mirror.
‘Not smiling, meanwhile, has the opposite effect. A resting face with no emotion won’t allow your brain to pick up the signal that you are happy. And just as smiling attracts people, looking miserable is likely to deter them — which obviously risks making you feel miserable, even if you were happy in the first place.’
Tess (pictured) says even after years of practice, remaining poker faced in public isn’t always easy.
This doesn’t deter Vicky Kidd, 38, however. A textile designer from Hastings, Sussex, she started curtailing the amount she smiled five years ago after splitting up with her partner of eight years, with whom she has a son, Hayden, nine.
‘The lines on my face were escalating and with advancing age I started worrying about being left on the shelf,’ she says. ‘I felt most men wanted younger women and was paranoid about the competition from them.’
She was inspired by a yoga class she attended when newly single. ‘I was taught that “resting” my face by relaxing my facial muscles could minimise wrinkles and make me look ten years younger,’ she says.
Vicky Kidd, 38, noticed the lines on her face increasing five years ago and decided to limit the amount of time she spent smiling