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Stepford Smiler

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OK, you can stop smiling now... Please?

"He always smiled, and he always chuckled, but inside he did not notice anyone, did not care; it was his body that smiled, nodded, and shook hands. Nothing touched his mind, which remained remote."

Everyone loves Alice! Who wouldn't? She's practically perfect in every way. She's bright, chipper, and pleasant under all circumstances. You've never seen her annoyed, let alone angry. She always has a kind word for anyone, and she treats everyone like her best friend.

Of course, it's all just an act.

The Stepford Smiler is a dark twist on the Purity Sue — a character obsessed with projecting an image of wholesome happiness in order to be accepted. Tragically enough, they'd probably accept her for who she is regardless of her self-imposed Masquerade. Her flawlessly crafted facade hides a real person that's usually breaking like so much fine china, in order to keep up the deception.

These are the three main types of Stepford Smiler:

Depressed heroines or show co-stars that are Stepford Smilers can either be played straight, or played to gain viewer sympathy as they struggle to live up to their own impossible ideals. Villainesses like the Evil Matriarch who are Stepford Smilers are usually played one of two ways: it can either humanize them, much like the heroine, or it can accentuate their evil by contrasting it with their soullessness. Feminine pronouns are used throughout this trope because the Stepford Smiler is a traditionally female role, though there are many male examples too. Sometimes, they're even a couple.

The Empty's mask itself can also hide a terrible secret... there is nothing behind it. The void is either a result of using up so much energy pretending to be normal that nothing is left over, or because there was nothing there to begin with. The trope-naming Stepford Wives fall into this second category, naturally.

Scared yet? It gets worse.

There is a very good chance that she is dosed up on prescription tranquilizers or antidepressants (Valium, Xanax, and/or Prozac are staple favorites)—or good old fashioned over-the-counter alcohol—often to the point of dependence. With or without drugs, if a Stepford Smiler smiles long enough without cracking, she can become the mask and turn Unstable. Some Stepford Smilers buy into the dead Barbie smiles to such a degree that they care for nothing other than maintaining appearances, having money, making sure their hair is just right, and improving their social standing, all of which are pursued with equally Social Darwinistic means. Essentially, they become the materialist equivalent of the Nietzsche Wannabe. Unstable characters sometimes have another kind of smile behind the fake one.

Not every Housewife is a Stepford Smiler, obviously. They often encounter one as a nemesis instead, in a post-High School example of the Alpha Bitch.

Science does add some credence to the trope, as those who default to a half-smile expression tend to report a generally better mood, regardless of any outside factor. However, this does not extend to a full on fake demi-Slasher Smile, suggesting that even the person's brain chemistry isn't fooled by the facade. Compare The Un-Smile.

The Stepford Smiler gets her name (as does the Stepford Suburbia in which she lives) from the book and later movies The Stepford Wives, about a village whose men conspire to create the Barbie perfect wife, all with similar eerie smiles.

See also such related tropes as Beneath the Mask, Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, Broken Ace, Broken Hero, Comedic Sociopathy, Evil All Along, Evil Matriarch, Extreme Doormat, The Fake Cutie, Faux Affably Evil, Happiness Is Mandatory, I Just Want to Be Normal, Masquerade, Sad Clown, Think Happy Thoughts, Uncanny Valley Girl, Yandere, and the darker variants of Minnesota Nice. The Crapsaccharine World is basically this trope upscaled to include the entire society.

Contrast with the Straw Nihilist, The Stoic, The Pollyanna, Yamato Nadeshiko, Drama Queen.

Compare/Contrast with The Snark Knight (whose demeanor is typically the inverse of the Stepford Smiler), Stepford Snarker (whose motives are the same, but whose mask is made of snark rather than smiles) and Obviously Not Fine (if someone is trying to be a Stepford Smiler, but their sadness is all over their face). Also compare and contrast Grin of Rage, which is when a character smiles when they are angry.

Example subpages:

Other Examples

  • Internet telephone service provider Vonage has a commercial where a smiling couple, looking like they are the perfect example of two drones, show up on the doorstep of a new couple to the neighborhood, offering a pie along with a basketball-sized pile of wires as the "bundled" cable, phone and internet service, and even admit the disadvantages: incomprehensible bills and unexplainable charges. The new couple explain they have Vonage phone service. The welcoming female's entire persona - clearly an Unstable Stepford Smiler - "cracks" as she tries to explain that "everyone" in the neighborhood bundles. Her husband (more calmly) echoes her, also saying (with a lot of emphasis) that everyone there bundles.
  • An infamous Peleton stationary cycle ad had a husband give his wife one for Christmas - her smile throughout the 30-second spot looked so forced that it quickly went viral, and she even got cast in a commercial advertising Ryan Reynolds' new gin company.

    Comic Books 
  • Taken to downright depressing levels in Issue #8 of the 2007 revival of The Brave and the Bold, a story starring The Flash and the Doom Patrol. Elasti-Girl is constantly smiling throughout, even when things look horrifically dire. (Master artist George Pérez takes great care to make her expression completely identical every time: a bright grin with eyes that betray just a hint of utter desperation.) Flash explains to his freaked-out kids that she used to be a movie star and ever since gaining superpowers, she feels like a freak of nature. She smiles because it's the only way she can still feel pretty, and she thinks it puts people at ease. Flash's daughter comments that it isn't working. It was later mentioned this was shortly after gaining her powers, and she eventually left this mentality. Unfortunately for Elast-Girl, this ends up returning in the New 52 incarnation.
  • Winnowill of ElfQuest is smiling and regal, pseudo-friendly and aloof — when she's not getting her kicks torturing Strongbow or messing with other elves' heads.
  • Empowered:
    • The comic toys with this trope in respect to Mind████, who instead of putting on a reasonably happy face actively and regularly tinkered with her mind so that she would be reasonably happy. Of course, if her posthumous confessions of being nearly suicidal are any indication, she ultimately played this trope straight.
    • Sistah Spooky wound up playing this trope tragically straight after Mind████ dies, literally using magic to force any expression aside from utter despair onto her face.
  • In Gotham City Garage, Kara Gordon smiled constantly and pretended to be brimming with happiness as working for Lex Luthor. Reality is, she hated Luthor, her job and her oppressed, walled hometown and dreamed of escaping and finding freedom anywhere; but she never showed it.
  • The Plutonian of Irredeemable is the Unstable type, with shades of the Broken Ace to him. He tried to be a good and selfless superhero, loved by his teammates and all of mankind... but the mixture of his messed up childhood, being Blessed with Suck and a horrible error in his judgement that ends tragically breaks the fake smile, and one Face–Heel Turn later, he goes from the world's most beloved and trusted superhero to the page image provider for Beware the Superman.
  • Frank Einstein Jr. in Mini Monsters is a Depressed example: At first, he's portrayed as a happy leader and secure of himself and his abilities. However, In "The Perfeccionator" we know that Frank has a very low self-esteem, mostly because his physical appearance. He only acts like this because of his task of being the leader of the Frank's gang. In the end of the album, his self-confidence increases and begins to accept himself. It’s subverted because some of his smiles are genuine.
  • New Warriors: Speedball used to be a genuinely cheerful, happy-go-lucky superhero... and then the Stamford incident happened, the deaths of 612 people on his watch utterly breaking him. Even after coming to terms with his guilt, he's still prone to slipping into his darker, Penance persona.
  • In The Order (2007), Becky Ryan constantly smiles, and it's often covering up her extremely deep insecurities. This can be seen when Henry Hellrung mentions that her psych profile mentions that she was seen as a suicide risk. Her reaction is to just smile at him for two panels and then insist that she's fine.
  • The Sandman (1989): Ken in The Doll House. He lives with a woman named Barbie, and while she has depth that is later revealed, he's a creepy Bateman-esque living Ken Doll.
  • Spider-Man: When fans fell in love with Mary Jane Watson, many writers attempted to reconcile her devil-may-care party girl image from her first couple of years of existence by revealing that her party girl facade was something she came up with to cover up her screwed-up home life, which included a physically and mentally abusive father.
  • Cat Grant, the Daily Planet's gossip columnist in the Superman comics is all smiles and sass, but she's very often braving it outwards to hide her private life problems, e.g., her abusive men, the death of her son, being fired from the Planet in the New 52, etc...
  • Teen Titans: Garfield Logan is a mix of Depressed and Unstable with profound self-esteem issues and a bleak future to look forward to thrown in for good measure. He is always cracking jokes and acting as a class clown (particularly in the early Teen Titans comics), but later you find out that he's covering up for his sadness about all the people he's lost in his life and his fear of losing more (among other things).
  • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye:
    • Drift is normally annoyingly cheerful and upbeat in almost any situation, but in issue 22, he's asked if he's happy by Rewind. Drift's recorded reaction is to just silently bury his face in his hands. The fact that he spent most of the war as one of the Decepticon's worst mass-murderers, and isn't very much liked by his fellow Autobots even without that hanging over him does not help.
    • Also, Swerve, who on first glance is an annoying motormouth who is literally incapable of being quiet for more than a few seconds. Look deeper, and he's incredibly alone and miserable, with many of his friends dead in horrific circumstances, and knows he's not very well-liked.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: While Venus Girdles are purported to make the wearer actually happy about following orders multiple villains prove that while the things force them to obey and act submissive with a smile, they hate wearing them and are furious and deeply upset but without any way to properly convey it. The girdles just break their wearers down over years.
  • Deliberately invoked by X-23 in All-New X-Men: Laura is anything but well-adjusted, but tries to act as if she is for the sake of her boyfriend, Warren. She outright tells him her behavior over the first half of the series, which led to them breaking up in Issue 4, was an attempt to "fake it until [she] makes it." Ironically, her efforts to be anything other than the X-23 of the past leads her to some very uncharacteristically reckless behavior that is what triggered the breakup in the first place.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin (sarcastically?) invokes this for a moment when his father tells him he [Calvin] needs to go to bed earlier so that he won't be so grumpy each morning; Calvin starts going around with an enormous fake grin instead.

  • Eve from Alpha and Omega is the Unstable version of this trope. She is basically a Mama Bear (Err, Mama Wolf) with a creepy smile who is practically caring to her family to the point that she would make death threats towards anyone who would hurt her pups in any way. Even though it comes off as scary to the other wolves, including her own family, it comes off as becoming completely hilarious otherwise.
  • Child star Darla Dimple of Cats Don't Dance maintains a facade of being sweet and adorable. Heaven help you if she's angry at you when it breaks.
  • Coraline has the Other Wybie, who was literally made to smile despite his actual emotions. So much so, that when he expresses his disapproval through a frown, the Other Mother sews his lips into a perma-grin. The stitches are cut, but not before we see what the Joker might have looked like as a child.
  • The Emoji Movie: Smiler, being a smile emoji, definitely counts as this. Her perpetual grin only adds to her stark-raving, Totalitarian Utilitarian personality.
  • From Encanto, it is a big aspect of Mirabel and her sisters' whole thing in terms of their end of things of the Madrigal family drama. Mirabel gives off a upbeat and happy exterior, but she is secretly very stressed. Luisa is the reliable big sister who is hiding her high amounts of stress and self-worth insecurity before her magic started to fall apart. And finally there's the eldest, Isabela, who puts on the mask of the "Golden Child" and is trying to do things for her family. All three have the most pressure from their grandmother's expectations.
  • Frozen (2013):
    • Prince Hans's faked charms towards Anna hide his true intent of seizing the Arendellian crown and the internal bitterness against his 12 older brothers. He mirrors his persona towards anyone he's talking to in a calculated manner and casually dismisses the estrangement with his family as "what they do". The creators even compared him to a chameleon. Unlike Anna, who reconciles with her estranged sister and cares for everyone else, Hans doesn't reconcile with his family, values power over anything else, and represents Anna's darker feelings of self-doubt coming out in the open.
    • Anna, at least at the beginning of the movie. She is constantly cheerful and optimistic despite her loneliness and desperation for someone who loves her especially after being abandoned by her own sister, although she is often seen briefly frowning in response to something negative before pasting on a smile. Over time though, she eventually becomes a genuinely happy person by the end of the movie as she makes new friends and finds true love.
  • Inside Out:
    • Riley absolutely refuses to ever be sad as she thinks that it's for her parents' sake. This has the unfortunate side effect of having Joy in control all the time and keeping Sadness out of a job. It also makes her a bit emotionally unstable, because Joy can't always handle every situation by herself she needs Sadness to signal that something is wrong and should be addressed.
    • It's also implied that even Joy is a Stepford Smiler, with some hints at her Double Consciousness desire to live life through Riley. Even further supported in one picture of the art book, where we see what her room looks like that reveals even more of her Hidden Depths: Her room has a Pocket Dimension window that leads to a Happy Place modeled after Belle's house.
  • Unikitty from The LEGO Movie is unstable; her bubbly personality hides serious anger issues, and when she finally snaps...
    Unikitty: You all need to be more friendly!!!
  • From Toy Story 2, the Barbie dolls, whose gleaming smiles never falter, not even once. In the Hilarious Outtakes, one of them was complaining about how her face hurts from all the smiling.
  • In Toy Story 3:
    • The seemingly-kindly Lotso Huggin' Bear is actually a bitter old man (well, plush bear) who runs Sunnyside Daycare like a cruel prison warden, and has never gotten over being abandoned by his former owner.
    • The Chatter Telephone. Don't let his Fisher Price sticker-happy smile fool you, he's quite tortured inside.
  • In Turning Red, Mei briefly tries to smile and appear composed when her mother denies her request to go to the 4*Town concert but she quickly drops it after she says goodnight.
  • Mebh from Wolfwalkers is normally a boisterous, fun-loving Wild Child, but she's secretly very worried about how long her mother Moll has been gone and desperately wishes for her to come back. While at first Mebh insists that her mother is fine and that she'll be back soon, a later scene of her talking to her mother's unconscious human body shows just how badly Moll's absence affects her.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • LayCool are Unstable. The two of them are best friends with genuine affection for each other and are bubbly and friendly whenever they're on commentary. Then in the ring....they are devilish little villains who are out for themselves. Michelle and Layla even give off nice toothy smiles whenever they're insulting the other divas.
  • Melina's last Heel–Face Turn implied she was an Empty face. The announcers have said "this is the real Melina, not the smiling happy diva we've seen in the past"
  • Eve Torres is Unstable. She would frequently wave like a Pageant Queen and give a gleaming vapid smile - right before she would brutalise other women in the ring.
  • Madison Rayne was depressed, or at least jaded over a lot of things going wrong for her in TNA, though Angelina Love and Velvet Sky, the cause of most of her problems, said that she was a "horrible person"(unstable) and took credit for making her that way.
  • Hania The Howling Huntress was a Depressed as Saturyne. While she seemed happy to be teaming with Dasher Hatfield at CHIKARA Just Shadows in the Fog and generally smiled a lot while playing that character, she talks in this interview about how miserable she was in that role.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia is set in a dystopic underground complex under the iron-fisted rule of an insane Master Computer that demands that all citizens be happy under penalty of summary execution, forcing everyone to be Stepford Smilers.
  • Every vampire from Vampire: The Requiem slowly loses its Humanity as the years go by, but the Daeva clan are particularly prone to this. They are presented as sexy and manipulative men and women that ooze sensuality, and maintain the image of the perfect vampires, but inside they're completely rotten. Years of manipulation drain their ability to feel true attachment until they can no longer comprehend human emotions and even though they seem to be passionate and claim to understand desire, they only feel need. This causes many Daeva to became depraved and desperate to feel again. Things get worse each passing decade, because vampires tend to forget to fake breathing and blinking, gradually turning them into Empty Shells and truly establishing their Stepford Smilers status and Uncanny Valley natures. This, of course, makes humans (as well as animals) feel that there's something atrociously wrong with them.
    Daeva: Such simple creatures. I'm grateful not to be one any longer. Still... I do wish to remember just a bit more clearly what it felt like.


  • Amneris in Aida becomes this after realizing that her fiance doesn't love her and is in love with her servant/best friend, the titular character. She sings about how her upcoming marriage is a sham—while still getting ready for her wedding.
  • Most if not all of the missionaries in The Book of Mormon, particularly Elder McKinley. They even have an elaborate tap number, "Turn It Off", about repressing emotions they consider negative, such as memories of an abusive father, sadness over not being there for a sister dying of cancer and consequent fear of developing cancer himself, and gay feelings.
  • Doris Teavee in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory embodies the classical Housewife of the turn of The '60s — as Willy Wonka notes, she's "dressed for 1958!" The show is set in The Present Day...and it opened in 2013. Poor Mrs. Teavee is desperately, unsuccessfully trying to cope with/deny the truth about her Enfant Terrible son Mike, who can only be controlled by letting him enjoy all the mind-rotting electronic media he wants. Her facade is full of cracks — she's perpetually anxious, has a drinking problem, and is on even more medication than he is. As it turns out, she leaves the factory a much happier person than she is when she enters it, partially because Mike ends up in a state that she can deal with....
  • Martha from The Children's Hour seems to be a sweet school teacher however she has heavy issues due to her unrequited love for her close friend Karen and general gayngst that breaks her down over the course of the play to where she kills herself.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Cyrano is Depressed, obsessed with not projecting an image of sadness in order to be accepted by his peers the Gascon cadets and show everyone else he does not care. Inside, Cyrano feels very sad and depressed because his enormous nose. In Act II Scene VII, Cyrano displays his sociopathy when his friend Le Bret mentions he seems sad. At Act V Scene V Roxane calls Cyrano “melancholyc”, he collects himself and denies it immediately. And in Act I Scene V, after talking with Le Bret why he will never win Roxane’s love, Cyrano declares himself unworthy of crying and feeling sadness: those are beautiful feelings and if he would cry, it only would seem ridiculous:
    Le Bret: (taking his hand): You weep?
    Cyrano: No, never! Think, how vilely suited
    Adown this nose a tear its passage tracing!
    I never will, while of myself I'm master,
    let the divinity of tears—their beauty
    Be wedded to such common ugly grossness.
    Nothing more solemn than a tear—sublimer;
    And I would not by weeping turn to laughter
    The grave emotion that a tear engenders!
  • All four main characters in the Sondheim musical Follies are Stepford Smilers of one sort or another. Their masks do fall eventually, and the comparison to their younger counterparts in Flashbacks becomes painful: back then, they had a reason to smile — at least, they thought they did. (It says something that Desperate Housewives gets many of its episode titles from musical numbers in Follies.)
  • Amanda from Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie possibly qualifies, though she's most interested in living her ideal life vicariously through her children.
  • In the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Rosemary is a Stepford Smiler in training.
  • In Jasper in Deadland, Agnes often implies during flashbacks that her life isn't as happy as it seems, despite her family being perfect in comparison to Jasper's.
  • Violetta from La Traviata hosts the best parties in Paris and has a marvelous time at all of them! ...So her admirers think, anyway. It almost seems like she is convinced of it herself. But when the young Alfredo expresses his devotion to her, her soliloquy gives the audience the distinct impression that this isn't the first time she's thought about how empty and loveless her life is.
  • In Mary Mary, Mary accuses her ex-husband Bob of having forced her into this type when they were married:
    "I felt like I was on some damn panel show, twenty-four hours a day. Smiling, affable, humming little snatches of song. Laughing when I didn't know the answers. But affable, affable, affable! You don't know how I longed to get up some morning and feel free for once to be depressed, to be constipated, to be boring."
  • Ragtime suggests that Mother is this at the start of the show; she tries to convince herself that her comfortable suburban life is all she ever wanted, while deep down wishing she could fully experience life the way her husband (who is running off on an expedition with Admiral Perry) can. As the play rolls on, she gets a taste of something different, and finds that she's not eager to stuff herself back in the box when her husband gets home.
    What of the people who stay where they're put
    Planted like flowers with roots underfoot?
    I know some of those people have hearts that would rather go journeying
    On the sea
    Tell me, what of the people whose boundaries chafe?
    Who marry so bravely and end up so safe?
    Tell me how to be someone whose heart can explore
    While still staying here
    Mother, "Goodbye My Love"
  • C.B. the Red Caboose in Starlight Express: "Under the smiles and under the fun, I'm Public Enemy Number One!"
  • Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She is cheerful and kindly, but has no problems whatsoever chopping up human bodies nor really with Sweeney's killing, and she is really only interested in improving her social standing. While not necessarily hollow, she certainly doesn't give a lot of moral considerations to her actions.
  • Jennifer in When Midnight Strikes is a Depressed example, the perfect hostess who is smiling and keeping the party going even though she's falling apart inside. Her song 'Little Miss Perfect' makes this very clear.
  • Glinda ends up this way in Wicked. She becomes an important political figure who must act as if she hates the Wicked Witch Of The West. In reality Elphaba was her best friend. Glinda has to keep up her happy facade even when she believes Elphaba dies. It's especially noticeable in "Thank Goodness", where Glinda spends a majority of the song sounding like she's barely able to stop herself from crying while singing about how she couldn't be happier.
  • Edith in The Women has one pregnancy after another, even though she hates babies and doesn't like being pregnant. She seems to do a lot more complaining than smiling, but nevertheless insists that "I'm the only happy woman you know." Perhaps she does more smiling in mixed company.

  • Bastard: Jin, the main character, due to the double life he's forced to lead (as in, being an accomplice to his father's serial murders). He acknowledges that he's become a very convincing actor as a result.
  • Skids of Boy Meets Boy is mostly genuinely cheerful. But when things start to get him down, he simply pretends to be even more cheerful. This is extraordinarily creepy.
  • Clarissa's family from the Clarissa comic series. Her mother tries to play a perfect 50s-style housewife, but blames Clarissa for her own molestation and wants her to just "admit" it's all her fault and pretend nothing's wrong, trying to bribe her into "behaving" with gifts and toys. Her father plays "perfect dad" while molesting Clarissa and manages to be insulted that she's terrified of him and can't see him without vomiting. One of her brothers is a neurotic mess that tries to pretend everything is normal in hopes that wishing it hard enough will make it so. Her other brother presents the image of the clean-cut, perfect son, but bullies and taunts Clarissa for daring to be traumatized by her experiences and "ruining things" by being a victim of molestation. The comic is the blackest of Black Comedy, finding humor in this ugly situation which is reality for too many children without pretending that it isn't truly horrible and vile.
  • In Contest Jitters, Jerry clearly has issues with Janet's bodybuilding, but he hides them well enough for Janet to be oblivious to them.
  • This is very prevalent among the depressed characters in Depression Comix, and is represented by a character holding a card with a large smile drawn on it over their mouth.
  • Shroomy from Electric Wonderland has a cheery and naive demeanor undermined by depression caused from continuously crushed hopes.
  • Grace from El Goonish Shive seems to be veering into Depressed territory, with occasional powerful beings advising some help before she pops on over to Unstable.
  • June Unpleasant from Everyday Heroes could also be considered Axe-Crazy, due to her housekeeping tips.
  • In Evil Plan, it later hints that Computer ( Will) is both this and a Stepford Snarker. He cheerfully makes fun of Dr. Universe/Stan, and is usually pretty cheerful. Then you learn his tragic backstory and how much pain he had to go through. And then you see him crying behind a blue file with a smile emoji on it and your heart shatters.
  • Far Star Summer School: Emily, the youngest student at Sunny Summer School, puts up a front of acting like a Cheerful Child, but only because she hates feeling like her near-constant sadness makes her a burden. The dead look in her eyes when no one is looking at her hints towards depression.
  • In The Glass Scientists, Jekyll is the Depressed type. Outwardly, he's a polite, genteel socialite who always has a perfect smile for anyone and everyone likes him, but inside, he's a bundle of insecurities and self-loathing, always terrified that someone will discover the deception.
  • Homestuck: Calliope acts very kind and cheerful, but inwardly she's depressed and for pretty good reasons ranging from body image and feelings of personal inadequacy to quite correctly fearing for her life at the hands of her sociopathic brother.
  • Hooky has Dani and Nico respectively.
    • Dani tries to be a happy, cheerful girl, but it's clear nearly being burned at the stake and seeing a friend murdered shook her more than she wanted to admit. After thinking she saw her brother Dorian burned at the stake, she finally breaks.
    • Nico is a joker who seems to be a happy person. Secretly, he wants to be a witch and feels abandoned, especially by his adoptive father.
  • Daisy, a Newfoundland dog in Housepets!, can usually be seen with a gigantic smile and only saying "Hi, I’m Daisy!" But when the K-9 Corps needs her help with Sasha, she drops her grin and explains that life may not always be very rosy for pet dogs.
    Daisy: Sometimes it's easier to put on a happy face, you know?
  • Leez from Kubera is one. Despite her outward ditziness and cheerfulness, she's actually a Broken Bird after what happened to her village, and the events of the story don't help at all. Gods are generally the only ones who can notice this.
  • Lies Within: Lys is a cheerful, carefree guy whose Mental World, which represents all of a person's emotional connections, contains cracked theatre masks and nothing else. He eventually explains that he doesn't feel emotions strongly, isn't bothered by it, and only hides it to put other people at ease.
  • Erika in MegaTokyo, while currently a Deadpan Snarker as well as a badass Action Girl, was a voice actress and Idol Singer in her day, and still can't bear the thought of her fans thinking of her as anything but upbeat and bubbly. Dom calls her out on it by showing that even in the midst of a rampage of rabid fans and excessive taunting by him, she feels a need to keep her smile going.
  • Desmond West in Monster Pulse. West's parents nominally accept him having an external and animate stomach, they treat it as a shameful nuisance and don't make any effort to accommodate his condition in their lives. But since he always tries to put a positive face on things and doesn't like to drag people down, the other kids don't have any idea how uncomfortable his life actually is and frequently scoff at him for not understanding them, not taking things seriously enough, and even of "not having real problems" like they do.
  • My Deepest Secret: Emma keeps her worries and stresses inside, which leads to her eventually breaking down in front of Elios. Also, considering she's heavily implied to have a dark and troubled past, her behavior in general could easily be an example of this.
  • In The Non-Adventures of Wonderella Rita is tied up by a super-intelligent gorilla who boasts that his empathic helmet will give him the insight into humans he needs to take over. After hearing in a story in which her emotions fluctuate while she remains smiling, he's told that human ladies are supposed to keep smiling all the time, no matter how they feel. He responds by throwing away the helmet, and possibly giving up on wanting anything to do with humans.
  • The Order of the Stick give us the Empire of Blood, an entire nation that smiles and steps ultra carefully because committing any minor crime or act of rebellion will result in them being packed off to the Gladiator Games, eaten by a dragon, or worse. Best exemplified in this strip, where a pair of reporters are covering a parade held in the Empire. Within seconds of the female reporter accurately identifying a group of marchers as the Empire's death squad and criticizing the regime, she is shot with a poisoned arrow and replaced by a female member of the death squad. All the while, the male reporter keeps smiling.
  • Paranatural: Cody, one of the more plot important side characters, is acknowledged in universe to often fake his smile. It's at least somewhat implied that he is attempting to become the mask or reject the influence of his inhuman father.
  • The Archangel Michael from Satan and Me puts on a friendly/cheerful facade to get his way.
  • Torg in Sluggy Freelance is one in this strip, after beating the crap out of the psychiatrist and remembering he saw Zoe's unremovable cursed necklace at the scene of her supposed death.
  • Ollie Pompey of Something*Positive is, according to his uncle, "bottling it all up in a cask of finely-aged denial. His eventual breakdown will be my greatest artistic achievement". To what extent this is true is unclear, as Ollie was definitely performing Obfuscating Stupidity, but he is definitely in severe denial about how abusive his uncle really was, so he still has a dash of this.
  • In Sunstone Ally has aspects of this; she keeps her anxieties to herself to remain strong and at times forces smiles. Part of the story of the comic is Lisa gaining Ally's trust so that she can get to the 'human under the mask.'
  • Unsounded: Roger keeps up his foppish pretty boy act in public, but he's been having his mind and memories melted by Ruck for years to help Sonorie and when the attendants close the door he collapses to the floor. His mind is at its end and won't come back together after the next time Ruck envenoms him;
    Ruck: Too much of my attention makes your minds grow so...brittle. He won't melt back together next time; not in the proper way. I love him so, but oh...oh well.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed in Barbie Vlog. In one vlog, Barbie discusses how she used to feel guilty on her bad days because she's known as a constantly upbeat person. She however realized that she shouldn't have to force herself to be happy constantly and that everyone suffers from the blues at one point or another.
  • Kid-friendly version with Tom from The Cartoon Show, who tries his hardest to be polite, but represses an unhealthy amount and only just barely manages to hide his frustration.
  • The Cry of Mann: Courtney at first appears to be perfectly happy with her life, being Tank Mann's wife and the leader of his company. However, it later becomes clear that she's miserable even just being in the house, saying that once she's in charge, she'd destroy the house and salt the Earth around it for good measure, all just because the house smells like Tank Mann. She later admitted to Berry that the reason she's doing what she's doing is that Tank Mann and Mann Corp. minimized her role in the company, despite her being the genius behind the battle machines, as well as the fact that she felt utterly unwelcome in the house at all. All of this, and she still pretended to be happy living with Tank and his family.
  • At first glance, Director Pandya from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues appears to be affable; talking politely to his employees, smiling gently as he talks to them, and bringing his dog into work. However, it's noted that his smile doesn't reach his eyes, which are emotionless, and that his serene attitude causes said employees to feel uneasy.
  • In DC Super Hero Girls, the main characters look as cheerful and happy-go-lucky as they come. But in Out of the Bottle, class clown Harley Quinn mentions she goes to a therapist (in fact she has enough traumas to fill a dozen of books... some of them brought about by a green-haired jerk bullying her in kindergarten), and Wonder Woman, Supergirl and Batgirl admit they're going to a therapist, too. The group concurs that "It's hard to be a super hero without a little mental health help."
  • Dragon Ball Z Abridged has a hilarious example where Bulma, who doesn't know that she's his mom, hits on him. And due to Trunks trying not to reveal his identity yet, he can only smile and scream internally.
    Bulma: Hey, I'm just gonna throw this out there, but you're really cute.
    Trunks: Well, my mother always said I was a cute kid...
    Bulma: Oh, a momma's boy, huh? I'll be your mommy.
  • Echo Rose: Echo claims to be fine and puts on a cheerful facade, but has several moments of admitting her true feelings toward her situation- which is, to say, misery and isolation. She'll break character for a moment, and then return to acting like she's in a good mood.
  • Emma Approved: Emma Woodhouse, who acts confident to a point of arrogance despite several cracks that show how little self-esteem she actually has.
  • Friendship is Witchcraft:
    • Pinkie Pie had a very subpar fillyhood full of emotional abuse at an orphanage due to being both an Earth pony and Romani. As an adult she uses a very cheery persona to hide her problems, with it rarely cracking even when singing depressing but chipper songs
    • Rarity and Applejack are both Shellshocked Veterans, though Rarity is more-so. Rarity is trying to recover but it's obvious the trauma has taken a toll on her. Applejack on the other hand seems to be ignoring her issues and acts like a war hero, despite her numerous war crimes and the things she saw.
  • In Funny Business, it is eventually revealed that Jeannette is actually self-loathing and has a massive Guilt Complex, and is only pretending to be a Cheerful Child so that her loved ones don't worry about her.
  • The Guild: Clara's smiling, friendly demeanor hides a criminally neglectful mother and a treacherous backstabber who creates an alternate character to attack Vork and makes out with a man Codex is interested in.
  • Hazbin Hotel has Angel Dust. He's outwardly a fun-loving, hedonistic sex worker who revels in his job, but the Addict music video reveals that he's actually a deeply damaged person traumatized by the physical and financial abuse of his pimp, Valentino.
  • "Hide-The-Pain Harold", a stock photo of a retired Hungarian man, got the moniker because his smile in the image looked extremely forced, as his eyes had a sad expression.
  • Laina the Overly Attached Girlfriend. Started out doing a Distaff Counterpart version of Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" for a Bieber-related contest, but played a Stalker with a Crush. Then followed it up with a parody of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe". Watch her not blink.
  • The Whites from Lucky Day Forever can be seen as Empty. They are always shown donning a smile on their faces, as if it's the only expression they wear. The only thing they managed to do is to trick the Proles into becoming their Human Resources.
  • In a Played for Laughs example, The Nostalgia Chick has an element of this about her, even though she's not evil and mostly a Jerkette With A Heart Of Gold. This comes up mostly when she reveals something nasty about her childhood and then has a big, happy smile on her face a few seconds later.
  • Rhianna von Adolph from Open Blue. A Psycho Knife Nut in charge of the special operations department of The Empire's intelligence agency.
  • The The Nostalgia Critic also delves into this on occasion. Mostly when a movie does something good then completely fucks it up but also when he was talking about his parents.
    *shows a picture of his kindergarten self being ripped apart by two monsters labeled "Mom" and "Dad"*
    Critic: (cheerfully) "I had issues."
  • Red vs. Blue's Dr. Emily Grey is a bit too maniacally cheerful for someone whose planet is locked in a never ending civil. The Ultimate Fanbook confirms that, surrounded by death 24/7, she put on a "Happy Face" so much that eventually she suffered from Sanity Slippage, Became the Mask, and hasn't taken it off since then.
  • RWBY:
    • Ruby is cheerful, happy and optimistic, but she is strongly implied to be hiding despair. During Volumes 4 and 5, she represses her trauma from the events of Volume 3 until Oscar cracks the mask when demanding to know how she can keep going in the face of so much pain, horror and fear; it cracks again at Haven when witnessing Cinder charge Jaune makes her flashback to Volume 3. In Volume 7, her defiance against Salem ends with her collapsing in tears when Salem throws her dead mother back in her face; in Volume 8, she learns the Awful Truth about what Salem might have done to her mother, triggering a full Heroic BSoD.
    • While riding an elevator in Volume 2, Weiss practices smiling in preparation for a video call to her father's headquarters; the smile disappears as soon as the call ends. She later tells Yang that, on her tenth birthday, Jacques revealed that he only married Willow for the inheritance; her devastated mother then descended into alcoholism and stopped parenting. Her father is controlling and abusive, using his children only as tools to further his ambitions. He disinherits both daughters when they rebel, favouring his son because his survival tactic is to allow Jacques to mould him into a "mini-me". The family's situation on begins improving after Jacques' arrest in Volume 8.
    • For all the things Pyrrha has been gifted with, she's terribly alone and isolated due to her celebrity status. She only feels normal around Jaune because he makes her feel normal. In "Destiny", she's under immense pressure from the secrets Ozpin's Benevolent Conspiracy have revealed to her, but she cannot confide in anyone. She therefore puts on a brave face when Ruby wishes her luck in the tournament, which vanishes as soon as Ruby's left.
  • Aki of Sailor Nothing starts out as one, repressing her real emotions to fit in with the popular group at school. After she's exposed, she drops the act but has a hard time adjusting to being a normal person.
  • Sekai No Fushigi: Hinata lost her parents, her other relatives refused to take care of her, and her grandmother (who took care of her after her parents' death) died. Despite all her hardships, she keeps a happy smile which inspired Kaito to have a brighter outlook on life. She later admitted to him that she was actually depressed and was about to give up on life.
  • Quite a few of these have shown up in Survival of the Fittest, surprisingly. Most of these tend to be Depressed, for obvious reasons. Some examples:
    • Former gamer Warren Pace gives himself a complete image makeover to fit in with the football team due to his perceived images of jocks.
    • Maria Graham has a bad habit of burying any pain and angst underneath an overly cheerful, energetic persona. It's already been shown before that when she finally crashes, she crashes HARD. She ended up crashing pretty early once the game started, though she often tries to put it back up again. Eventually she succeeds when Duncan McMahon, her childhood friend and love interest dies right in front of her, causing her to finally lose her mind.
    • Hermione Miller also has been shown to have tendencies of this. She spends most of her run in serious denial, believing that she is at the campsite while acting eerily cheerful and rejecting all signs that she's stuck on a Deserted Island. Eventually she has a revelation about her situation and that no one will take her seriously due to her being The Ditz, and right after is Driven to Suicide. She also receives a fair amount of Lampshade Hanging comparing her to the Trope Namer.
    • In mini site Spin-Off The Program, Brigadier General David Adams, the founder of the title game, is very possibly) Unstable. He has been described as pretty casual looking for a military organization, and oftentimes slides into Cloudcuckoolander mode during announcements. However, he has shown to have a very chilling approach towards the idea of children killing each other, and seems to really be enthused by it. Needless to say, there's a lot of Dissonant Serenity in his announcements.
  • Twig: Helen, an Artificial Human with emotions disconnected from her physical reactions. She can play at any given role, but beneath whichever face she's wearing that day is an emotionless blank with inhuman predatory instincts.
  • From Welcome to Night Vale: Literally all of the town Desert Bluffs, run by the evil corporation StrexCorp. In particular, the radio host Kevin, who on the whole is much cheerier than our usual Cecil, but reportedly doesn't smile right. Also, his studio is covered in blood and viscera.
  • In Worm, Interlude 18 (Donation Bonus #2) gives a glimpse of the blissful home life of the Nazi supervillain couple Night and Fog (i.e. Dorothy and Geoff Schmidt) ... a pair who carry out the natural routines of married life with all the tenderness and care of wind-up automata.
    Put the paper away, it's time to eat, Justin thought. Yes dear. Mmm. Smells delicious.

    "Put the paper away, it's time to eat," Dorothy said. She was holding the coffee pot, stepped behind Geoff, putting a hand on his shoulder, and bent down to kiss him on the top of his head. Automatic, without affection.

    "Yes, dear." Geoff said, smiling up at his wife. "Mmm. Smells delicious."

    Jesus fuck, they scare me, Justin thought.
  • Yandere High School reveals that Sam is violent and mentally unstable without Taurtis. To cope, he tries to force Grian to replace Taurtis, but the absence of his best friend and Yuki's psychotic nature drive him crazy.


Video Example(s):



When confronted by Riko, Chika tries to maintain an upbeat tone, but her stress and anxiety soon catches up when she cracks and states how frustrating it is to not get a single vote in their Love Live performance.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / StepfordSmiler

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