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Lying, the Body Language Mouth Cues, Cover Smile

This is an expression I call the cover smile. Yes, most people who give this expression believe they are covering their true emotions with a smile. They are giving out many cues that say what they are truly feeling, but they really believe they are doing a good job fooling you and perhaps deceiving themselves in the process. Of course the dog is just being cute, that video of him with the Chi Wawa was a set up. He will tell you all about what really happened in his Oprah interview. Here are the tips so you can learn how to uncover the lies of a cover smile?

This cover smile with lips pressed tightly together is typically found in men and I think comes from the need to keep a “stiff upper lip.” This is the expression described when someone is smiling through the pain. And their true pain as this set of body language cues shows is an attempt to hide many intense emotions of sadness, fear and anger. I see it in men who typically have very strong egos and power that are caught and brought down. They have spent their lives covering up their true emotions.
There are several photos above of this expression in former Governor Blagojevich. Look at his chin. See the puckering of the skin. You see that puckering in babies the moment they are about to let a big ole cry. And that is what he would like to be doing, but he has to keep that in. In these photos I am not seeing true sadness, just the desire to cry out. True sadness would be visible with more of a pout, downward pull of the mouth and more puckering around the eyes. The muscles around the inner eyebrow are hard to consciously control. If you look at the photo below you will see how Paula Deen’s inner eyebrows pull together and curl up. (They would pull more, but she may have had Botox or the muscle cut during plastic surgery.)

Congressman Wiener’s expression is a suppressed fear, disgust and anger. If you cover up his mouth and look at just his eyes you will see the whites around his eyes and his sideways glance, and wrinkled nose of disgust. The wrinkled nose is a unique movement of the face given in disgust. Symbolically it says I don’t like how this smells and physically it is an attempt to stop the flow of air and odor into the nose. If I knew exactly when he gave that expression, I could tell you whether he was disgusted with himself for what he did or disgusted with the media at a particular question of bringing his behavior to light. The wrinkled, upraised chin and tight lips show the suppression of two emotions fear and anger.

Spitzer also has a cry cover smile. His chin is more raised and more defiant and proud and more of the bottom lip is raised and held inside the mouth. The corners of the mouth come down significantly in a way that is more common to this expression showing his need to smile through the pain. Cover his mouth and you see his eyes are more hooded downwards at the corners and sad. You can also compare it to Paula Deen’s and you can see more wrinkle and pull in his eyebrows. This combination reminds me of the classic sad clown painted face.

To train yourself to read the cover smile start watching for it on TV. If you want to chuckle while you do it you can watch the characters of Modern Family who often hide their irritation with a cover smile. Here is a funny twist on the cover smile that shows in the character on the left how it can show light irritation and playfulness.

My clients in my speaking and consulting business ask me what it is like to be able to read people. Oddly I often think of this expression when they ask, because when you see behind the smile to the true heart of a person you often see their joy, their inner child and pain. The next time you see someone smiling through the pain, you can be compassionate and see the truth of their heart.

Patti Wood, MA, Certified Speaking Professional - The Body Language Expert. For more body language insights go to her website at Also check out the body language quiz on her YouTube Channel at