Carly Fiorina’s disgust is written all over her face

November 4, 2015

Though key issues may vary, a candidate’s signature facial expressions rarely do. In Carly Fiorina’s case, she dominates the field of 2016 Republican presidential contenders in one particular look: It signals disgust. With a lower-lip depressor movement, her lower lip pulls down and out, causing the lip to stretch wider and the chin to momentarily flatten.

This movement is one of the five principal ways to express disgust. The emotion is more commonly signaled by the upper lip curling or the nose wrinkling, in keeping with its actual meaning. Disgust is about rejection, about viscerally protecting oneself from what you perceive as “poisonous.” Fiorina uses it to reject the status quo.

Fiorina curled her upper lip during last week’s debate on CNBC, for example, as she discussed the need to “cut the bureaucracy” at Hewlett-Packard when she was its chief executive. The expression was evident in the first debate as well, when she analyzed President Barack Obama’s “false choices” in negotiating with Iran. She also wrinkled her nose. One strikingly on-message but off-emotion moment occurred during the CNBC debate:  Fiorina’s words were positive about small businesses, yet her nose wrinkled as she said them.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina listens to a question after speaking at Cornerstone Action: Practical Federalism 2016 at the University of Southern New Hampshire in Hooksett

Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina listens to a question after speaking at the University of Southern New Hampshire in Hooksett, New Hampshire, October 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm

The lower-lip depressor, however, is Fiorina’s signature expression of disgust — one often associated with bitterness. The bitter look came courtesy of a host of topics in the third Republican debate. It finished the rhetorical question of “Who’s going to get [tax reform] done?” and accompanied her comments about needing to hold chief executives criminally liable for malfeasance. It was most apparent as she stated that her GOP opponents all have “good plans.”

Displaying happiness isn’t Fiorina’s forte. Reagan-esque optimism isn’t for her.

The CNBC moderators opened the debate by asking each candidate to name a personal weakness. Fiorina said she had been told that she “didn’t smile enough.” Actually, she does smile, occasionally. For example, she smiled broadly that night when assuring fellow Republicans she can “beat Hillary Clinton.”

Fiorina’s biggest smile, however, wasn’t really a smile. It was a grim, sarcastic grin that can often also signal disgust. She used it in fending off a question about being fired by Hewlett-Packard. She flashed it while talking about “disagreements in the board room” that led to her dismissal.


Smiles as genuine expressions of happiness or enjoyment offer warmth and a sense of openness. A real smile is the equivalent of an emotive embrace. But Fiorina’s smile brings only a hint of warmth.

Instead, Fiorina uses it to serve the cause of sarcasm about the status quo or withering scorn for other leaders. A mention of “crony capitalism,” for example, will likely bring forth this smile. In past debates, Fiorina used it when talking about Obama’s or Donald Trump’s leadership abilities. Or when Fiorina declared that the entire existing “political class has failed” the citizens of America.

In addition to disgust, Fiorina is characterized by another visceral, tough emotion — anger. The skin below her eyes tightens at times when she speaks. But it’s tense lips — evident during her fierce denunciation of Planned Parenthood or her sharp response to Trump’s patronizing comments regarding her looks — that signal Fiorina’s anger most often.

Carly Fiorina, former chairman and CEO of Hewlett Packard, attends a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum

Carly Fiorina at a Center for Strategic and International Studies forum, “Smart Women, Smart Power” in Washington, April 6, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Taken together, her lower lip pressing downward (the left side in particular), along with the anger and cold smiles, summarizes Fiorina emotionally. She’s promising not to “sugarcoat” things like other career politicians do — and it doesn’t look like she will.

Women candidates often face the lurking — and sometimes expressed — question of whether they are “too soft” to be commander-in-chief. But that might not be a problem for Fiorina.

Want something done in Washington? No doubt, Fiorina has the tenacity, the fortitude, you could even say the vehemence to attempt it. That truth is written all over her face.


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For now I am Trumpist.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Whats up with this vicious attack on the appearance of Carly Fiorina ? Demeneted , Halloween Mask , Disgusted , Angry..All by her looks ? I am a Obama supporter , but even to me this seems odd. Well i think after the field day with sarah palin and bauchman , i guess media is unwillling to agree there can be smart republican woman. They want carly to be reduced to a joke , by her appearance , because on substance carly is giving them not much room.

Posted by modernAlien | Report as abusive

What a pointless article. Unless the point is to denigrate Ms Fiorina. Every one running has their tells, their expressions and body language that are quite obvious. Even Lord Obama and Lady Clinton though worshipped by main stream media have quite annoying facial expressions and body language that tell a story all their own.

Do we care what Carly Fiorina stands for? The spoken language of her positions and plans and platform sets her apart from much of the field, , head and shoulders above them,. I hope we have plenty of opportunity to look at her face in the public square since the faces I see there now are destroying our economy and reputation in the world.

Posted by RudyB | Report as abusive

That’s what we need. A president who effuses disgust and anger 24/7.

Posted by slongo | Report as abusive

Simply cannot believe Reuters is writing about Carly Fiorina’s face, its unbelievably sexist.

Posted by nycla | Report as abusive

Wow Reuters, thanks for reminding me just how much you fear and despise conservative women.

Posted by nycla | Report as abusive

I’m curious how this writer would characterize Hillary Clinton’s face. BoldFACE liar would be a good one!

Posted by Malvas | Report as abusive

Hang tough Carly!

Posted by Sherpa1 | Report as abusive

Well she is running among some pretty disgusting candidates in her party. Donald Trump? The guy who says most Mexicans are rapists. Ben Carson? The doctor who believes that evolution is a conspiracy against christians, and that women should just be quiet and listen to men?

No wonder Carly Fiorina looks disgusted all the time.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Welcome to “How to be Sexist 101″ with your professor Dan Hill.

Posted by jaredb45 | Report as abusive

How can you tell if she is smiling with all that Botox and plastic?

Posted by edscottaz | Report as abusive

Fiorina has apparently adopted politics as her new career, since her old one ended so badly. While her attempts to drag HP into the modern age were laudable, her results were less so. This, and the glass ceiling explain why she hasn’t been offered another CEO position.

I’m not sure what qualified her to run for Senate or now President, but apparently non-qualification is now a positive trait. Considering the performance of the last two presidents, who were relative neophytes to the politics game, I’m hoping the next president actually has both legislative and executive experience. POTUS is a difficult job, more so if you have to learn as you go.

Posted by dwitcraft | Report as abusive

The author of this article should have his credentials reviewed as a reporter/writer…. This is nothing short of “bullying!” I mean really now, can’t you come up with something “newsworthy” to read or at least subjective? This is the best he can do? I think Carly has a beautiful face.

Posted by Realisticview | Report as abusive

The article is too generous to Carly.

She messed up at Lucent and wrecked H-P. Now she wants to be President so she can validate herself as something other than a loser.

To get there, she makes up stuff, like describing in detail abortion videos that don’t exist. It’s interesting that she’s had no job offers as CEO since leaving H-P. Nor has any H-P employee contributed to her campaign.

Mostly what Carly makes faces at is reality.

Posted by Panskeptic | Report as abusive

An analysis of her lip and nose movements. We’ve hit a new low in “political news.”

Posted by moriyokiri | Report as abusive

Good lord doesn’t Dan Hill have better things to waste his life and time on. Tomorrow he will say hair parting tells person’s character and nose tells person’s intellect. He needs life.

Posted by epcotint | Report as abusive

Well I agree with this article. Facial expressions give away a lot and when they create a negative or “disgusted” look then that individual loses all support.
Do you like associating with grumpy people? Does a boss that always has a scowl get his/her people to get their work done properly and/or productively? Who are you more likely to agree with and support? The person with a natural smile and aura of likeability or the arrogant pushy person with a grim look on their face?
I see a picture of Carly Fiorina and can tell immediately why she screwed up HP. There is nothing in her look that tells me that people would enjoy working with her or following her.
Ever notice that she had a short spike in poll numbers and immediately dropped back down.

Posted by Romas | Report as abusive

It’s unbecoming of Reuters to publish such a silly article.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

I wish there is section such as – Horoscope Reading or other, where articles such as these face-reading, can be posted as relevant.

Another meaningful section would be – War and Peace section, where Reuters can post a barrage of recent articles from troll-authors on US defense payrolls pushing their war-agenda.

The above should filter much of the noise.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

What a crock! What about Hillary? Talk about disgust! Oh, I lost my head for a minute. If you guys give her a pass for putting state department emails on her personal computer what can one expect? Who cares that the Office of Secretary of State is one of the highest in the land and information of the most sensitive nature is routinely involved? It’s Hillary! Nothing else matters.
Proof that the mind control of our electorate is complete. The media is in charge of what we are to consider important. Our national security, foreign policy leadership, and social structure are deteriorating by the day, the world is on the brink of countless regional conflicts, but let’s talk about more important things…

Posted by beofaction | Report as abusive

Nothing more than the Democrats war on Women.

Posted by kenmcd | Report as abusive

As a physician, I find your comments very unfortunate and primitive.
Fiorina is status-post chemo-XRT and a double mastectomy in treatment of breast cancer. I would never attribute her ‘looks’ or any patient appearance to anything except her humanity and what she has personally experienced.

As an independent voter, I find your comments highly charged and suggestive of an ulterior agenda.

As a human, I find your comments sad.

Posted by MDrap | Report as abusive

Hard to move your lips naturally when you have had a bad plastic surgery.

Posted by RAJensen | Report as abusive

That sour look of disgust on Fiorina’s face may have to do with her own muck than the muck of others. She is, after all, a proven liar – a fabricator of convenience who confabulates on-the-spot for political fiat. She lies about Planned Parenthood, about what a hypothetical candidate-elect Fiorina could do about the Iran treaty, about banks and the Dodd-Frank laws, about dying veterans, about Common Core, and about her own resume. If we all lied as much as she, we’d all have that look of utter self-disgust.

Posted by Munderwood | Report as abusive

Of course no Reuter’s analysis about the body language and facial expressions of the men – just the sole woman.
A cheap, gratuitous and sexist article by a misogynist.

Posted by Anthonykovic | Report as abusive

Of course no Reuter’s analysis about the body language and facial expressions of the men – just the sole woman.
A cheap, gratuitous and sexist article by a misogynist.

Posted by Anthonykovic | Report as abusive

Looking forward to expressionist ‘exposes’ on the others. After all, fair is fair. A bit surprised that Reuters would present us with entertainment of this genre, however if this is what Carly warrants, we are in for high theater with many of the other candidates.

Posted by 96me | Report as abusive