Everybody has one with the exception of those people we meet who turn out to have two, but we try to avoid them. As a youth in Pennsylvania there was a character who had been in a horrible accident and was known locally as “No Face Charlie.” That is another story for another day.
What I’ve been thinking about lately is what The Face, my face, your face, everyone’s face, tells us about the person. It’s not a matter of “beauty.” What constitutes beauty changes constantly. A great beauty from the 1890s in America would today be posing for the “Before” picture in an ad for the Weight Watchers diet program.
When we meet somebody for the first time we hear their name but, more often than not, we instantly forget it because we are looking at their face – making a million snap decisions based on what we see there. “Is this person friendly or hostile? Do I find them attractive or not? Is that their real hair color or a dye job?” First impressions are important and in many cases completely erroneous. We all try to make a good first impression so we strive to look our best, hide our flaws, and behave like a civilized human being. We may dress up, shine our shoes and make sure our zippers are up, but it is what we show in our face that says to the world who we really are.
When I’m seeing someone for the first time I find that my initial judgement is at the corners of their mouth. Are their lips going up at the corners or down, or are they held tight in a straight line? I’m not thinking about what i’m seeing, it’s just an unconscious response. My brain puts it into a file folder and my eyes move on. Is this person looking at me or are they trying to locate the nearest exit? Do they look happy to be meeting me or are they silently calculating how long it will take to get away, having already made their decision about me? All of this takes place in a few seconds at best – just long enough to say, “I’m sorry – your name again is…?” When I get to the end of my analysis of their face I put the various pieces together and make my thumbs up or down decision.
There are those people who we meet in our day to day life who make instant and lasting impressions on us. How else would you explain “Love at first sight” or “I wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley” reactions? I know that there have been people whom I’ve met and took an immediate dislike or distrust to. Those have usually been people running for public office. But there have also been some, a few, people who upon meeting I would have felt safe giving them the keys to my car or my bank account numbers.
Have I ever felt the “Love at first sight” reaction? On an hourly basis. I’m an easy mark. Of course it never gets beyond that initial hormonal backflip. Otherwise I would be known as a stalker. I just chalk it up to an instantaneous response to a collection of facial features that I find attractive; both eyes are in their proper location, the corners of the mouth stop before getting all the way to the ears, there are ears. I guess that I’m not all that fussy. I can think of only 2 or 3 times in my life when I acted on my “Love at first sight” reaction. That girl was gorgeous. She hit all my buttons. It didn’t work out well. Those fourth grade romances rarely do. I was a little older when I felt that immediate tumble again – but Ann-Margret didn’t feel the same way about me. The last time I fell head over heels in love with someone upon first seeing their wonderful face was with a real live person who existed in my real world. I tried to get her to notice me, but I really don’t think she ever even knew my name. if she had known it I don’t think that when she saw me she would have screamed, “That’s him Officer!”
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. That looking deep into someone’s eyes will tell you all you need to know. I don’t know about that. What with Lasik and cataract surgeries, colored contact lenses, corneal transplants and breast implants I don’t think that the eyes can hold my attention as well as they would have in Shakespeare’s time. Does that make me shallow? Probably.
Looking at someone’s face when meeting them is quite an exercise in human nature. It may have started as a survival technique. That first impression may have triggered a “Fight or Flight” response at some time before morphing into the social event it is today. What I find even more interesting is how the human face and it’s components change over time along with my ability to read them. That first impression may give me the basics, but over time the more subtle things can be learned with a quick glance at a face. I discern if the other person is angry or sad, feeling well or poorly, even whether I’m about to be kissed or I should get ready to duck.
The human face is a magnificent puzzle with so many pieces that can tell so much. Conditions can and do change not only what those pieces can tell you,but whether or not you can interpret them correctly. It is akin to trying to read someone’s mind and we all know how dangerous that can be. I can’t tell you the number of times I have read the signs to mean one thing when they actually meant the exact opposite and I end up running for figurative cover being followed by an icy stare.
While William Shakespeare may have written “The eyes are the windows to the soul” I tend to think that they are more like a chain link fence – allowing you to see whatever is made visible to you, but keeping you from getting too close a look at what is hidden away. We will all continue looking at someone’s face and making those snap judgments. It’s human nature and who knows – you might just fall in love.