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Physiognomy

October 22, 2010

About two months ago, I met someone here in Ukraine who is very into Physiognomics. At our first social outing (a group of people), she told me that she could tell me things about myself by reading my facial features. I asked her to do so, and she proceeded to give me generalities as far as “people with this feature are arrogant” or “people with that feature are kind” (the kind people turned out to be those with light blue eyes, she said). This, and her subsequent discussion with a friend of mine, made me wonder about this art or science, or whatever you want to call it.

What is Physiognomics? According to Wikipedia, Physiognomy is “the assessment of a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance, especially the face. The term physiognomy can also refer to the general appearance of a person, object or terrain, without reference to its implied characteristics.” Apparently  this practice was popular in ancient Greece but became significanly less popular in the Middle Ages, “when practiced by vagabonds and mountebanks.” However, it is becoming popular once again. People say they can tell whether a peson is trustworthy, arrogant, kind, or aggressive by looking at facial features. There is even “Face Reading Software” that is sold – it claims to “use a sophisticated neural network to identify correlations between facial features and psychological characteristics using photo identification techniques recognized by law enforcement professionals.”

Okay, seriously?

Do people really believe that your facial features are telling of your personality? If so, then what about those of us who don’t have say, light blue eyes – are we not also kind? This brings me dangerously close to racism and eugenics, as well – again with the blue eyes example. And by the way, I have known PLENTY of people with light blue eyes who are NOT kind. But back to the example. Generally, people from Asia or Africa do not have blue eyes – this is genetically true, unless they had some sort of Nordic influence somewhere in the genes. So, given the fact that dark eyes are predominant in people from Asia or Africa, does that mean that none of them are kind? I don’t think so, and it is worrisome to make such broad statements.

She also said that people with “hooked noses” are “not trustworthy.” Hmm, this sounds dangerously close to how people have (and still do) talk about people who are Jewish, as it “seems” to be a predominant trait in Jews (or used to be, anyway, though in reality this is a stereotype, rather than a fact). Either way, it classifies people in a negative manner. I mean, how can you generalize people by a facial feature? Especially by something like eyebrows, which are often altered, at least in women?

She also told me that I am a “sexy” person because of the way my thumb bends. Well, I won’t argue with her on that 😉 but does that mean people who don’t have thumbs that bend are not sexy? That is unfortunate.

I also found something online that calls itself a Physiognomy Dictionary. According to this “dictionary,” a tall body height means the following:

  • Tall and thin body : Stupid and simplicity.
  • Tall body height for woman : Low sexual desire

Um, no. I can tell you that is not true in either case. And don’t even get me into what all they say about hair, eyes, ears, or other features.

What I wonder is how people can take things like physiognomy seriously. I can see using it as a “parlor trick” or to impress people at parties, or as a conversation starter, but this woman takes it so seriously she uses it to determine whether or not she will be friends with a person. It seems to me that a person can miss out on a lot by making such judgments. Then again, we often judge based on appearance, don’t we, whether or not we are conscious of it? There are studies that show that attractive people are generally more successful and higher paid than unattractive people. (These studies are based on universal traits of attractiveness, that have been tested across cultures and generations). We either smile or turn away from someone based on how the person looks, before even considering getting to know the person underneath the appearance.

So I learned something from her, this woman who is into Physiognomy. She reminded me that though people may think otherwise, looks can be deceiving, and beauty is truly only skin deep.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Renate Strina permalink
    October 22, 2010 5:28 am

    Hi Karin, thanks for your blog on Physiognomy – I had never heard the term before and feel sorry for anyone, who uses this method to determine with whom they want to associate or not. Thank you for sharing your experience AGAIN… and thanks for giving me another source of entertainment!!! Many greetings, Renate 🙂

  2. Mom permalink
    October 22, 2010 8:12 am

    Well, having a book on reading facial features myself, I understand what the woman meant.
    C’mon now, any intelligent person can make the arguments above. However, the scientific study of anything should not be bashed. We learn from these things.
    Generalities aside, blue eyes usually go along with lighter features which means sensitivity to many things, especially environmental. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily “nicer” than others, however, because we are all under other influences as well. But don’t discount the science.
    There are, in fact, different shapes of faces, sizes of foreheads, spaces between the eyes, etc. which may or may not allow an interested person to speculate on how that subject may respond to certain stimuli.
    For example, you and I both have a diamond shaped face with high bone structure. One could read that in genetic terms or in terms of one’s ability to cope with certain things in life. We are both very sensitive, yet the “jade” face allows a toughness in coping with matters in life which some others cannot.
    I believe we should “be a sponge” when it comes to new information and try to learn from it, then sort it out as we may for our own benefit.

    • October 25, 2010 2:48 am

      It is not really scientific study when a person says that blue eyes mean that a person is kind, or that a hooked nose means the person is dishonest. I don’t see any of this as truly scientific based.

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