The Body Series :: On Faces + Symmetry

When I start to look at faces too long, I feel like an alien. Human faces are so weird. They’re so different. They communicate so much information, but they are weeeiiiirrrdddd. And I love them. I love interesting faces. 

I remember in my human sexuality class, we learned about how the more symmetrical a face is, the more “beautiful” it is considered by the population at large. Studies have shown that famous movie stars, models, etc all have very symmetrical faces. This was not great news for me at a time when I very much judged my worth by my perceived attractiveness.

Over the years I have come to know very well the ways in which my face is very much not symmetrical. My nose slants to the left. Not only is it the rather large statement piece and focal point of my face, but it’s definitely a little crooked. Today, I love it. I actually believe it when I say “it gives me character,” a phrase I first heard in middle school and clung to with a fervent desperation. However, it took awhile before this smelling machine I not so lovingly would call a bazonker became a welcome part of my face.

 Trying to smile, but the right side is not cooperating...

Trying to smile, but the right side is not cooperating...

I also experienced a several month bout of Bell’s Palsy the summer before I went away to college. For those of you who don’t know, Bell’s Palsy is a pretty mysterious virus that paralyzes half your face. That’s right. Two months before one of the biggest transitions of my life, the right half of my face literally stopped moving. I wholeheartedly believe there is some sort of psychosomatic connection to that happening, but that is analysis and speculation for another time.

It happened slowly one sunny summer day. At first my lip felt weird when I put on my chap stick, but I didn’t think much of it. Then, as I was driving my beloved blue Mini Cooper, Syd Barrett (I was way into Pink Floyd in high school… and I should note I’m actually wearing a Pink Floyd shirt as I type this), I caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror and noticed my eye wasn’t quite blinking. I called my mom who panicked at the possibility that I might be having a stroke, before we sorted out this whole Bell’s Palsy diagnosis. 

During those months I was devastated. My high school boyfriend and I broke up the day before he left for UNC, and most of my friends had already gone away. I, however, was starting my first semester at Northwestern in September and had been spending my days working in my dad’s office. I remember calling my ex one night in tears while he was at a party. I was so devastatingly sad. I felt like a monster. Sometimes it was hilarious, but sometimes it was horrible. I was very attached to the idea of being “hot.” I hadn’t yet learned the medicine of laughing at yourself.

I went to physical therapy which included exercises to try to wake up the sleeping muscles and nerve endings along with some electric shock to get the muscles to twitch. What a bizarre time. My sister introduced me to the person who would become my freshman year roommate who later told me she thought I hated her when we first met because I tried not to smile and had a weird time chewing and eating. I also slept with an eye patch because my eye wouldn’t close on its own. 

As the first day of college approached, I grew more and more terrified of meeting new people with a not quite perfect face. It had gotten better, but wasn’t quite right. To my surprise, no one really noticed and by the end of my first month there my face had gone mostly back to normal. The right side of my face still feels a little different sometimes. Especially around my eye and cheek, but other than the echoes of paralysis, I’ve pretty much got full functionality. 

That whole episode has left me painfully aware of the uneven parts of myself. The whole right side of my body it usually stiffer, it’s the side with the bigger bunion (more on that next week), the tighter hips, the weaker glutes, the knottier shoulder and back. Sometimes, I feel like a lopsided mess, but over time I’ve learned that unevenness isn’t a curse. It’s information.

And faces… well, they’re still weird and beautiful, symmetrical or not.