Physiognomy: An Odd Downside to an Amazing Art

My strong interest in Physiognomy, an art discredited in the West for over a century, but more and more affirmed scientifically in our day (with the development of advanced algorithms in the study of human facial features, and their relationship to emotional, personality, and cognitive traits, security concerns, etc.) is sometimes problematic.

First, it should be noted that much that was said against Western Physiognomy has basis in truth. In the 18th century to the early-20th century, Physiognomical teachings were corrupted, and became less of an art based upon science and objective observation, and more of a racist/prejudiced/elitist means of ingratiating oneself with certain classes/circles of people whilst denigrating others. It just so happened that one’s friends, and peers, and potential benefactors, had ‘positive trait after positive trait,’ whereas all of those…. other people… were not nearly as fortunate. Today, things have changed. The art, or even science as some refer to it (a term I actually favour), has been affirmed at least in part, in articles found in Psychology Today, The Daily Mail, and in other magazines, newspapers, and even scientific journals. The same type of technology used by international security agencies (e.g. in airports) to analyse faces for certain threats, have also confirmed strong tie-ins between certain facial features, and certain types of proclivities, inclinations, mindsets, etc.

Even with Eastern Physiognomy, which has many of the same objective findings as the Western form, there have been problems. Though Physiognomy has a wider acceptance in Asian nations, and in nations like Indian with their Vedic traditions on the subject, it can still be heavily loaded with bias. Traits that suggest “rugged individualism” may be well-favoured in parts of the West but seen as nigh criminal in parts of the East. Eastern Physiognomy, unfortunately, also has a strong prognosticative bent; so besides being unduly (subjectively) judgmental regarding many traits, it also has a tendency to declare your ‘future fortune,’ or your ‘impending doom,’ based upon said traits. Most of Western Physiognomy rejects such fortune-telling, and rightfully so I believe. I eschew it, want nothing to do with it, and find it just plain odd frankly. Nonetheless, the wealth of accurate, objective, information on face-reading coming from China, Korea, Japan, India, and many western sources, including modern scientific ones, is impressive and should not be dismissed.

So with that said, what is the odd downside? It may be one unique to me but it involves actually looking at people. I look to see the traits, to see how it fits the words being said, how they are saying the words, etc. I don’t stare endlessly by any means (quite familiar with best practices on eye contact though I do not always make eye contact) but I do take time to really see the person; I actually look at them, to notice them, as it relates to their most prominent features. For me, this takes slightly longer than most. You see, I have partial (but significant) aphantasia, and cannot recall detailed visual imagery very well [it ties in to me having an atypical form of Nonverbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)]. I can get faint impressions of things via memory/recall, sometimes even a general feel of the image, but usually cannot actually see things for more than a second, and even then, it is as if in the distance, or blurred, when it comes to recalling details. So though I often see faces, even very familiar faces, I cannot form a clear image of that face in my “mind’s eye.” If that person changes their look (make-up, hair colour, etc.), it “throws me off a bit” because I cannot readily tell what the difference is, only that there is now a difference (as my wife and daughter can confirm, and sometimes do not let me forget).

For instance, there is a woman who being younger than me no doubt, refers to me as her little brother because I look “just like her younger brother” she says. We do not work for the same company, and I mostly see her in the lobby, going to, or coming from, the parking garage elevator. She greets me as such when she sees me, it’s cute, and we talk briefly during the process of going to/from our respective destinations. This has taken place about a half a dozen times. One day, I was about to enter the elevator on my floor, saw her, but paused for a second. I knew that I knew her, but could not quite place her. It was only when she said “Hi little brother” that I realised who she was. Her look was different, and since I don’t see her often, and only see her in the lobby/elevator, her presence was out of context, and thus momentarily unbeknownst to me (slightly… awkward, especially that I had last seen her only about three weeks before). There have been other such occasions wherein people at a distance (but not so much so for others), or without make-up, or with significantly altered make-up, have thrown me off — as in “is that, or is that not, the person I think it is.” Unfortunately, I find myself looking to decipher, in an attempt to discern if it is the person or not, but as I will address in a moment, in “these here parts” (wherein I work and live), that extra moment or two of looking carries connotations… in some peoples minds… that simply do not exist.

So being interested in an art/science that requires much attention to facial detail, detail that you cannot readily minds-eye recall, is difficult enough; but having a weakened cognitive ability (compared to many) to recall facial details, or to notice precisely the changes in facial details, makes it all the more problematic. However, it is the regional differences that are most problematic. You see, in New York, Atlanta, London, it was never really a problem. However, I notice it as such here in the current southern state in which I live. That extra ‘second or two’ of looking in the Northeast, or in Atlanta, and elsewhere goes unnoticed, or may be perceived as somewhat flirtatious (guessing) but of no real concern. However, the area I am in his highly… uppity/saditty, and I have no doubt that the extra time is seen as some kind of interest/attraction, albeit one that really isn’t there. I was born in the south, have much family in the south, but (1) I’m married; (2) I’m not looking for, hoping for, or open to, anything on the side; and (3) were I to be interested in someone else (which I am not), the highest, highest likelihood is that (a) it wouldn’t be in a Southerner and (b) it wouldn’t be someone from “the country.” In fact, historic reality evidences that it wouldn’t even be an American (beyond a recent immigrant or a first-generation American); and if it was, the same precedent strongly indicates an urban, or (major city) suburban, preference.

This isn’t to say that anything is wrong with southerners, etc., but we all have our preferences. Some prefer black over white, white over black, blonde over brunette, brunette over blonde, svelte over zaftig, zaftig over svelte, tall over short, etc. I am a bit of a xenophile/allophile, love interacting with people of every race/ethnicity, and also of almost every culture (that I’ve encountered), and enjoy being around people who broaden my worldview and cultural horizons. I do not care much about superficial traits, have very little taste for glamour (i.e. mistaking make-up for beauty), skin colour/nationality is irrelevant to me, etc.; I’ve always been about the person, their inner qualities, though (of course) physical attraction has its real place. However, the point is that many in these parts simply are not the type of woman that I would go for (don’t get me started on cowboy boots) but, my goodness, do some of them act like they are sometimes. The reactions I get here, I only get here, to the point wherein I just want to wear a sign saying, “relax, I have zero interest in you.” I find that when it comes to books, politics, music, movies, clothing styles, and several things best not mentioned (perhaps like this entire article…no?), there is so little in common with many in this region, that such an attraction would be unfathomable. Yet, because of this now instinctual interest in, and observation of physiognomical traits, and due to the facial perceptions issues I have, I am self-conscious of such reactions and try my best (again, in “these here parts”) to not even look at them (for fear of giving the wrong impression). This in turn can lead them to think that I am ‘too shy’ to be in their “radiant” presence (hardly). Look, I lived on Long Island, then Manhattan (near Rockefeller Center), then Brooklyn, then Atlanta — all where physical beauty abounds… all successfully navigating the scenes, all with no problems. This is the only place I’ve encountered such foolishness (though should I be surprised? They still have a Nathan Bedford Forrest statue right near one of their main highways… go figure).

I try very hard to leave my trait recognition / skill development to other locales, means, etc. Though I am still intrigued by the growing science, and high accuracy of Physiognomy (often estimated at 80-85%), the social aspects around here concerning it are annoying as can be, and sometime just not worth it. There are regional differences concerning many things, we just have to learn to deal with them. However, I know that when I purposely tested the matter in Manhattan (back in 2017) there was nothing close, even remotely close, to what I experience here. Same with the ATL, in various parts, with various people/ethnicities, no problems… so it must be an odd quirk to this region, or so I guess. Trust me (and I do mean… trust me!) you’re safe, no interest here, except for how certain features line-up with psycho-socio/behavioural/cognitive traits people may have (and even that’s scaled back significantly now). That’s it people…. that’s the oddity associated with physiognomy. Maybe I’m the only one who’s encountered it. If anyone else studies it (Western, Eastern, Middle Eastern, Russian, and related forms), let me know if you’ve noticed anything similar (I would like to hear).

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