I’m fascinated by people with slightly asymmetrical faces. When I say slightly, I mean, only really noticeable by looking at a photo, where it’s easy to verify your hunch by covering first one side and then the other with a piece of paper. The results of the comparison can be quite startling: we forget how often apparently harmonious and self-consistent images and narratives result from an unconscious blending of disparate parts. Just as it’s possible to become familiar with the Bible and never notice all the disparities between the first and second chapters of Genesis, so is it often the case that you can know somebody for years without noticing that one side of his or her face is significantly sadder-looking than the other. Or more troubled, or more thoughtful. Because that’s what I’m talking about here: faces in which the persistent, infantile positivism of our culture has been stalemated by a gloomier or more realistic cast of mind. At least, I think that’s what’s going on, but perhaps I’m reading too much into it. It may in fact be the case that all faces are at least slightly asymmetrical, in the same manner and to the same degree that their owners are right- or left-handed: one side is simply stronger than the other. The weaker side will tend to wear a more relaxed or cheerful expression, since — as motivational speakers are wont to remind us — it takes more effort (if not necessarily more muscles) to frown than it does to smile. But if that be the case, why would the asymmetry only be detectable for a certain, small percentage of the population? Do the rest of us somehow unconsciously correct for a default tendency toward asymmetry through complex feedback loops between our own facial expressions and those we see on others? If so, then the question becomes: why and how do certain people manage to escape the influence of such pervasive, unconscious social pressures? And why would the results of such nonconformity so often strike us as beautiful?
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