Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Illium?
The above quote is from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and it is about Helen of Troy, the quintessentially beautiful woman who started the Trojan War by changing partners. Her face, Marlowe says, launched a thousand ships.
Facial recognition is a human universal, as is recognition of the emotions behind various expressions. In other words, members of a newly “discovered” tribe in East Boogaloo will correctly identify what your frown, smile and even phony smile indicates.
Hiding one’s face is suspect; what are they up to? What are they thinking? Who are they? Thus we object to folks going around wearing ski masks or burqas. Some claim the burqa ban is simple Islamophobia (but the Koran does not require it, it is tradition.) Opponents mention that hiding one’s face is inherently unfriendly.
After listening to the ski mask/burqa debate I imagined robbing a bank in a burqa:
“Can you identify the robber?” “No, but we have it on video.”
Newborn infants prefer “normal” faces, that is, they prefer faces with two eyes above a nose, which nose is located above a mouth. How a newborn, who has spent life in darkness until now, can know how a face should look is one of life’s big mysteries; things that make you go, “Hmmm.”
We may say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but we do, both literally and metaphorically. We look at each other’s faces and judge. Fortunately for most of us who do not have a face that would launch a thousand ships, the mere physical structure of our face does not tell the whole story. Our entire demeanor, reflected in how we relate, how we converse and what our micro-expressions tell others comes into play.
I well remember a woman who everyone thought was very attractive. As a portrait artist, I often half-consciously analyze facial anatomy. As I washed dishes with my very attractive friend, I noticed that she did not have features considered classically attractive at all. Yet she still was a very attractive woman! She was open, friendly, smart, warm and the longer you knew her, the more attractive she seemed.
On the other hand, if you are past about age 25, you have known wildly hot people who just got uglier and uglier the longer you knew them. Fortunately for parents, our little ones just want us to have two eyes above a nose, which nose is located above a mouth.