Physiognomy: Awesome Face Reading Traditions Are Coming Back

An exploration of the cultural practise of face reading.

Artwork by Ranuka Tandan

Phew, I don’t have any group projects this semester. Awesome, right? The ensemble of a group project is well known: the person who does 99% of the work, the person who promises to do all the work but does nothing, the person who you wish would show up, and the person who shows up but you wish would not.

If I am to be honest, I have played every one of these characters in my time. For every instance of heavy lifting, I have also ghosted every group member for other urgent commitments…

The question remains, how do we pick the right people to ensure equal contributions from all group members? Ideally, you want individuals who are like-minded in their attitude to deadlines, and their expectations for the quality of work.

These seemingly impossible questions were answered by a friend during a recent meetup. They claimed to have mastered a skill set, or rather, a methodology, of reading people by their faces.

“One’s appearance reveals one’s heart.”

She cited the Chinese idiom while familiarising me with face reading techniques. They belong to the practice of physiognomy, which originated from China around 3 millennia ago.

According to her account, all that is needed is a pair of observant eyes. Paying attention to the ‘organs’ on their face grants you access to a person’s personality; the forehead, eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, and chin. Although scientific sensibilities may easily have discouraged me, I listened. In the following, I will detail what I was told each section of the face indicates.

Forehead: it contains information about one’s life in their younger years. Wisdom is judged by the shape of the forehead: a wide and high one is preferable. So, broad foreheads are needed in a group to ensure the project is headed in the right direction from the get-go.

Eyebrows: they show the fortune of the early thirties. In addition to their likely longevity, the length of the eyebrows is also positively correlated with attitudes to friends and partners, which means an ideal group member should have longer eyebrows. Moreover, as they are near the ‘window of the heart’ — the eyes — they also reflect one’s temperament and behaviourism. Longer than the outer canthus, and one is likely to be righteous and less restrained. Great team players come with great eyebrows.

Eyes: people with bigger eyes tend to be cheerful, in charge of the bigger picture, expressive and outgoing, yet they are ready to trust others and get deceived. Those who have smaller eyes are usually calm and always in control of their mood, paying attention to details and unsociable. A balance definitely needs to be created in a group: having a mix of large and small eyes means having both planners and executors.

Nose: stands for one’s self-esteem, ability, social status, and personality, in particular in one’s age of forties. A well-featured nose with a freshy tip, raised wings and invisible nostrils is believed to be the symbol of leader and good fortune. The nose tip represents self, therefore the bigger it gets, the more likely this person adheres to his or her ideas. When you vote for your group leader, observe their nose before raising your hands.

Mouth: a large mouth is more fun, social, and talkative while a small mouth is quiet, private and sincere. One’s decision-making style is revealed by the teeth: straight teeth means good decisions; gaps in between suggest a proclivity towards puns and jokes; small teeth are kind, and big teeth are stubborn; crooked teeth are conflicted — they can be either shy or really aggressive. Bear this in mind should you want someone chatty in the group to stave off boredom.

Ears: quick learners have highly placed ears. People with ears sticking out from the sides of head tend to be rebellious, whereas those with ears that lie flat against the head are conformists. The height and shape of the ears may inform you as to who loves challenging each other — an important quality in a group project! Having a challenger who dares to question, minimises the occurence of mistakes.

Chin: physical strength, aggression, and survival are betrayed by the chin. Chin and jaw size represent one’s stamina and willpower; the larger the chin is, physically stronger and more aggressive they are. Anecdotally, all the perfectionists I have encountered all wielded either straight or angular chins, and they all really managed the time very well.

I was then equipped with face reading techniques, and a very small number of papers I found that were willing to support face reading’s scientific credibility (including a Czech paper that those with faces perceived to be longer, with a wider distance between the eyes, a larger nose, and a sharper, pointing, less rounded chin are more intelligent).

I decided to put this knowledge to use in the past four weeks on campus. Despite no group work for me, I still tried to predict the friendly faces’ personality in my lecture. I read their faces, and then approached and talked to them.

Discerning characters was certainly difficult. I found myself a bit guilty of using this skill set to judge people. Was the process culturally insensitive?? Perhaps. Am I horrible at this? Absolutely — no one contradicted me when I told them they were intelligent, and everyone refused to be called as a control freak based on the appearance of their nose and chin.

The issue here is not about not remembering those techniques or the outcome of the research. Rather, it is impossible to judge someone’s personality just by looking at their face, as there is absolutely no way to quantify to qualify the size of some features on every individual’s face. However, there are still experts out there, accurately practicing face readings on individuals, regardless of gender, race, nationality, etc. Moreover, there is a long and rich history of physiognomy in Chinese heritage. The recent revival of face reading has crossed cultural barriers, and as the practice expands into the community. More people like me have become interested in the practice and how it works. Perhaps it guides individuals in working on their strengths and weaknesses. These face readers continue writing the history of face reading and continue retaining this ancient art known around the world.

As for me, a bad face reader, I will use my old trick for my future group projects, using my sixth sense to emit and receive my peers’ vibe, and to spread positivity around.