Why People Are More Captivated By Facial Symmetry Than Ever
But you see, facial features are meant to be dynamic! Again, the reason we even have them is to communicate our emotions and recognize each other—they are what make us social beings. So while you might want to look perfectly symmetrical on screen, in real life, your intricate asymmetries are what makes you, well, human. It’s why many people actually find beauty in the unique differences on the face, like a crooked smile or the way someone’s left eye might crinkle when they laugh. Nahman even references a study showing humans are more attracted to asymmetries.
OK, yes, research also has associated symmetrical faces with the standard of beauty, but I’d argue this standard sits on a bell curve—there’s no way those studies could have predicted people could (and would) mold their faces to be completely, 100% symmetrical. Take the age-old “golden ratio” theory, for example, which proposes facial proportions of 1.618 are most pleasing to the eye. There’s even a golden ratio filter on TikTok you can play around with to see how your facial features measure up (another panic-inducing filter). It’s become somewhat of a micro-trend to distort your face to these dimensions; creators also edit the faces of well-known public figures to match this golden ratio, and the results look…a little off.
Perhaps it’s because a perfectly symmetrical face might take away some of the unique essence that helps us recognize these individuals, and thus a layer of vulnerability. Those asymmetries we’re used to, however, make a person much more inviting. “They’re a little bit more expressive, a little bit more personal, a little bit more intriguing,” says psychologist Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., who works with a host of clients struggling with perfectionism. “They tell more of a story.” In this case, erasing the asymmetries is akin to starting with an eerie blank page.
This notion that your face tells a story also stems from Eastern medicine: “Our face represents our past,” says skin care expert Debbie Kung, DAOM, LAc. “We carry the face of thousands of generations that come before us that have survived so that we were born… In Eastern culture, we look at the face you’re born with like your destiny. And it’s a good thing—it’s not something you should be ashamed of.” If you do alter a feature on your face, Kung adds, you might alter your destiny, too—which isn’t always the best move.
Kung practices facial rejuvenation with cosmetic acupuncture, which does address facial symmetry to some degree; but it’s less about molding the actual facial features and more about whole-body balance, since what shows up on your face reflects what’s going on in your organ system. “We work on certain muscles with the face that can actually lift the brows, so your eyes do look bigger because the eyelids aren’t as heavy. But in terms of the actual facial features, we honor that,” Kung explains. “[Cosmetic acupuncture] helps to boost the fibroblasts in your dermis to help build collagen, and it does so many things to help ‘even you out.’ It makes you look like your best self, but it’s not going to make you look like a filter.”
Even plastic surgeons don’t actually aim for perfect symmetry in their work. “As in life in general, perfection is a myth. Plastic surgeons do not aim for perfection, just close to it,” says Madhère. Again, a perfectly symmetrical face can look a bit uncanny, as a filter-like facade doesn’t honor a 360-degree harmonious look. Just think about the filters themselves: They only work while you look straight into the camera—as soon as you sport a wide grin or turn your head a bit too far, the image becomes warped. Youn concurs: “Everyone has facial asymmetry to some degree, and to expect that your face should be perfectly symmetric is not realistic or being kind to yourself. Sometimes we can reduce the asymmetry, but it can never be fully ‘corrected.’”