The Beauty in Asymmetry: Why Your Face is Not Supposed to Be Symmetrical

Beauty & Style

If you have ever been on TikTok, even for a matter of minutes, you’ll see the new trend obsession: teens using the inverted filter to try and see themselves how others see them. But this trend, like so many others, has caused more harm than good.

First, let me say that this trend has really bothered me. As if TikTok hasn't already exposed our insecurities enough or introduced us to insecurities we didn't even know we were "supposed to have", this inverted filter trend came out of nowhere and has taken over the internet. Teenagers everywhere have regrettably selected the "Try Filter" button at one time or another and, chances are, it has only resulted in having an emotional breakdown. But when did we subconsciously reach the conclusion that symmetrical means good, and asymmetrical means bad? Well, no matter how we reached that conclusion, I'm happy to say it isn't true. And here are just a few examples of why.

Asymmetrical faces are easier to remember and more likely to be remembered.

A professor of psychology at the University of Bamberg, Claus-Christian Carbon, reported, "If you have a very symmetric, very easy-to-process face, then you have one problem: You won’t be remembered so well…This is because we recall faces by their differences, by what makes them distinct from one another”.

This claim is backed up by evidence conducted in 1996 that found people with asymmetrical faces were considered more attractive than those with symmetrical faces. The authors of the study believed this may be because every person has slight asymmetrical facial features and the participants may have been more attracted to the “normal” faces with more asymmetry. To further prove that asymmetrical faces are easier to remember, sites like Echoism allow you to upload pictures of yourself and discover that the vast majority of the time, your “imperfections” that cause asymmetry are the traits that make you beautiful.

On the contrary, if you apply the perfectly symmetrical face filter, it makes you look unreal and even inhuman; everyone, no matter how much they may not want to admit it, has asymmetry and those with more asymmetry have been found to be considered approachable and attractive.

One pretty intense example of asymmetry is Thom Yorke, an English musician and lead singer and songwriter for the band Radiohead. His eyes are clearly uneven and different - but this is what makes him stand out and allows others to easily identify him, which can help spread his image and increase his popularity. Carbon explained that we focus so much on his uneven eyes because they lie on the Y-axis, or the vertical line from someone’s ear to ear that cuts our face in half, meaning that we’re more likely to see differences or unique traits closer to the eyes or nose as opposed to ears.

A less intense example of asymmetry is Meryl Streep; although many consider her to be symmetrical, if you look closer you can see that her nose is tilted to the left and her mouth is shifted slightly to the right. Nautilus commented, “The asymmetries make her face unique, help her stand out, and add to her appeal”. These unique features add to her image and help us recognize and remember her, even if our minds do it subconsciously.

Symmetrical faces are not instinctively attractive and asymmetrical faces are not instinctively unattractive.

One of the biggest issues on Tiktok is that many people automatically assume that if you have a symmetrical face you should immediately be put on a pedestal and worshipped like some prophet. And sure, maybe it is cool if you have a symmetrical face - but that doesn’t mean you should retreat into your room and live life like a hermit just because one of your eyes is a little too far to the right. In fact, many studies have shown that asymmetrical faces are considered more attractive than symmetrical faces.

One study conducted in 1995 showed that, “faces that were made more symmetrical were perceived as being less attractive” and that this attractiveness was in direct correlation to the facial features that most clearly showed asymmetrical faces. Similarly, symmetrical faces may have been seen as less attractive, “because of the reduction of natural directional asymmetries, perhaps making the faces appear unemotional”.

Human brains process faces as a whole and do not focus on specific, individual parts.

Margaret Livingstone, a neurobiology professor at Harvard Medical School, found that human brains are not programmed to pick out individual parts of the face, but instead view a face holistically. David Perrett, a professor at St. Andrews University’s School of Psychology and Neuroscience, also found that the holistic scanning of the face occurs from left to right and is asymmetrical in itself. Perrett conducted a study in which he showed participants images of faces made up of half a male face on the left and half a female face on the right. He found that the majority believed that the faces were primarily masculine, showing that the holistic scanning of the brain itself is asymmetrical, spending more time processing the left side of the face than the right side. He explained to Nautilus that, “the left side of our sensory space (what we see to our left) is processed initially mostly by the right side of our brain, where many more specialized facial recognition functions are found. The fusiform face area of the brain, for example, is thought to play a key role in facial recognition, and is larger in the right hemisphere” and noted, “because we are busy processing one side at one time, we don’t notice the left-right differences.” This is good news for those of us that are worried about others immediately pointing out how unsymmetrical our faces are by comparing our left side to our right side.

If you're looking for further reading, check out these scientific articles:

https://nautil.us/issue/13/symmetry/an-experts-guide-to-celebrity-faces

https://graziadaily.co.uk/life/opinion/tiktok-inverted-filter/

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/08/theres-more-to-life-than-facial-symmetry/378807/

Maegan Fitzpatrick
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Maegan is a Junior at Bancroft School who lives near Boston, MA. She loves playing volleyball, hiking with her family, hanging with friends, and eating all types of tasty food. She is an Editor of her student newspaper and enjoys writing about her personal experiences and opinions.