He looks down at them and arranges his face. Erasmus says that you must do this each morning before you leave your house: ‘put on a mask, as it were.’ – from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
I find this face arranging especially trying during the holidays…the parties, the extended family gatherings, the inevitable unplanned chat while out on the shopping circuit with that work associate you once saw daily. Uh oh, what do I want my face to say right now? Am I even able make my face reflect whatever warm greetings I feel compelled (& sometimes really do want) to offer? Or can I be honest with this one, be honest about just wanting it to be the new year already, February actually, done with the seemingly interminable “happy holidays”?
The face is our front door…it may be wide open, it may be closed, or it may be deliberately done up in the mask of the day. I used to make heroic efforts with masks & armor every time I stepped into my office, but I was never very good at it. This could be considered a disability – in that arena, it was definitely one of mine.
Facial expressions are an essential, universal aspect of human primate bonding and communication. Charles Darwin early on recognized this key element of human nature & wrote about it in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, published in 1872 as his 2nd volume (right after Descent of Man) specifically addressing human evolution. If we allow it, our face reveals what’s going on in our amygdala – that deep, old, emotional part of our brain: our fear, anger, surprise, contempt, disgust, happiness, sadness, & my (apparent) favorite (just ask my family): skepticism, as demonstrated by slight but oh-so-communicative raising of one eyebrow. Ergo, our attempts at closing that door to others stem from a desire to conceal our emotional states, probably in relation to demonstrating our degree of mental control over them, or because we sense others (understandably!) don’t really want to see what’s behind that door. And while chimpanzees can to some extent control their facial expressions, only human primates seem to hold this deception as a daily objective. I did, I do still, but it’s harder to justify these days because, to be honest, I don’t need less connection with my fellow humans right now, I rather need more…can’t see those facial expressions on FB or in text messages (although, granted, sometimes I’m relived to not be able to see them).
Which brings me to that other mask that some of us (usually female) wear, a.k.a. “putting on my face”. Chalk another one up to being part of the feminist generation – I never did get into this. Now, at 60-something, I suppose I could make a small effort to hide those distracting sun-blemishes, but at this point, why bother? I do however make the daily effort to don eyebrows (!), & know from my mother (from whom I no doubt inherited these mostly invisible & scraggly things) that this does not become easier over the years. Some women dread bad-hair days, but I dread bad-eyebrow days – eyebrows being, after all, key to that (apparent) favored facial expression. Someone suggested tattooing them on, but having survived the punctures of a very small tattoo on my ankle a few years ago, it’s impossible to imagine voluntarily subjecting myself to the surreal pain of two eyebrows. No thank you. If you can’t read my face because I forgot to put on my eyebrows, you’ll just have to ask me…I promise to not shut the door on you.
Here’s to the light of the new year. May it include more joyful facial expressions, & fewer of the others.
Hi Linda ~ You ask “Please let me know what you think.” I shall take you at your word! I think that this is the only downbeat post of yours I have read, since I started enjoying them a few months ago. Although I can not see your face, or its expression, your words seem to say a lot, to me. I read some tiredness, eyebrows notwithstanding. I read some annoyance with the season’s greetings, parties and even the occasional unplanned chat. In short, I read an expression that wants me to reach out to you and say that I hope this Winter Solstice day may be a time of renewal for your dear self, which I have always admired. The sun will return tomorrow, just a weensie bit more than today. May it give you warmth and may you feel the warmth of my friendship. (P.S. I don’t do my eyebrows but I do do a wee bit of mascara…makes me feel good, no matter what anyone else may know.). Happy Christmas and Merriness in the New Year. Jean
thanks for your comments jean – they inspired me to add to the now-edited post that one reason we keep the door closed is that we know others don’t always want to see what’s behind it – i know sometimes i don’t. btw, i usually love unplanned chats, & yes, i generally could do without the happy face holidays.
My face is always an open book. It’s one reason I could never be a good liar… everything I’m thinking is written all over my puss. But then I’ve always prided myself on my acting abilities because I CAN put my emotions on my face. (If only I could stop when I’m not performing…)
I like using makeup because it makes me look less tired. I’m “blessed” with pale skin (I’m always the whitest person in the photo) and blue eyes (which disappear into the background when brown eyes are in the crowd). For me, makeup is a fun way to wake up my face. So… I won’t give it up. And it’s a fun way to communicate with color… That’s the artist in me.
I like reading people’s faces. At our office, one woman sits ramrod straight when she’s being all business. She also arrives at work with her hair in a French twist with two chopsticks poking out. Clear message for the rest of us. She will not be in a playful mood that day. LOL
I also look at people for pursed lips, squinted eyes (unless the light is very bright), furrowed brows, tightened jawbones, crinkles around their eyes, lips sucked inward, etc. They all say something, just as plainly as the rest of their body does. I read this week that 90% of communication is through facial expression and body language. But we fail to be conscious about picking it up.
In meetings, I try to imitate people I agree with (body position, facial expression) and be the opposite of those I don’t agree with. When I’m feeling “low on the totem pole,” I take body positions that communicate confidence or strength. Without saying anything, I’m still sending a message, and people do react in predictable ways.
Interesting article… and though provoking.
you have a lovely face, donna, & people respond to what it reflects. yes, body language is about 60% of what we communicate; the tone of what we say is another 30% or so; the words we use are only about 7%. ergo, i wonder at the this blog mode w just words. well, you just have to imagine the rest. happy new year!
here’s more re face & body language: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/338/6111/1225.abstract?sid=458d65a7-34b5-44a3-b5c9-8bd19863f03e
You made me laugh out loud with the bit about the brows! I have the same issue and always work on them and the lips. Like you, the sun spots and other stuff is just too complicated to worry about. I am well known for giving “the eye” to my children and co-workers.
i do wear lipstick too…& hope it stays on my lips & not on my teeth. 🙂
Very well written, Linda. It seems to me that we would all be better off if we could be honest. I love being around children because they let you know exactly where they stand on anything that presents itself to them. Because they are so honest, we protect them and meet them from the place of our best selves. Everyone then wins. And, this may be simplistic, but even though at times we have all gotten into trouble showing our true emotions, I suspect we have gotten into more trouble not revealing our true states.
thank you susan, i agree that this is a wonderful characteristic of children. if we had time, as adults, maybe we could appreciate honesty more, but i think this face/body language thing is a survival strategy…each day we have to choose what to put our energy into & what to let go – usually we choose what will increase our, & our children’s & grandchildren’s, success over the long run. as a female, choosing sharing is often a winning strategy, but for males it may be different. isn’t life amazing?!