At some point during my 20s, I realized how asymmetrical my face was. As a beauty editor, I was spending countless hours staring at my face and dissecting it into parts in order to apply and evaluate new makeup and skin care products. So it became obvious that, yes, I needed less blush on my left cheekbone because it’s shorter than the other. And yes, I needed to accentuate one eye more than the other because it’s microscopically smaller. Over time, I started consciously turning my body in photos to highlight the right side — which I considered my “good side.” Sure, my selfies were starting to feel repetitive because they were all taken from the same angle (and still are), but I wasn’t obsessing over my face’s asymmetry in any way.
That was before the pandemic, before Zoom became a way of life. Suddenly, no matter how hard I smashed Zoom’s “touch up my appearance” button during meetings, all I could see was my facial asymmetry. My right cheek looks bigger than my left, right? Is it longer, too? My right eye seems a smidge smaller than its counterpart. When I talk or smile, the right side of my mouth raises above the left.
While my coworkers were talking about how to cover the abortion ban and how ChatGBT was going to take everyone’s jobs, I was silently spiraling about how much I resembled Two-Face from Batman.
I became fixated. And in the process of essentially ignoring my colleagues on Zoom — sorry, guys! — I discovered something earth-shattering: The left half of my face (the “bad side”) straight up looks like it belongs to someone else.
This realization led to an existential crisis of a large degree, and unfortunately for me, this crisis of vanity has real-world implications. According to research on facial attractiveness published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, facial symmetry is not only positively correlated with beauty, but also survivability, fertility, and the likelihood of being chosen by a mate. Asymmetrical faces, on the other hand, have been positively related to respiratory disease. TL;DR: I’m undesirable and my lungs are screwed.
In the fall, after months of feeling betrayed by my left side and looking into my family’s history of tuberculosis, I was listening to the latest episode of comedian Esther Povitsky’s podcast, My Pleasure, and something she said really hit me. Sometimes she doesn’t like her face, but she’s decided to reclaim the word “ugly.” Instead of letting her negative perception of it lead her to spiral, Povitsky owns it — because, as she reiterates, it’s far more impressive to accomplish cool things in life because of your talents versus your looks. This blew my mind: Could it really be that simple to feel OK with a face you don’t like?
I decided to shift my mindset because 1) I can waste way too much time criticizing my face, and 2) it’s not like I can afford facial reconstructive surgery that would make me look like symmetrical queen Bella Hadid anyway.
To do this, I forced my brain to do its best impression of a Gen Z TikToker. They proclaim that so many things are hot, all by simply speaking them into Hotness (see also: walking, irritable bowel syndrome, being the middle child, men reading) — so I added asymmetrical faces to my personal list. This, of course, didn’t mean that my sporadic meltdowns about my appearance wouldn’t happen anymore, but whenever those feelings popped up, I did some mental gymnastics, telling myself that symmetry is boring and imperfections are fun. Just as Povitsky decided to call herself “ugly sexy” sometimes, I’ve been trying to own my Hot asymmetrical af face.
Last week, I spoke with dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D., who told me that the two sides of your face are “like sisters, not twins,” which also helped. As it turns out, each side develops simultaneously but separately when you’re a mere embryo in the womb. He also pointed to filters that show what the face would look like with two left sides or two right sides, both of which tend to make you unrecognizable and not all that hot. Take that, Angelina Jolie.
So far, my mind tricks have been working (save for that time I cried after seeing the left side of my face in a group photo). Asymmetry does make a face unique and, dare I say, more memorable. An asymmetrical face is basically art. Imagine being a Picasso painting incarnate? Scientifically beautiful girls can’t. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.
Little, A.C. (2011). Facial attractiveness: evolutionary based research. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 Jun 12;366(1571):1638-59. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0404. PMID: 21536551; PMCID: PMC3130383.