Me and Cate Blanchett

Look, I’m not generally one for making personal remarks, but I can’t help noticing that your features aren’t quite symmetrical. Unless you’re Cate Blanchett (hi Cate! didn’t know you read my blog). Although no human face is perfectly symmetrical, symmetry is supposed to correlate with genetic health, and genetic health with sexual attractiveness. Cate Blanchett is allegedly the “beautiful person” with the most symmetrical face in Hollywood.

But actually, if you look into the issue at all, the link between symmetry and attractiveness doesn’t really hold up to inspection. Cate’s OK, but the stars who really make their mark are the ones whose features express their personality. Skew-whiff or not.

I began thinking about symmetry when I noticed that one pair of sunglasses with a rigid frame don’t sit quite level. It turns out that my ears are not really opposite each other. I mean, they’re both roughly where they ought to be — I’m not like a Picasso painting or anything. But one is a tiny bit lower than the other. It turns out that it’s a perfectly normal arrangement. Necessary in fact, because, due to the mysteries of acoustics, it allows us to locate the source of sounds more accurately.

That’s one of the asymmetries of the human body that is common to us all. I’ll bet that Cate Blanchett’s ears aren’t level either; and I’m entirely sure that her internal organs are completely asymmetrical, probably with her heart on the left, like most of us. Very, very occasionally, people are born with their organs mirror-imaged, and it doesn’t seem to effect their health at all. Obviously none of that applies to Dr. Who.

Balls. Yes, testicles are asymmetrical. I forget which way it is — just let me check. Yes, the left one hangs lower but is smaller. Men don’t get that much opportunity to make comparisons, but I’m sure I’m perfectly normal. Even Michaelangelo’s sculpture of ‘David’, which is very idealised, does show a slight inclination to the left, and Michaelangelo did have a lot of experience in that department.

I’ve been playing around with my photo and reversing the two halves of my face, and it’s quite conspicuous how different my left and right sides are. In fact, the one with my left side duplicated looks evil, like a prison mugshot. I’m calling him “Bad Steve”. The one with two right sides is angelic, although only in comparison, but we’ll call him “Good Steve” for now until he proves us wrong by getting up to mischief.

Real Steve Bad Steve Good Steve

More serious researchers than those who tout the “symmetrical = beautiful” concept don’t accept the simple mirroring as being a useful guide, and my experiment with my own face shows the problems. Slight variations in the features mean that it’s impossible to draw a single line down the middle and capture the symmetry or asymmetry. My face probably looks fatter in the “Bad Steve” picture because the line of reflection, following my nose, isn’t actually in the middle. OK, so my nose isn’t perfectly straight.

Anyway, the whole notion of symmetry being beautiful is only a convention. In Japanese art and culture, they have the concept of Wabisabi, which is beauty in imperfection and impermanence, a Zen Buddhist idea: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. Like me and Cate.

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