Lying Can Literally Make You Ugly: What You Should Know About Physiognomy

When you look at your face in the mirror, what message do you think it communicates to others?

By Andrea Mew5 min read
shutterstock 1881532156 (1)

From a young age, we were all warned not to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes it's hard to avoid making a snap judgment about a person’s personality based on how they’re presenting to the public. What you wear says a lot about you, whether you like it or not, and your body language also has a major influence on what people perceive your character to be. Just one glance, and total strangers might decide you’re competent, confident, trustworthy, or perhaps they decide you’re inept, cold, and unreliable.

Lately, there’s been a bit of a revival of the practice known as physiognomy, an art dating back to ancient times and found across many cultures from Greece to China. This practice of reading a person’s personality traits from their neutral faces was used by Pythagoras in 500 B.C., who rejected or accepted students based on how gifted he thought they looked, but in recent times, physiognomy has been vocally denounced by some on the basis that it could be “tainted with racial bigotry and biological determinism.”

Apparently, Physiognomy Doesn’t Lie

You’ll see it on Twitter or whatever websites and forums you regularly browse: the physiognomy check. The notion is so pervasive, even Right Said Fred bandmates/brothers Fred and Richard Fairbrass tweeted recently about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s facial structure changing over time saying: “I guess lying isn’t good for your health.”

One Twitter user fired back, discounting their face reading, saying, “Nah, it’s called natural ageing and being the prime minister of a country.”

Another common way you’ll see the physiognomy check lately is users observing how vegans look in candid photos. Whether it’s the seemingly undernourished faces of vegan protesters or vegan celebrities like Paul McCartney, people make the argument for physiognomy by pointing out how “your belief structures influence your lifestyle, which in turn influences your physical appearance.” 

I don’t discount the fact that the vegan diet can leave you malnourished – and make you harder to date – but there are plenty of muscular, vibrant, vegan fit-fluencers online who break that stereotypical, physiognomic assumption, like professional surfer Tiarah Blanco, IFBB Pro Nimai Delgado, and founder of activewear brand TALA Grace Beverley

Where some people have used physiognomy as an insult, others are taking to the pseudoscientific trend as a way to uplift people based on their uniquely bold facial features. Lori Belle Herring, a face reader and character analyst who goes by @modernhypnotistlori on TikTok and regularly analyzes the facial features of celebrities, did a video on a nose type called “a nose piercing heaven.”  

She explained that this nose type occurs when the bridge of your nose comes directly out of your forehead and that, according to face reading, it’s indicative of extraordinary accomplishments and enormous amounts of success in life.

“Thank you for making me feel better about it,” commented one TikTok user. “I’ve never felt better about my nose until I saw this,” said another. 

But is there an ounce of truth behind face reading and physiognomic beliefs? Could physiognomy still be important with or without scientific backing? Turns out, what we see in a face can have a strong influence over what we think about the person behind it.

The Blemishes and Beauty behind Face Reading

Aristotle once hypothesized that a broad face meant someone was stupid, a round face meant they were courageous, a large head meant someone was mean, and a small face meant they were steadfast. These sweeping generalizations statistically cannot be proven, as I’m sure you can easily think of a very brilliant person in your life who happens to have a broad face or a kind soul who can’t help but have a large head based on their genetics.

One of the most fascinating things about humans is just how physically diverse our facial and bodily features are, even within close-knit ethnic groups. In one of physiognomy’s most popular revivals, 18th-century Swiss poet Johann Lavater wrote that there were “‘deficiencies’ in the faces of Africans, Laplanders, and Calmuck Tartars,” and that based on their faces, he thought Asians and Africans were less moral.

He and other physiognomists inferred their judgments based on the shape and size of a person’s five sense organs (eyes, nose, ears, skin, tongues), how thin or thick their hair was, the width-to-height ratio of their facial features, and facial symmetry. From these pseudoscientific observations, a determination was made on a person’s decision-making skills, their extraversion or introversion, their confidence or lack thereof, their dominance or submissive qualities, and even their inclination or opposition toward criminal tendencies.

In Renaissance times, writers would express how beautiful appearances were signs of a person’s inner goodness. Author of The Book of the Courtier Baldassare Castiglione felt that a beautiful soul made whatever he or she touched beautiful.

In Renaissance times, people thought a beautiful appearance was a sign of a person’s inner goodness.

When put to the test in modern times, however, traditional physiognomy doesn’t check out. Personality might not be inherently detected through face shapes, but that doesn’t mean that people won’t still make judgments about a person’s character or qualities based on how they look. 

Furthermore, there’s another sect of physiognomic beliefs that are less focused on “reading from faces” and more focused on “reading into faces.” As it turns out, your facial features and overall body language can be affected by your personality which in turn affects how other people perceive you! Let’s take a look into how lying can literally make you ugly, among other lifestyle choices. 

Some Things Can and Can’t Be Prevented

Have you ever looked at someone and thought to yourself how much you like their vibe? You can’t tell exactly what it is about their demeanor, their expression, and their overall aura that turns you onto them, but you feel good in their presence. Whichever term you use that’s often written off as hippie-speak, from aura to energy, giving off good vibes or bad vibes is unavoidable. Though overgeneralization can come off as judgmental, we actually evolved to infer emotions from facial expressions as a way to protect us from people who might have intentions to harm us and actually be able to carry it out.

The science behind a person’s inherent energy or essence is considered one of the most difficult human experiences to define by neurological experts, but some researchers have discovered interesting trends behind negative behaviors and a lessened perception of attractiveness.

Firstly, lying can make you less attractive. A study was done in 2006 where participants read a series of personality traits about men and women: dependent or independent, intelligent or unintelligent, and finally honest or dishonest. Next, they were told to rate the test subjects on things like their likeability and attractiveness. The trait which affected their attractiveness the most was honesty. While this rating could have been prompted by the participants knowing the term “honest” or “dishonest,” it does demonstrate that honesty can be a total turn-on.

What about when people aren’t given any information that prompts them to feel one way or another? In a 2013 study, Latvian researchers found that stressing out can make you less attractive. Latvian women who were hormonally stressed out (high levels of cortisol) were perceived as less attractive by Latvian men. Interestingly enough, the men didn’t get to know the women’s cortisol levels ahead of time. Researchers concluded that low cortisol levels can make a woman look healthier and more fertile.

Other studies have suggested that sleep deprivation, being mean, heavy drinking and smoking, and immodesty all raise your chances of being perceived as unattractive. Without a doubt, things like poor sleep and substance abuse can severely affect your skin elasticity, texture, and complexion. If you’re chronically in a poor mood, there are a couple of ways that you might also be causing your face to age prematurely

We evolved to infer emotions from facial expressions as a way to protect us from people who want to harm us.

Frowning often or find yourself furrowing your brows? Emoting causes the muscles in your face to contract and your skin to crease. The more your skin creases while you simultaneously lose collagen from the natural aging process, the more wrinkles you’ll end up with. Repeated frowning can cause you to get the “angry 11s” (as in the vertical wrinkle lines in between your eyebrows), the “marionette lines” where the corners of your mouth have been pulled down, or the “orange peel” chin where you’ve been scrunching up your chin.

From a physiognomic perspective, the logic tracks that repeated motions have associated physical changes. If you repeat a physical movement enough times, those muscles will develop more than other muscles, a principle known as hypertrophy. Train your biceps a lot? You’ll probably get bigger biceps. Frown a lot? You’ll probably get frown lines.

That said, positive emotions can also cause your face to age prematurely. Research shows that smiling can make you appear one or more years older in comparison to keeping a straight face more regularly. The static positions our muscles hold, known as chronic holding patterns, age us in more ways than just wrinkles in our faces. Maybe you’re feeling full-on goblin mode and tend to slouch your shoulders and round your back – you might end up with a hunched back or neck over time. Maybe you’re feeling really aggressive from all the negative things going on in the world and you tense your jawline – that could lead to downturned smiles and saggy cheeks.

You shouldn’t hyperfixate on the natural aging process because there’s only so much you can do to prevent wrinkles without intervention, but you should make a concerted effort to understand how your body language and behaviors can physically affect your appearance. Even if you do opt for some form of intervention, people can be ruthlessly judgmental about women who undergo, or even think about, plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. Sometimes, it all just feels like a big catch-22 where no one can win. 

Closing Thoughts

Look, we can’t all be born with symmetrical faces. In fact, most of us have facial asymmetry in one form or another. You might have ended up with genes from one parent that give you a more prominent brow bone or a more defined jawline. While there are lifestyle factors that affect your bone structure, such as the soft modern diet and formula-feeding over breastfeeding causing weaker bone structure, we can’t help the way we look without surgical or cosmetic intervention. If you’re self-conscious about the face you were born with, there are obviously things you can do to change it, but you should take a look introspectively and really make sure you’re making the decision for yourself, not to seek approval from others.

The “art” of physiognomy has its lion's share of flaws and faults, but we can’t just outright dismiss the fact that the way we physically present ourselves speaks volumes. Whether we like it or not, people base their judgments of us on our facial and bodily features, so if we want to be perceived in a positive light, we should strive to be presentable. Perhaps there’s an ounce of truth after all to Castiglione’s idea that the supernatural beauty of our souls makes whatever we touch beautiful.

Don’t miss anything! Sign up for our weekly newsletter and get curated content weekly!