Facial Symmetry – Plastic Surgery in Melbourne, Australia
People worry a lot about facial symmetry. It is actually one of the most frequent concerns of plastic surgery patients, and one we hear in our Melbourne plastic surgery office.
However, a degree of asymmetry is both completely normal and not such a bad thing. In fact, the human eye is attuned to a degree of facial asymmetry; without being aware of it we tend to find it more pleasing than absolute symmetry.
New research is proving this, but the classic portrait artists of the past knew it too.
The new research is based on taking a full-face photograph of someone famous and dividing it into two, then making a new portrait using a composite of two left or two right side images, one the mirror of the other.
We’d expect the look to be perfect … except that it isn’t. These images, show how much more pleasing a normal face looks (in the centre) before perfect symmetry has been imposed upon it.
The images at each side show the effect of ‘mirroring’ either the left or the right side of the face to achieve an image of perfect symmetry. The middle image is unaltered, showing naturally existing asymmetry.
Asymmetry occurs because our faces naturally have a dominant and a less dominant side. For most people the left is less dominant; their left eyeball is lower and deeper set, their brow is lower and their left cheekbone has less projection.
As Bryan Mendelson says, the cheeks are sisters but not twins. And the same can be said of many other parts of the body when comparing the two sides.
Facially, we’re attuned to this difference, so when we watch a newsreader on television we tend to look into their right eye. And those portrait painters of the past tended to show their subjects with the weaker, left side slightly forward. We naturally look into the dominant side of other people’s faces, especially the eye.
In youth our facial asymmetry is not so apparent, but it is revealed as we age. That is because facial ageing is affected by bone projection and placement, which determines the position of the facial tissues. So on the less dominant side (with the weaker bone structure) these tissues will sag more and the naso-labial fold (nose to mouth) will deepen more.
But what should the plastic surgeon do? The fixed aspects of asymmetry (such as the position of the eyes) can’t be changed, so the surgeon needs to create the illusion of symmetry. Not so much that attractiveness is compromised (as in the photographs) but enough to impart a sense of balance.
Of course, there is no logical reason we should expect symmetry; after all, our heart and stomach are not in the middle! But there has been a longstanding perception that facial symmetry is a key indicator of attractiveness, and is therefore important.
Perhaps this is a legacy from the past, when many people suffered from malnutrition and poor health. A face that looked the same on both sides indicated health, so it was the appearance of health that was seen as attractive.
Today, in aesthetic facial surgery, experience and aesthetic judgement is required by the surgeon to achieve a natural and attractive look that takes into account the face’s natural asymmetry.