Think about the notions of beautiful and ugly. In particular, the way that the people you love become beautiful in your eyes. It reveals something about the different things we pay attention to depending on whether we’re regarding something new or something familiar. For most examples I discuss in this post, I will refer to people, but later maybe I can explore how this might apply to things as well.
A related aside: many years ago I had a brief conversation with a woman I had just met that evening. I honestly no longer remember where and when, or even the rough context of our meeting. At a friend’s party is about as far as I’d be willing to venture. In any case, the conversation was about wrinkles on your skin, in particular on your face. She was fretting about them. Now, I have always been dismayed by what I perceive to be a general and pervasive anxiety about the effects of aging that affects women, in particular, acutely.
People should be comfortable with the lines time draws on their faces, because those lines aren’t random cruelties of aging. They are directly caused by the expressions we put on over the course of our lives, In that sense, they are our personalities made manifest.
But this post isn’t about the whys and wherefores of the aging complex and gender. I just remember that I offered her a viewpoint that I hope I can maintain as time begins to show on my skin: that people should be proud of the lines in their skin, because they are a history of their emotional life. As my friend L. once said, “we’re made of the same stuff as everything else.” End aside.
When you look at someone unfamiliar, by definition, you can only see what’s on the surface. What strikes people as beautiful or ugly in an initial impression are the aesthetic markers — symmetry, ratio, cultural norms, etc. Sometimes familiarity with people can grow very quickly, but it’s a process. This surface-only perception is even more primary when a person’s expression is neutral — at that time, all you can see is the prettiness or ugliness of their “outer face”.
So, what’s the “inner face”? You can’t see it all the time, at least at first. When it’s visible, it sits on the landscape of the outer face. It is the thing that you find either beautiful or ugly in people that you know. It’s the collection of expressions that, because you are familiar with the person, you associate with traits of theirs, positive or a negative. A furrowing of the brow when they are concentrating that you associate with their pleasantly contemplative nature. A tilt to their lips that you associate with an unfortunate tendency they have to think of themselves as superior.
The inner face is a dynamic manifestation of who a person is. After a while, you may stop seeing the outer face of some people completely. Even when you regard the most neutral image of that person, you are still seeing that face’s potential.
To bring the aside back around, aging kinda puts your inner face on the outside, as time etches into your skin the evidence of all your expressions.