Physiognomy, the “art of judging human character from facial features,” was founded as far back as the 14th century, and was practiced as late as the 18th and 19th centuries, believed to be an accurate method of detecting criminal tendencies. It was discredited in the 1830s as a pseudo-science, although it has continued to be a central belief of some fundamentalist and racist movements in the U.S., and was a favorite pass-time of the Nazis. Specifically, the Nazis used this theory to round up hundreds of Jews to analyze their faces. They measured their noses, their chins, their lips and made latex masks from 19 carefully selected faces, making a “model” for identifying members of the race for extermination. They also used it to identify individuals whose physical appearance made them less than perfect – crossing race lines to include anyone with a physical deformity as a result of birth or accident. Physiognomy, and its new manifestation “facial profiling” has been used over the centuries as a tool for racist individuals and groups as a justification for their beliefs – and continues to be used by such groups today.
Comparing your story to Nazi thought may sound a little harsh, but these were the exact thoughts that jumped into my mind when I read your front-page article referenced above. To imply that employers should use this “science” to “learn how to employ the right person” or that teachers should use this “science” to “more easily recognize their student’s abilities” is, in my opinion, at the least unprofessional and at the most supporting a system of judging people that promotes exclusion, divisiveness, and worse!
If I had seen this article in a tabloid publication I would have laughed, sadly, at the way some people think, and moved on. Having seen it on the front page of a publication I respect and use as a resource in my work, I feel obliged to respond. Jan Bavelas, a specialist in nonverbal communications and a professor at the University of Victoria, proposes that people “selling” this “science” are motivated by profit, not science. Perusing the Internet for consultants who offer to help individuals and organizations learn this science, it appears quite profitable. While we can tell a lot by looking at people – how they’re feeling or what kind of day they’ve had and be empathetic, this is quite different from evaluating a person’s worth by the fullness of their lips.
Working as executive director of the Women’s Resource Agency Inc. here in Colorado Springs, I am committed to helping women – whose faces come in all sizes, shapes, colors, etc. – enter and re-enter the work force so that they can achieve a dream of self-sufficiency, expand their options with continuing education, and ultimately tell them they can do anything they want to do if they are willing to work hard enough. Your article would have them believe there may be limits to what they are qualified to do based on the size of their nose or the distance between their eyes, and that employers should be looking at them and judging them based on their visual features before they even have a chance to present themselves.
Profiling is inappropriate in any form. Our society has been encouraged to work hard at not profiling. I would encourage your publication not to promote it in any form.
Kathy Stevens, MPA, executive director of Colorado Springs Women’s Resource Agency Inc.