She had a long, curious nose…

Do you believe that facial features and other physical characteristics – say, being fat (or as the sensitivity readers put it, ‘enormous’) – are a valid guide to what’s inside?

For instance, is a person with a receding chin actually weaker than someone with a Hollywood Jut? Are people with turned up little noses more frivolous and fun than those with mole-like snouts like mine? Do wet lips forebode perverted tendencies? Does a Roman nose mean you’re bossy? (I have one and sadly, no.)

Someone once told me I looked like Virginia Woolfe. I was pissed off. I liked it a lot better when my ex-husband, bless him, compared me to Greta Garbo. Like Woolfe is, ok, brilliant…but plain. Ha! Looks for a woman are the smoothest path to power, of a sort. I see this with my daughter, who’s stunning: both men and women are drawn to her and the sterling qualities she does have are magnified by the possession of beauty. Not that I’m envious: I enjoy seeing her mowing the bastards down. But you can’t help but think (and this isn’t the first time that I’ve seen gorgeousness shoot a woman to heights undreamt of by less prepossessing chicks) – would a female Steve Jobs/Barack Obama/Bill Gates still be languishing in the modern equivalent of the typing pool? I mean, they’re not that hot, are they?

And yet for all the yak about inner beauty and looking through to the person within and all that, what clue do we have except what’s without? Maybe evolution has taught us that people with receding chins ARE actually weak-willed, and people with low foreheads have a tendency to be dumb? Maybe beautiful people can afford to be nicer. More to the point, how would we write fiction at all if we couldn’t signal our character’s character with epithets like ‘stringy-haired’ (doesn’t look after herself), ‘paunchy’ (lazy and possibly unlikeable), ‘watery-eyed’ (can’t be relied on a pinch), etc?

How do you feel about being beautiful – or not beautiful? Is it the same for a man? Do you judge people by how they look? Should you? How the frig else are you going to tell if that hitchhiker by the roadside is a serial killer or a saint?

My daughter, reading this, says ‘Fine, but what do YOU think?’ I’m scared to say, in case I give offence. Ok, here it is. I’m somewhat shallow. I’m inclined to take points off people who neglect their appearance (unless they’re me). Deliberate ugliness is an irritant – part of me thinks, ‘But the world is ugly enough – why ADD to it?’ I see fat as a sign of gluttony, physical laziness or mental ill health (I admit some exceptions). I’m inclined to judge a guy with a pear-shaped head and slabby cheeks as likely pretty dumb, even before the poor bloke opens his mouth. And yet she who lives by the sword…I have an unusually still face, which people sometimes interpret as uncomprehending, serene and/or unfriendly. Nah, folks…l just have resting dumb face. In short, I have two rules in relation to this question.

  1. Judge quickly and often, and;
  2. The rules don’t apply to me.

Also, in my quest to seek the true meaning of the weak chin, I just spent five minutes trawling through beard porn. To wit, a page of guys who went from wimps to Hoffs by simply adding a beard and sideburns. Totally worked for me; not only were my post-menopausal loins almost stirred by these manly visions, but I would’ve absolutely hired any one of them to lead me through the coming apocalypse (as long as they didn’t ditch the beard).

My blog friend the philosopher Irfan Khawaja discusses these matters with far greater clarity than I could (and he’s not shallow).

If you’re interested in good books, by the way, I recommend The Crimson Inkwell by Kenneth Baldwin. Full of late Victorian grit and wit, it’s available, together with a curated collection of currently discounted books, on the Out of the Blue promotion (and at the moment is free on Amazon).



  1. I’ve read that a woman knows in a couple seconds whether she is attracted enough to a man to sleep with him. I think that was true for me back when, though the inclusion of alcohol into the equation could alter the outcome. We are genetically programmed to look for certain factors that are a sign of other factors that are more likely to result in reproduction. They aren’t a sure thing though, only a sign. We can’t actually know if sleeping with a particular person will result in a healthy childbirth later, so we take our best guess. I’m not sure if menopause changes anything in general, but for me it simply shut it all down. I am no longer attracted to anyone at all.

    As far as certain characteristics in literature signifying personality traits, meh. I am not a fan and consider it lazy, stereotypical writing. In fact, I prefer opposites (as long as they aren’t cliches), such as the ugly old witch who looks like she might eat children actually being president of the animal rescue org and a good person generally.

    1. Yeah I think that’s true about assessing mates. And same here, mostly shut down. In terms of writing, you can get away with not describing people physically, and I often don’t. Then the reader can imagine what they like.

      1. Sometimes women stay randy, and good for them. A 70 year old Hungarian friend told me she went to the doctor with unspecified symptoms, and he said she needed a boyfriend. So she went out and got one and was much happier.

  2. coincidentally I’m rewatching a fine film on this very Topic, ‘Wonder’ from 2017 starring Julia Robers and Owen Wilson and a young actor playing the boy with facial disfigurements —

  3. FYI Virginia Woolf was beautiful in her youth. Men with facial hair are the biggest turn-off for me. But external appearances are all we have to go on at first. How else can we know if we find someone sympathetiqe?

  4. It is difficult to avoid making some form of rapid assessment at first glance. But I’ve learned the while to keep the initial impression in abeyance ad wait. It seems without exception to me that any worthwhile realtions I’ve ever had always unfolded, as if by chance or fate, in a whirlwind of adjusted ideas about a person and personality surprises usually perpendicular to the initial judgements.

    I’ve always hated beards on men, by the way, and think they look pretentious.

    1. I agree, one should always be prepared to adapt one’s opinion with greater knowledge. But beards… no no no, they’re gorgeous effusions of splendiferous masculinity!

      1. Well, variety in tastes makes the world revolve. I do like ladies’ armpit effusions as an alluring marker. if you know what I mean. But I suppose I like registering the unconcealed chin lines of fellows I am interacting with.

  5. Beauty is what you make of it as is ugliness. Both exist and both are necessary, nothing is random. What you make of yourself is entirely up to you. The most beautiful person can also be the biggest liar or the finest friend, an ugly woman can be a thief but she can also be a saint. When I remarried at 48, it wasn’t because I was desperate or afraid of dying alone it was because I had found that piece of the puzzle missing in me, in a man I had met when we were both 16. We had both aged in the 30 years that had passed but it wasn’t our looks that defined our relationship. Not then and not now..

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