I’ve talked a lot about how absolutely horrible I am at facial recognition and people-recognition in general.
I was “meeting” someone today at work/in-class (AKA someone I have talked to before in class but didn’t really know). But after a conversation about 23 and me and genotyping ourselves and understanding risk alleles and genome information with two boys I hadn’t gotten around to recognizing, I realized I should probably figure out their names. (It also was week 7 of the not-particularly-large class we have together. So I asked for their names (and they thought I was named Georgia, so it was all good, because they didn’t know my name, other).
I gave them my general spiel about being horrible at faces, so that they wouldn’t get upset if I didn’t recognize their names. And then one of them made a joke about how that would be difficult, since they were both Asian.
To me, they looked very different, of course. One of them had glasses. One of them had flat hair and one of them had spiky hair. Both of them did have black hair, admittedly. So I pointed this out. And they were amused by me pointing out the difference. And I was amused by how they thought they looked similar because they clearly looked different to me.
See, they look nothing alike.
And then there was a brief discussion with other people about how annoying it is when people say people look the same just because they are Asian, which was one which I wasn’t really contributing to, because of stuff. And which also isn’t completely relevant anymore to what I am writing about.
The relevant take-away from this conversation (besides I made some cool new friends), is that my conceptualization of faces and people is about as detailed as a stick figure can be. Which is exceptionally convenient for this post since that is about the same level as my drawing skills.
There are a few traits that I can pick up on and use to initially identify people.
Height, hair length, color and texture, if you wear glasses. As you can probably tell, most of this is based on your hair. Hair is very important to me. (Sometime I can pick up skin color, but to a much lesser extent than many people think seems reasonable.*)That is what I have to go on, unless you have some other striking physical characteristic, like a Harry Potter scar on your face. Sometimes, I can go with general body structure and build, but that is a lot more inconsistent and unreliable for me, so I tend not to worry about that too much.
That is why I have so much trouble with boys. In general, boys have less variation in hair. Also, because their hair is often shorter than girls, it is a lot harder to tell the different textures from it. Colors also seem to be less distinct in shorter hair than in longer hair, so there seems to be less shades of color to choose from. Also, depending on how frequently they cut their hair, the length can fluctuate a lot.
Although I suppose maybe I should say men, since some of these people are balding. Which is generally something that happens to adult men.
But, conveniently for me, sometimes there is also this convenient thing called facial hair**, which it is now possible for (some) of my peers to obtain. This can be both helpful and horrible in individual people determination. It definitely gives a lot more options for determining faces. BUT often, it quickly disappears (and sometimes, even quickly appears, now that people are getting older). And then you have a whole new face to learn, and that can be an issue.
I’ve always been better at identifying girls. [Although I will have to say there is one exception here. Girls with straight, extremely blond hair. I have never in my life been able to differentiate between them. They all look essentially identical to me, which has been problematic as I have encountered a lot of them who apparently do not all look the same and do like when you know who they are (especially when you are on a week-long school trip with two of them) and get upset when you get their names wrong.*** ] Generally, since girls have longer hair, there are more length variations. It is also possible to observe the different textures. There also seems to be more varieties of colors. (Also, I just find girls less threatening to talk to, although I am getting better at this one.)
Also, hairstyles are really tricky to differentiate on stick figures, but there are definitely more than I have shown here. It is also nice because it is a lot easier to tell curly from wavy from straight hair and such with long hair, and so that makes my life easier.
And then sometimes people dye their hair pink and blue, like my sister did once, and then it is extremely easy to recognize them.
As I get to know you over time, of course, I analyze you and your movement. I learn patterns and other ways to recognize you. The way you walk, the way your voice sounds. Common clothes that you wear. I may even be able to recognize you out of context, or figure you out if something about you changes. Not always, as I still will forget boyfriend or my mom or my sisters and things like that, but much less frequently.
But still, even when I picture boyfriend in my head, I have a stick figure’s worth of information about him. I know he has brown short hair and is tall. I have a lot of his movements and patterns and voices that go into my idea of people when I think of them. But when I think of people in my head, I do not think of their faces.
It’s one of the reasons I love books so much. They name the characters. Sure, they give descriptions, but you can tag the characters as names with traits. You don’t need to remember the face, because they will give you the name. You can spend your time filling the character with ideas and thoughts and backstory and context instead. When I read, I see the story happening. But I don’t need to see the faces. I can just see the people and the landscape and the words, and it is beautiful.
* For me, skin color is a trait close to the usefulness of height. I will be able to pick up very broad sections, but nothing extremely specific. There are a few extremely broad categories that I can pick up on, but a lot of people are intermediate shades and so it is a lot less useful. It is also hard to find a good metaphor to describe it without slipping into possibly offensive wording, so I’ve hidden it down here in the footnotes.
**Although I have personal aesthetic objections to a large portion of people who have facial hair, it really is none of my business what they look like and can be useful, so I really shouldn’t complain. And I probably wouldn’t if boyfriend didn’t occasionally attempt to also grow facial hair, which is an endeavor I am opposed to.
***Which I do understand. It is probably confusing when you spend a whole week with someone and they basically think two different people who haven’t really met before are the same person.