Journal Dispatches: June 4, 2022.  Facial Expressions, Culture, and an Outbreak of Wrinkles

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. (Mahatma) Pixabay.

I think back to pre-social media days and the pre-effects of gazing at a small screen held in my hand. Looking back at old photos I noticed my and others’ facial expressions may have been somewhat more distinct or apparent. Facial expressions may have an expressionistic, impressionistic or raw realism – they evolve over a lifetime.  A smile at 60 plus years appears more subtle than a smile at 20 plus years. Depending on the situation and the person you’re with, the smile in the evening is different than the smile in the morning.

Circumstances happen. One morning I got up, showered, and looked in the mirror and noticed something had changed. An outbreak of wrinkles was occurring. I noticed it when shaving. Unlike the whiskers that went down the drain the wrinkles remained in place. My mind’s eye suggested I was still the same considerate, attractive, intelligent, and kind guy as I had always been. Still, biology happens. Things around me changed, like the expression on my face.

A smile, superficially, remains relatively the same throughout the ages I suspect. Its significance is contextual.  Facial expressions are many times affected by what just happened a few minutes before the expression was evoked. They are affected by our state of being. Our thoughts, hopes, dreams, levels of trust and mistrust and our cultural, social, and environmental context. Though I wonder at times if facial expressions are more forced today, especially smiles? I’m not sure. It’s an age of great uncertainty and an annoying if not manipulated economy. A smile within a given culture and context can mean disparate things to the person wearing the smile. For some people it’s better than frowning or crying.

A few decades ago, when I used a public telephone if wishing to make a telephone call while away from a home landline …the pace of things seemed slower and communication required a different adaptation as displayed in the characteristics of expression that were most noticeable in the face.  What do our eyes portray and perceive? And once the cellular phone was introduced other things also were becoming more disposable including the expressions and culture around me.

During an earlier age, there was less military hardware at one’s fingertips whether a citizen or policeman, and the potential of less harm so prevalent in today’s America. Distrust has evolved at a more rapid pace affecting facial expressions. The intrusion of facial recognition technology adds to the problem of –  be careful of that look, or stare, or side glance, or the person next to you. Close your parted lips. Something has been misplaced or lost in the process. But then did it ever exist except in one’s head? Has various technologies by passed our humaneness?

A smile has different meaning in different cultures. I lived abroad for many years and each time I retuned I suffered from a cultural shock and my facial expression perhaps exhibited the dilemma. Facial expressions became self-moderated I suppose. 

Adaptability has always been a key to existence. The 20th century was filled with wars and revolutions, amazing technologies and ways to create, to excite,  and ways to harm. And the twenty-first century? There have been any number of tuning points in life. My environs altered my thinking and facial expression. But I decided not to use fillers to cover the wrinkles, earned or not. And even the films and artistic works of the day expressed an emerging ill at ease during and after tumultuous decades, depending on where you were living, working, fighting or merely existing.

I occasionally wondered when the first smile appeared on a human face. Did the human smile develop as a natural instinct hundreds of thousands of years ago? The smile comes with diverse meaning within the context of family, tribe, and culture. The genuine and gentle facial expression in the form of a smile from a compassionate heart seems instinctive, natural, and primitive. It’s also a form of adaptation.