Another Face in the Crowd — Face Blindness

My mornings are spent scouring a dozen or so news sites, so I see the same faces over and over again. I’m mildly face blind, so it can take a while for me to associate a face with a name and with the reasons that person is in the news. But one particular face that’s getting a lot of coverage lately has proven almost impossible for me to recognize. Some of the photos show him with bleached blond hair, which alerts me, but others don’t, and I have to read the headline to find out who it is.

I realized just today that he has a face which would probably called handsome by many people. For me, handsome or not, it’s a face that just fades into the crowd, so similar in its features to millions of other men that he might as well not exist. I’m sure I’d learn to recognize him if I knew him personally and had reason to meet him many times. But the first two or three times, he would still be a complete stranger.

Which brings up a point that I’ve never seen discussed: most humans, within particular ethnicities, look very similar to each other. The human face only has a few features, and only a few ways in which those features can arrange themselves. The majority of people you meet in your life aren’t really that different from each other in their looks. What distinguishes them is your ability to discriminate between them on a rather fine basis. For anyone with face blindness, the degree of its severity will determine how well you are able to make those distinctions.

One of the interesting things about actresses (or female actors, to be more politically correct) is how alike most of them appear to me, almost as if there was a template for how actresses should look. To a lesser degree, the same thing is true of male actors.

Watching movies has always been an exercise in frustration because of my inability to keep track of all the characters. The actors (male and female) who appeal to me have one or more features that stand out enough to be recognizable even with changes of makeup and hair style. Unconsciously, I’ve also used voices as another way to keep the actors straight.

Humans like to believe that they are truly individual and unique. It’s a comforting delusion; they are similar not only in looks, but in how they think and behave. Much of society functions on the basis that those similarities are largely predictable and reliable. For anyone who is face blind, that similarity is a lifelong challenge to deal with.

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