I am obsessed with my own face, and think I always have been. It’s not a concern of beauty, at least not primarily. And I don’t think it’s narcissism, at least not in the traditional sense. Or perhaps it is.
Do you say it’s narcissism when you’re constantly searching for your face in those of others?
In movies and books there’s a trope that I both love and hate. Someone, usually a child, will be looking through an old photo album, or digging around in the attic, or visiting family and suddenly – there it is.
They blow dust off the portrait, or jab a finger excitedly at a figure in the photo. “That looks just like me” they exclaim. But it isn’t – it can’t be. The face is the same, but the clothes are old fashioned, the hair a bit different.
Always, always, the person in the picture is an older relative at their age. Their grandmother. An aunt. Their mum. The camera pans out, shows us generations, mirrored. Or, if it’s a book, the chapter ends, dramatically. From there usually some kind of mystery kicks off. Hijinks ensue.
I’m not sure why this trope is the one that stuck with me the longest. Books made me want lots of things – to solve mysteries with six of my closest friends and a dog, to wear a different cool outfit every day like Claudia Kishi, to have the power to turn into animals – but the idea that somewhere in my family’s past there was once someone who looked just like me dug in, swirled its way through my mind, captivated me.
It’s probably because I knew it could never happen. I am a meeting point. There’s a Chinese side and a Western side. I might have features from one or the other, but my face is entirely new.
There’s a thread on social media where people stand in galleries next to paintings of long-dead figures who look like their double. Every time it appears in my feed, I click. Go through it picture by picture. Assess just how close the resemblance is. I get the same feeling every time I see it. Jealousy.
Statistically it makes sense that faces wouldn’t be unique. Families are the most obvious source of features appearing, disappearing, then returning again. Father’s eyes. Grandmother’s chin. Great-aunt’s hair. Over time, over generations, you can see how distinct features might eventually reassemble themselves into the same face.
But unexpected resemblances happen too. And sure, it’s sometimes the thing that causes whispers of illegitimate children, of long dead philanderers, of love stories extinguished by circumstance, or circumstances imbued with horror, but sometimes, nature will just throw a doppelgänger out there with no sinister social backstory at all. It’s the Infinite Monkey Theorem, except instead of randomly hitting typewriter keys and eventually spitting out the complete works of Shakespeare, our kind of primate are mixing and matching until your double appears.
An exact replica would be ideal, but really a strong hint or a close resemblance would be good enough.
Mostly the search has been a subconscious one. In family pictures I look at the shape of noses, the line of a cheekbone. If there is colour, I try to see if anyone’s hair is the same shade of brown. So far it’s just me, the halfway point between fair and black.
Out in the world I see my hair colour a lot, and whenever someone has the same dark hair, same dark eyes, I find myself wondering. Because often it means that person is a meeting point too. I think often – not always, but often – we are seeking each other out.
In year seven I finally worked up the nerve to ask a girl in the year above me, my faux casual tone making things even more awkward. “Are you Eurasian?”
She laughed, and I’ve never heard a more incredulous “NO”.
It really shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, really. But I find it so odd that a collection of strangers look more like my family than the people I share blood with.
Someone once told me we are attracted to partners who resemble us because we want to procreate our own image and I nodded even though it made no sense to me personally, scientifically or socially.
I’ve tried to figure out exactly why finding a doppelganger in my family’s past matters to me so much, at least in the moments where I admit to myself that it does, in fact, matter to me – before I tamp it back down due to shame or feeling silly, superficial. I think it is about connection; belonging. Being able to tie a string to the past that leads all the way to you. The fact that I exist at all is proof enough that these ties are real. I guess I just want to see it.
Last week a relative uploaded a sepia picture from 1936 and in it was a great aunt whose name I didn’t know. She had glasses and a stern fringe and for a moment I thought there I am before realising that all details of her actual face beyond the distraction of accessories and haircuts remained a complete mystery.
Statistically there is or has been a stranger with my face. But if the connection isn’t hereditary, I would be left somewhat cold.
Sometimes I wonder if one day I’ll be the portrait in the attic – that the resemblance is yet to come. But it seems unlikely. The same reasons that stretch backwards also push into the future. But maybe it won’t matter to anyone else. Or maybe my descendants will be too busy solving mysteries with their six friends and dog. Or, perhaps the infinite monkey theorem will collide with genetics, and as they blow the dust off the paint, they’ll see their own face.