This Is Us

I Miss Having a Full Face and I Miss Seeing Yours

Our eyes are tired of communicating, and our pixelated faces are so 2020

Photo: Amparo Torres O. / Flickr

I must admit something. I have Covid-19-inspired face lust.

We’ve been watched by the walls of our homes since March 2020 and have seen too few real, in-person faces. It’s all been face porn, watching characters on TV as our pets stare on. “Faces” are not the flat, pixelated images of co-workers on Zoom, nor are they the tiny 2D versions of your parents or friends on FaceTime.

I need faces. The full, fleshy cheeks, eyes, noses, and mouths of loved ones — even strangers—are what I want. If I sound like I’m about to become face promiscuous, it’s because I am.

It’s been over a year since naked faces were in public. We are socially nothing more than a lonely pair of frantic eyeballs when masked in public, smiles unseen while smizing and yelling through fabric or over-gesturing with our arms. Our public sparring partners wildly flailing and eyeball-communicating back. Eye faces with mime arms. That’s what we’ve become.

What’s a wide-eyed gaze without a mouth dropped open? Or a wink without a smirk? From wrinkles to freckles to moles to made-up faces to the face-lifted — our histories are told by the splendid maps of our faces.

The human face has 43 muscles, allowing us to make thousands of subtle and complex expressions.

When I was five years old, I said to my mom, “I’m happy I’m my face and not my knee.” She seemed confused, but faces were the most important part of the body to child-me. Everything I felt and thought spilled out of my face. I couldn’t comprehend the complexity of the entire body. My knees or elbows? They couldn’t smile, eat ice cream, yell for my toys, or talk incessantly at my parents. My face had feelings.

The human face has 43 muscles, allowing us to make thousands of subtle and complex expressions. The briefest of expressions confesses secrets, tells silent punchlines to inside jokes, melts hearts, and exposes lies. I miss those micro-expressions as well as blatant, dramatic expressions of woe or longing. Of joy, terror, sarcasm, or love. Revealing mood, temperament, and our instant reactions to life as it happens. I realize now the immediate and soft constant joy I get from being around in-the-flesh people, as we experience life in real time, after nearly every real-life face was snatched from us by Covid-19.

I returned to work in October, back to TV/film sets where I put makeup on actors. My love of faces runs deep. I’m relieved to be working, even as work has vastly changed and is strictly monitored—as it should be.

myself at work

I am tested daily for Covid-19, then I go to work behind layers of PPE. We squint (happily! safely!) through shields that create depth-perception issues. My actors are maskless, which is splendid, but only when they’re in the makeup chair—then it’s all masks all the time until “action.”

I yearn for the constant real, fleshy full faces of the old days. There are millions of variations, textures, and moods faces can contain, and that’s why no one has the same face. Sure, I have trouble distinguishing Dermot Mulroney and Dylan McDermott (who doesn’t?), but rest assured, they are different people.

Think about the real in-person full-faces you’ve seen this year. Think about the new faces you’ve seen. Maybe you’ve only seen four actual faces—or zero new faces—in person. Maybe you haven’t yet seen your families or best friends’ faces. Aren’t you yearning to stare and smile and wink or scream lovingly at real people, even strangers, you’ve missed?

I want to see freckles and well-worn smile lines. I love a face where the lip curls up on one side when they’re talking. Do you have a scar or beauty mark or birthmark? I want to see those, too. I want to see a nose wiggle or scrunch or catch a friend biting their top lip with their bottom teeth when they’re frustrated by a too-long story. I want to touch up my lipstick in a public bathroom. I want to see crowds of new people I’ve never seen before and catch a full-faced stranger’s eye with my entire face.

Showtime on the subway pre-covid. Photo by me

I want silly, passionate, skeptical, frustrated, bemused, and confident faces. I want annoyed subway faces and hurried bartenders with perfect eyeliner or bored booksellers.

I miss the soft smile a stranger gives when something unexpected happens in public, like when a singer surprises you both on a crowded street corner or a crew begins to break dance on a subway. Yes—I want face-filled subway showtime again!

I miss having a public face as much as I miss looking at others. My lips prefer bright lipsticks, and my whole face is (so I’ve been told) very expressive. I smile at work a lot because I like my job. Also, part of my job is putting actors at ease because sets can be stressful. I laugh with my friends and co-workers, and I give knowing looks to those who are deserving of such glances. It’s normal and human and lovely to lock eyes with a confidant during hour 13 of working on set.

Yet my face remains mute behind masks and shields, and half of everything I say is missed, muffled. I use my hands and eyebrows like a mime. Am I still “myself” to others without my full facial expressions? After this past year, I don’t think so at all. The lack of my face has pushed me to express myself in other ways I suppose. This year I’ve used my words more and have said “I love you” and “I miss you” more.

I miss the soft smile a stranger gives when something unexpected happens in public.

At my current job, I’ve been putting makeup on one actor since early February, nearly every day. A month ago, she opened the door to my trailer and saw my unmasked face. She yelled joyfully, “It’s you! I see you! I see you, Sarah! You have a face!” I threw my mask and shield on as she entered, but I felt lighter and more certain, knowing she’d finally seen me for 10 seconds.

I’ve seen other co-workers’ faces only as they’ve pulled their mask down to sip water — and I’ve gasped when I realized how wrongly I’d imagined their faces to be. On occasion, we’ve run outside, pulling our masks down like we’re at a peep show, exposing our faces and laughing at the relief and strangeness of it all. Our true faces clicking like puzzle pieces where our imagined faces once were, completing us to those we’ve known only as eyes.

Bless the masks for keeping us safe. Bless our faces for making us full. After we’re vaccinated, let’s show our blessed naked faces.

Makeup Artist. Writer. Dip-maker. www.sarahgraalman.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store