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Discuss how the connection between the human face and personal identity is articulated and/or appropriated in visual culture.

As visual beings, our personal identities are formed, to a large extent, by the visual perceptions of our corporeal selves. Visual culture continuously attempts to visually classify individuals based on their faces, through a multitude of socially constructed filters, from the earliest theories of Physiognomy to the crucible of popular social media. From the moment an infant recognizes their own reflection, a new level of consciousness develops. The human becomes physically self aware and, eventually, conscious of the opinions of others regarding their physicality [and facial signaling/significations]. As a result of visual culture’s appropriation of the face, the opinions that others develop of facial categories, have the potential to classify people and influence their sense of self, in relation to stereotypes: beautiful, intelligent, criminal, etcetera. Using visual examples from Physiognomists, Giambattista della Porta and Francis Galton, as well as visual case studies of personal social media accounts, this essay will reveal ways in which visual culture has appropriated the human face and subsequently, influenced people’s perception of identity in each case. 

The face is humanities foremost medium for communication; it is the intermediary between one’s personal identity and the public. From the moment an infant becomes self-aware, it is bred to analyze its own face in relation to its surroundings. As our visually inclined society becomes increasingly reliant on visual culture and its mediums, the emphasis placed on the face has warped notions of human worth and identity. As early as the seventeenth century, there have been countless instances and theories that allow for people to misjudge the characters of others, due to their physical appearance. This skin-deep practice runs deeply through our society, and is evident in a number of visual culture mediums such as the study of Physiognomy, social networking platforms, film, and television. Due chiefly to these mediums and our evolutionary instincts, the act of facial appropriation in a visual culture, is an undeniable fact. It is one of humanities uglier, yet unavoidable habits that leads to the warping of an individual’s personal identity. 

Lorna S. A Level History tutor, 13 Plus  History tutor, IB History tu...

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Degree: History and Art History/Visual Culture (Bachelors) - Exeter University

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