The idea that the face is the mirror of the soul is not always true. It would be too easy if we knew who we had in front of us just at a glance. Remember, for example, the famous Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal (1960-1994), a blond young man of angelic appearance who murdered, tortured and mutilated 17 youths. Of course people have always set great store by physical appearance, while our judgment of others is influenced by prejudices. White, blond, blue-eyed people tend to appear nicer and more educated than short, swarthy, hairy ones, for example.
An extreme case of judgment by external appearances was the physician and criminologist César Lombroso (1835-1909), who went about measuring heads and worked out demented theories on the physical aspect of what he called born criminals, whom he said had certain specific features such as an asymmetric face (poor Rossy de Palma), prognathism (like Philip II or even, just a bit, his descendant Juan Carlos), prominent ears (Prince Charles), a very broad face (Mao) and other details of the sort. His extravagant conjectures have long been disproved in the scientific community.
But there is a popular saying that does seem to be borne out by experience: that, after a certain age, everyone has the face they deserve. That is, we have no control over the face we are born with, but as we mature we shape it, or the real interior face emerges to the surface.
I thought of this as I viewed the photo of Carmen Rodríguez Flores, municipal councilor of Madrid, regional deputy for the PP, and protégée of former PP treasurer Álvaro Lapuerta. Hers is a hard, hard face; those small eyes rendered opaque by tons of scorn for those around her; a slit of a mouth that seems suited only for pronouncing bitter words; and the hairdo like a titanium helmet. She looks like an Aztec god about to tear a victim's heart out.
True, there have been spectacular physical mutations. For example, Doña Carmen Polo, Franco's wife. Photos taken in her youth, it must be admitted, show a pretty woman. At her wedding she looks a bit strait-laced, but not far different from some of the actresses of the day. And with time, what became of that modest, virginal beauty? Well, she turned into a vampire. You can't tell me that, with age, Doña Carmen didn't bear a creepy resemblance to Nosferatu in a string of pearls. Manuel Fraga, when young, looked like a student of the eager, cramming type (he was), and with age came to resemble a roadside milestone with the granite weathered away.
Don't get me wrong: the mutations I speak of have nothing to do with the inevitable deterioration of age. The old are not doomed to betray themselves physically. Think of José Luis Sampedro, or Ana María Matute. Both carried their face to the end. Something to be proud of, I think.
Because now, what's more, the transition to the inner face, the Hyde face that inhabits us and at last emerges, is now being camouflaged and betrayed by the growing vogue for cosmetic surgery. Now, after a certain age, you not only have the face you deserve, but also the one you have paid for. Plastic faces, cloned into physical deformity.
What eventual faces these people might have deserved is hard to tell, but they could hardly be worse than some of the travesties you see in the street: eyes permanently astonished, cheeks swollen by filling. I wonder what these people see when they look in the mirror. Do they recognize it? Or like it? Do they think they are younger, prettier?
Their obvious incapacity to see themselves as they really are shows something that has always made me uneasy: our perception of ourselves is unreliable, and colored by prejudices, desires and fears. Sometimes when I look in a mirror, I'm not sure I see the real me.