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8 Sep

‘Smartphone face’: why do some people look more modern

‘Smartphone face’: why do some people look more modern

We investigate what exactly makes an actor seem like they’ve ‘seen a smartphone’, and why some faces just don’t seem believable in period movies

Dakota Johnson within the film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Timothée Chalamet as King Henry V, all the forged of Daisy Jones & the Six – what have they got in common? All have been deemed by the web as looking too modern to believably act in period pieces. More specifically, all have been accused of getting faces that seem like they know what some form of contemporary technology is, from smartphones to the web to air fryers. Or, as one person said about Camila Morrone, “she looks like she knows what Venmo is”.

But what does it mean to have a face that appears prefer it has seen the web? Are some faces really more modern looking than others (people have said Bella Ramsey, for instance, has a face fit for historical movies) and what features, if any, contribute to the look?

To start the investigation, it’s vital to have a look at the general evolution of human faces. Michael Sheehan, a behavioural ecologist and associate professor at Cornell University, says that because humans are highly sociable animals, our facial traits have diversified over time to ensure that us to simply recognise one another’s faces. Provided that our facial expression have slowly evolved to develop into more unique, is similar evolutionary process accountable for making faces today look modern? Sheehan isn’t so sure. 

“The perceived differences in appearance of individuals between the mid-Twentieth century and now is nearly definitely the results of stylistic, grooming or weight-reduction plan changes slightly than facial evolution,” he tells Dazed. Although humans prior to now have evolved to have diverse facial expression, it’s not going that our faces have modified a big amount in a matter of fifty years. Disregarding all of the skin aspects that allow us to be perceived as modern, our natural faces aren’t actually that different in comparison with those of previous many years.

“Results from our previous work have shown that the genetic variation that offers rise to human facial diversity is under balancing selection, which acts to keep up variation over time,” Sheehan says. Sheehan’s work has found that the balancing selection stabilizes our facial diversity, which suggests that though our faces differ from one another greatly, they still maintain a median that continues to be the identical over time. 

So, if there’s a difference in how faces look now in comparison with a face of a previous decade it’s more likely the results of cultural decisions, current beauty standards and improved healthcare. For instance, dentistry: various people have attributed the “face that has seen an iPhone” phenomenon to perfect pearly whites and the recognition of veneers. “My personal theory for why it’s unattainable for Hollywood to make a plausible period piece for TV and film in 2023 is cosmetic dentistry,” tweeted journalist Michelle Cyca. “These fake teeth simply didn’t exist within the 70s.”

Invented in 1928, veneers were actually first developed in Hollywood as a option to change an actor’s appearance for a movie shoot, says cosmetic dentist and founding father of Bespoke Smile, Dr Sam Jethwa. “It wasn’t until the early 80s, nevertheless, that veneers began to realize popularity and have become more cost-effective slightly than something that was only attainable by the wealthy and famous.” So while veneers did exist within the 70s, it’s unlikely that each band member of Daisy Jones & the Six would have had perfect smiles. In 2023 nevertheless, veneers are a well-liked procedure, particularly in Hollywood. 

A big part of getting a contemporary face, then, is following modern beauty trends, whether that’s veneers and eyebrow grooming, or cosmetic surgery which has seen an enormous rise because the 70s – and since Jane Austen was writing about Anne Elliot – and which has created a more homogenised beauty look amongst actors. “Everyone looks the identical now due to cosmetic surgery [and procedures like] filler and Botox,” says Laura Jane Atelier, who researches beauty standards throughout history for her video essays. Within the 70s, she says, actors had more facial expressions and a novel look. “When you have a look at Farrah Fawcett, she has thin lips and a high nose bridge in addition to an angular jaw. She had a novel look and features that wouldn’t be popular by today’s standards.”

Whether someone has a contemporary face or not is an enormous discussion point on social media and amongst viewers, but is it something that the people making the movies ever take into consideration? “As a casting director our job is to support the director’s vision for the world they’re creating, so it’s less about modern vs period and more about trying to grasp how the director imagines the characters,” Emily Brockmann of Lucy Bevan Casting tells Dazed. “We’re all the time in search of interesting faces, but at the identical time we’re also in search of actors who can disappear right into a role and mix well with the opposite forged. It’s a tremendous balance.”

For Brockmann, faces with lots of cosmetic procedures often feel misplaced in stories that happen prior to now and may contribute to a face feeling ‘modern’. A recent example of successful casting, she believes, is Women Talking which, although set in 2010, was created to feel timeless and the story transcends specific time periods. “The actors within the film had interesting and contrasting faces, but all of them felt beautifully real and worked so well together as an ensemble. I loved John Buchan and Jason Knight’s work on the project, the casting was superb,” Brockmann says.

From perfect white teeth to lip filler and a smooth brow, it’s true that there are specific cosmetic ‘improvements’ that may contribute to creating a face feel more modern. But that doesn’t quite explain exactly what makes actors like Timmy and Dakota seem like they’ve experience with smartphones and payment apps. Could there be a deeper, more elusive quality about someone’s face that makes it look modern? Or does all of it just come all the way down to the undeniable fact that, in 2023, everyone knows what an iPhone is?

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