SEATTLE – Let’s face it: People once laughed at acupuncture, and they weren’t quite sure what to make of feng shui, either.
Still, while Chinese face reading lags far behind its ancient Chinese cousins in terms of earning Western mainstream acceptance, at least 18 women considered it worth examining in Jean Haner-Dowsett’s Lake Forest Park, Wash., living room last week.
It was her former mother-in-law who introduced her to face reading and feng shui (which teaches that location of one’s home and placement of furnishings inside can promote success in the home) when she married into a Chinese family 25 years ago, and now Haner-Dowsett leads international workshops.
Chinese face reading, she says, allows someone to detect personal qualities and foibles from another’s facial features.
Last fall, for instance, it was presidential candidate Wesley Clark’s strong jaw that told her he was the only Democrat who could have won the election.
And actor Robin Williams’ eyes, she says, say that while he loves the spotlight, “he’s much more of a private person than he lets on.”
The practice teaches that the makeup of one’s face has corresponding elements – water, wood, fire, earth or metal – each with its own qualities and clues to possible health problems. Within each face are parts marking decades in one’s life – your ears represent your childhood, your forehead is your 20s, and so on – with physical marks such as scars, wrinkles or moles in those areas signaling issues confronted or waiting to be dealt with.
What she teaches is not so much about judging people as letting go of the urge to try to change them.
“Once we can stop blaming ourselves for being who we are, we can stop blaming others for being who they are,” she said.
Haner-Dowsett, who said she is a “fire” person partly because of her red hair and sparkling eyes, sees the face as not only a product of genetics but of one’s tendencies and life experiences.
“I read the faces of people all over the world,” she says.
“There are people in Omaha who could be twins of people in Zurich. And they have the same issues. That’s what proves it to me.”
Television host Katie Couric and actress Hilary Swank are both examples of “wood” people – busybodies and humanitarians out to change the world for the better, but liable to explode if pushed too far. Wood people “love to organize,” Haner-Dowsett said. “Give them something to alphabetize and they’re in heaven.”
Face-reading skill, she says, doesn’t directly translate.
“You have to be careful about slapping this overlay of Chinese culture on American culture,” she says. “It’s not the rules – it’s the principles behind the rules.”
If nothing else, it seemed these women – who each paid $300 for the two-day workshop, called “The Wisdom of Your Face” – were learning to navigate their social world with a liberating kind of map.
“You’re not only able to know yourself, but other people,” said public-broadcasting consultant Roselle Kovitz. “It’s about developing empathy.”
For Sallie Bodie, another public-broadcasting consultant, the session was a way to sit back and think about why she might do things a certain way.
“Think of how much time that will save me in the future,” she said.