"Face and Hair Revisited Part 1"
Welcome back through the looking glass. Forgive me, my friends, but this month I’m going to break away from my series on What Crossdressers Want to Know to begin a new series on something much more top-of-mind for me lately, facial shapes and hairstyles. I hope to weave back and forth between these topics over the next few months.
Having been a once-a-week woman since ’95, I haven’t needed to think much about these things for the last decade or so. Besides, I got plenty of admiration for my femme side, including a seven-year boyfriend. So I figured, Ain’t broke. Don’t fix it. Why rethink anything?
But after Frank and I broke up for a while in 2007, I found myself searching for a steady man in the same vexing tranny-and-admirer scene that I had struggled with for three years before finding him, only with the “advantage” of ten years more, hmm . . . experience compared to the other girls out in the clubs, including a few of that much-feared variety: fresh, Filipino, and far swishier than I’ll ever be. It was totally intimidating. I had to do what I could.
On top of it all, I had just spent about year on the road promoting Alice in Genderland and, for the first time, had been photographed from all sorts of angles, not just the full-frontal view that I had always seen and liked in the mirror. Ouch, that chiseled chin and that all-too-square jaw! Fortunately, I had had my nose done in ’96 and never had much in the way of an Adam’s Apple, goat’s horns, or any of the other obviously male features.
Convinced I needed more help, I braced myself for that rite of passage in our world, known as Consulting with Dr. O. With as much compassion as humanly possible, he and his assistant, Mira, informed me of the cold, hard truth. There were reasons why I had those bad angles and never really passed, and these could be spelled out simply in terms of things like chin and jaw-corner length, width, and shape. This jaw geometry is what accounts for the classically rectangular male face versus the ideally oval (egg-shaped) female face. When I saw what a study they had made of men’s and women’s faces, I could see they were right. Though I let Dr. Ousterhout know that I was happily married and not looking to go full time, he still recommended facial surgery that would essentially give me the lower face of a woman. He explained that it would gradually emerge as the swelling subsided and somehow still keep me looking regular enough as a man.
I couldn’t fully believe it and realized that I might have to take serious risks with my face as a man in order to look better as a woman. I felt a lump in my throat but swiftly sought refuge in social appropriateness. I heartily thanked Dr. O and Mira for the expertise, care, and time they had shared with me and made my way back to the car. But I was no doubt more deeply disturbed than I realized, because as I pulled my car out the parking garage, I heard a horrible screech and just realized that I had rubbed my SUV up against the corner of the parking attendant’s booth.
Though fully capable of doing what Dr. O had recommended it, my surgeon back home in L.A. balked at doing any of it for fear that I’d look too dramatically different—and worse—as a man. Oy, when your kind, caring pros completely disagree! Finally, after explaining why doing what I could for my femme face was so important to me, he suggested rounding off the corners of my chin and camouflaging the rest of my still-rather-rectangular face with clever hair and makeup, which was the start of a whole new technical—and personal—learning experience that I plan to share in September.
Face and Hair Revisited Part 2
Today I continue with a very top-of-mind topic for me lately or perhaps I should say top-of-body, facial shapes and hairstyles.
Finally, after explaining why doing what I could for my femme face was so important to me, Dr. A, my surgeon here in L.A., suggested we do a fraction of what Dr. O had outlined so that I wouldn’t start looking oddly androgynous during the six and a half days a week I spend as a man. He would round off the corners of my chin but not touch my jaw angles and encouraged me to camouflage them with clever hair and makeup. And in so doing, he launched me on a whole new technical—and personal—learning experience. (Please enjoy the picture of me back in April with my mind blissfully off all my imperfections.)
In July, as my energy returned and my swelling—slowly—abated, I again set out to be an educated consumer, now in the world of wiggery rather than surgery. For years, I had gone to see Pattie, a funny, old Korean lady at my local wig shop. Her wigs were affordable (fifty to two-hundred dollars) and her styling was competent as long I could get my preferences across to her despite her limited English—and my more severely limited Korean. It looked like I was going to need a little more professional help, if I was to find a hairstyle to finish the facial feminization I didn’t dare to complete by the scalpel.
So, I turned to one of my miracle workers from the past—or at least her husband. Shoshanna and Yuri have run hair and makeup on TV sets for years. She had worked wonders with my makeup, and he now offered to help with my hair. I couldn’t have been more excited and was ready to drop some dollars to be working with such an expert. But wow, was it difficult to schedule appointments with him, and his wigs (human or synthetic) started in the quadruple figures. Not only that but he worked by sheer confidence and artistic inspiration—and never really had the time to explain things or respond to my concerns.
Several weeks and a few thousand dollars later, I described my wig saga to Linda Wade, our local Tri-Ess president and through her found Young Lee. Though a bit old, Young was the happy medium I needed. She is a Korean-American woman who speaks English well enough and does her best to answer my questions and explain her techniques. Her prices are mid-range, but still low enough for me to be able to experiment with new ideas and make sure I had enough money left over to tip her for the extra time she spent with me.
As I first sat in her chair, one thing that made me feel immediately comfortable was that she had a diagram of the seven major face shapes and the hairstyling do’s and don’t’s for each tacked up next to her mirror. I felt even more reassured when I saw how Young looked at my rectangular face and worked with these principles. Perfect, I thought, she’s definitely the hairstylist to camouflage what couldn’t be corrected, to complete my crossdresser’s version of FFS.
As some of you may know, there is a widely accepted theory behind the practice of hairdressing. It can help make sense of a world of confusing possibilities and guide you to the ones that might be right for you—and enrich your view of the women around you. Here’s how it goes. Faces are like pictures and hairstyles are like picture frames. Or better yet, faces are like bodies and hairstyles are like clothes. With respect to bodies, there seems to be an ideal shape, perhaps 5’8” 34-24-34, and to look your best you should choose clothes that maximize your assets and minimize—or at least distract from—your flaws.
Just like human bodies come in many different sizes, human faces come in a surprising variety of shapes. There seems to be seven major ones, and they are diamond, oval, round, rectangle, square, heart, and triangle. They are very well illustrated at lifehacker.com/find-the-best-womens-hairstyle-for-your-face-shape. Though rectangle, square, and triangle (with its base on the ground) are more male, there are many women with faces essentially along these lines. The ideal female shape is an oval, or egg standing on its narrow end. The rule of thumb is that a great hairstyle should cleverly make you more oval—or less obviously non-oval—with well-designed internal and external lines and texture. Your hairdo is a picture frame with an internal edge, external edge, and its own color and consistency.
Okay, let’s start with those women and those exceedingly rare trans-people blessed with an oval face. Just like being a perfect size 8, you ladies are lucky enough to wear whatever you like: short, medium, long, curly and straight, it’s all good. You can pull it back, even slick it back if you like. Just don’t hide those lovely contours. Now, alas, for you diamonds, hearts, circles—and those of us even more facially challenged, I’ll have to beg your forbearance and ask you to hold off ‘til next month, while I go out and earn back some of the money I’ve so recently spent on hairstyling and surgery.
Face and Hair Revisited Part 3
As I explained last month, there is a widely accepted theory behind the practice of hairdressing. It can help make sense of a world of confusing possibilities and guide you to the ones that might be right for you. Remember faces are like pictures, and hairstyles picture frames. Or faces are like bodies, and hairstyles are like clothes. Last month we started out with that ideal form, the perfectly oval female face. Today I’ll talk about the other common female forms, the diamond, heart, and circle, and the three common male forms, the square, rectangle, and triangle, and how to choose the most transformative wigs and hairstyles. By and large, men’s faces are too long and wide at jaw to be mistaken for women’s faces—even if your beard has been lasered off and you’ve never really had a “brow bone,” like me.
Let’s start with the most male of shapes, the triangle or pear or, as some would say, the lantern-shaped face. (Please see the attached diagram so that you know exactly what I’m talking about.) The key to “correcting” this kind of face is to style hair so as to puff out the relatively narrow parts of your face and make the outer edge of your hairstyle be more of an oval even if your real face is not. Basically you need styles that are full at the temples and taper at the jaw. Or you can use the trick I stumbled into the first time I ever donned a wig. Tuck your hair behind one or both ears, and it will naturally puff out in just the right places. Shorter haircuts can also help balance your jaw, and wedges and shags can look amazing on you. If you go with long hair, you’ll want to keep it tight at the nape of your neck so that it doesn’t add fullness to your lower face.
Now let’s consider the square shape. It’s essentially like the triangle except that it’s not quite so wide at the jaw angles and may feature an equally squarish hairline. Among the more common male faces, this one is shared by many women and transforms rather well. Here again, though, you’ll want to go with shorter styles or long ones that don’t add fullness to the jaw. Layers and waves are great for they can break up the linear edges of your face and create a nice roundness to the outer edge of your hair-do. Wispy bangs and off-center parts will work wonders for your hairline, and height at the crown will help ovalize your over-all appearance! Whatever you do, don’t wear a straight bob ending at the jaw line. Instead, try a layered one that ends just above or below.
Ah yes, and now we get to the rectangular face. I believe that most men have a face that is just too long for womanhood, or like me, have a face that’s both too long and a little too wide. In designing a new style for me, Young Lee kept both these factors in mind. And, in the attached picture, see for yourself what she came up with. Of course, women too have rectangular faces, though theirs are usually caused more by narrowness than length. Long-faced lasses should avoid long hair. Keep it above your shoulders, ladies, because it can really make your face look even longer. Your crown should be kept relatively flat, and, just like with a square face, round out the sides of your silhouette with wavy hair cut in layers. Off-center and side parts break-up lines, and wispy bangs are essential in shortening your face.
Although round faces are more typically female, some of us males can look circular too, especially as we put on weight. In many ways the circle is like the anti-rectangle. Round-face ladies should try adding fullness at the crown and hair longer than chin-length. Sweep your hair back tightly on the sides of your face with clips or a ponytail. Like with all faces so far, an off-center part is recommended. Don’t wear bangs, and remember no rounded bobs to the chin, unless you want to look like Mrs. Pumpkinhead.
As we move from the oval face into the heart and diamond faces, we go from the ideal to the perhaps-even-a-little-too-womanly. A heart-shaped face is wide at the forehead and cheekbones and narrows down to a delicate chin. It can just as easily be thought of as an upside-down triangle. Off-center parts are favored on such a face as they are on nearly all non-ovals. Use wispy bangs and sweep layers forward to disguise the width of your forehead. A chin-length bob can be magnificent for you because it fills out your silhouette precisely where you need it the most. Longer hair is better than short. But if you must go short, be sure to leave sufficient fullness at the nape of your neck. Don’t add too much fluff around the top of your head because the last thing you want to do is look top heavy.
A diamond-shaped face is widest at the cheekbones and narrow across the forehead and jaw line. In many ways, a diamond face is a cross between a heart and a rather dramatic oval. Like with an oval, you can wear a tremendous variety of styles, especially around your upper face. Don’t hide behind your hair. Skip the bangs, try a center part, and cut your hair all one length if you like. But remember to handle your delicate chin with care. Just like with a heart-shaped face, medium-to-long hair works best with most of its volume at or below your chin and at the nape of your neck.
Well, that concludes my discussion of hairstyling for the seven major face shapes. Be flexible and practical in how you apply these principles, but always consider what your hair does for your face if you’re to truly have a hair-do rather than a hair-don’t.
Life’s rich, complex, and full of possibilities. Be careful and enjoy!
Alice Novic, M.D.
To learn more about me than you’d ever dare ask, please see my smart, sexy memoir, Alice in Genderland: A Crossdresser Comes of Age