Who can you be quiet with?

I used to be known as a loud chatterbox. Well, maybe not everyone everywhere saw me that way, but certainly many people saw me that way when I was around 20, 22.

Many people also expected me to have oak furniture in those days while in reality, I had a tech interior. The industrial look. White and steel, with a touch of burgundy.

Yes, I am energetic by nature – but one of the reasons why I became a loud chatterbox was that when I was a teenager, people kept saying things like “Why are you so quiet? Is something the matter?” (as if I would tell them, ha ha).

I’d be cheerful at 7 in the morning in the days when that was when my morning shifts started. Why? Because it beat giving in to feeling tired and resenting having to be at work at that early hour. Big time. “How can you be so cheerful and energetic this early in the day?” It was simply a choice I made, but I was still too young to realize that and I probably never provided a useful useful answer.

Chances are that I merely shrugged in response.

I drank tons and tons of coffee in those days, probably a minimum of 8 cups per day, perhaps even twice as many. The early shifts usually messed up my digestion and made me so tired that I’d often collapse on the bed the minute I got home. I wasn’t feeling any more positive about those early shifts than the people around me. In fact, I sometimes found the early public transport trips to work really depressing, but I refused to let despair and grouchiness grab hold of me.

Except that one time when I had a brief burnout that made me snap at people, and I needed to recharge the battery. It took me two weeks. Prolonged lack of sleep and constant changes in working hours can wear you out. I had simply gotten completely exhausted and was no longer able to put up the brave face, no longer able make the choice to be cheerful. But I digress.

I grew up near woods and moors. I often hung out there for hours, usually taking the family dog along, being anything but a loud chatterbox.

Becoming a loud chatterbox got people to shut up about me being too quiet.

I am not a real introvert, but I am not a real extrovert either. I am somewhere in between. I love to entertain, and I miss the hustle and bustle of big cities when I am away from them, but I want the noisy parts of life to be balanced by a lot of quiet.

That was really important to me when I had jobs that required me to talk all day. The one with the shifts that started at 7 in the morning was one of them, and that too was part of the explanation for my attitude. You can’t be grouchy to hotel guests at 7 in the morning. Well, you can, of course, but I preferred not to. That’s what working in hospitality is about. In fact, behind my back, management held me up as an example to some of my colleagues, one of them told me. “Why can’t you be more like her? She’s always smiling, always cheerful.”

(Couldn’t that manager have said something to me about that too? Would have been nice.)

In those days, after my relocation from a room in Baarn in an often noisy environment (and with a long commute to work) to a flat in Amsterdam, not too far from Theater Carré, I relished that I was able to come home to peace and serenity, not having to talk and not being bombarded with more chatter after my shifts.

I also remember a time when I was working two jobs and used the metro ride in between as my little oasis of quiet during which I recharged the battery. Oh, how dismayed I was when very loud and insistent buskers burst into the mini meditations during which I made my mind go blank or simply gave in to daydreams. They wanted a response. They insisted. Please gimme some money or look at me and say that you won’t. Yes, I understand that. Fortunately, they’d usually just work the car – one person playing, the other one asking everyone for money – and then move on to the next one.

Living in a big city is often much quieter than a lot of people think. If you wander around, you may even discover delightful oases of silence that you never knew existed and at night, most streets become quiet enough. On the other hand, I like the nice fuzzy feeling of having lots of people living around me. There is just some cosiness to it that I can’t explain to anyone who prefers to live anywhere but in cities.

When they’re at peace, that is. Ugly protests, fights and clashes usually make me want to take a detour, and those too happen in cities. Huge masses of people celebrating a football win (soccer) aren’t my cup of tea either.

When I happen to live very close to a natural shoreline, I can sit quietly watching the waves for hours, all by myself. But I haven’t done that in years.

People I can be completely quiet around, and with, are rare, though. They’re true treasures. The quiet seems to mean we’re in sync, and it almost never happens with complete strangers. When it does, it is with one of those people who instantly feel as if you’ve known them your entire life.

I remember driving to the Dutch city of Maastricht with one of my sisters, many years ago, and both of us being forced to shut up because every time one of us said something, that was exactly what the other one had been thinking. So we gave in, stopped talking and enjoyed the serenity, the harmony. We were at peace.

Who are you at peace with?

What you look like matters – but should it?

What our faces can tell other people about the state of our health

Image 20160707 30713 18qtf3f
Glowing with health.
Shutterstock/Luba V Nel

Alex Jones, Swansea University

Our facial appearance influences how we feel about ourselves – and other people’s faces influence who we choose to approach or avoid and who we’d like to form romantic relationships with. At a glance, a face reveals a wealth of information about how we are feeling, or the kinds of behaviours we might be about to engage in – but what does it say about us when we aren’t expressing emotion? As it turns out, it’s more than you could imagine.

Over the past few years I’ve learned how aspects of our personality are present in our faces, how symptoms of depression cause faces to appear less socially desirable, and how wearing make-up changes perceptions of social traits – but the most important signals that our faces can give are of health.

The face is a biological billboard and we are expert readers, always interested in what it has to say. We are attracted to healthy-looking faces and avoid those who are unhealthy –- think of the sensation you might have had the last time you were on the train or a bus near someone who looked unwell – but it is the question of what makes a face look “healthy” in our eyes that is the most intriguing.

There are many historical examples of people altering their facial appearance to appear healthier. Things like the influence of body mass index (BMI) on face shape, or the smoothness of skin texture play a role in how healthy we are viewed to be, but it is actually facial colouration that seems to be the most important.

The lighter areas show where the skin of healthier looking faces are brighter (left), redder (middle), and yellower (right).

Early research has identified that faces with lighter, redder, and yellower skin were seen as the healthiest – and this was consistent across all ethnicities. There also seemed to be relevant biological processes associated with these colours: for example, lighter skin is associated with the ability to absorb more vitamin D. Greater redness, particularly when from oxygenated blood, may indicate more efficient circulation and blood supply to the skin.

But it is yellowness that seems to be particularly relevant for health, and for good reason: people with yellower skin tend to have healthier diets, rich in fruit and vegetables. The organic pigments in these foods, known as carotenoids, are hugely beneficial for health, and seem to be responsible for producing that desirable healthy glow. Intriguingly, tanning also increases skin yellowness and makes faces appear healthier, but the yellowness conferred by carotenoids (as a result, perhaps, of a healthy diet) is preferred to the yellowness brought about by tanning.

Healthy glow

The secret to a healthy appearance isn’t as simple as eating more fruit and vegetables, however, it’s a bit more complicated than that – and healthy face colouration may be more nuanced than previously thought. Skin conditions such as dark circles under the eyes or rosacea, a condition which causes the skin to flush and redden, cause great concern to sufferers – Google searches of treatments or remedies return millions of hits. Both these conditions are also localised to areas of the face, which suggests colours in certain areas of faces could be relevant for looking healthy. Might these patterns of colour in faces, rather than the colour of the entirety of facial skin, be more relevant for looking healthy?

To answer this questions, we asked observers to rate faces for how healthy they thought they were, and calculated the colour differences between faces seen as very healthy and very unhealthy. We used Caucasian faces for the comparison, but there is some evidence that suggests how the overall skin colours of yellowness, redness, and lightness are seen as healthy in non-Caucasian faces too: it seems that everyone, regardless of race, finds these tones to be healthy.

Our research found that while yellowness across the whole face was a contributor to looking healthy, confirming earlier findings, lighter skin under the eyes and redder skin on the cheeks seemed to play larger roles. That colouration, in those areas, seemed to account for a lot more variation in health ratings than skin yellowness.

We subtly changed photographed faces to have lighter under-eye skin and redder cheeks – and also the reverse effect: darker under-eye skin and greener cheeks. Asking people to pick which they found the healthiest revealed a strong preference for the former pattern.

One a picture of health, the other, not so much – which do you think looks healthier?

Interestingly, when we reversed the location of the colouration – lighter cheeks and redder under-eyes or darker cheeks and greener under-eyes – there was no clear preference. Given the wealth of research showing lighter skin and redder skin across the whole face is perceived as healthier this result was surprising. What this work suggests is that lightness and redness in our facial skin is seen as healthy, but only when it is under the eyes or in the cheeks, respectively.

Red cheeks are healthy, red eyes not – do you think one looks healthier than the other?

In a final study, I looked at which facial area and colour was seen as the healthiest. While having redder cheeks and light skin under the eyes came out as looking equally healthy, dark skin under the eyes made people think the faces looked quite unhealthy, even more so than sickly-looking greener cheeks.

The ConversationIt is no surprise that cosmetic products such as concealer and blusher are so popular, since they increase a healthy looking colouration in the areas that matter the most to health perception – but nothing could ever beat a good night’s sleep and regular exercise.

Alex Jones, Lecturer, Swansea University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.