Notes on 'The Gaze'
Categorizing facial expressions
Rather than ‘reinventing the wheel’ it is useful for those undertaking their own research
to refer to existing categories where appropriate, although clearly the system adopted needs
to relate to the specific purposes of the study, and the lists offered here are of course
time-bound and domain-specific. Indeed, the dates and genres of these studies make their
frameworks and their findings potentially fruitful for comparisons with current material in
the same genre or in other genres.
Marjorie Ferguson (1980) identified four types of facial expression in the cover
photos of British women’s magazines:
- Chocolate Box: half or full-smile, lips together or slightly parted, teeth
barely visible, full or three-quarter face to camera. Projected mood: blandly
pleasing, warm bath warmth, where uniformity of features in their smooth perfection is
devoid of uniqueness or of individuality.
- Invitational: emphasis on the eyes, mouth shut or with only a hint of a smile, head
to one side or looking back to camera. Projected mood: suggestive of mischief or
mystery, the hint of contact potential rather than sexual promise, the cover equivalent of
advertising’s soft sell.
- Super-smiler: full face, wide open toothy smile, head thrust forward or chin thrown
back, hair often wind-blown. Projected mood: aggressive, ‘look-at-me’ demanding, the
hard sell, ‘big come-on’ approach.
- Romantic or Sexual: a fourth and more general classification devised to include
male and female ‘two-somes’; or the dreamy, heavy-lidded, unsmiling big-heads, or the
overtly sensual or sexual. Projected moods: possible ‘available’ and definitely
In a study of advertisements in women’s magazines, Trevor Millum offers these
categories of female expressions:
- Soft/introverted: eyes often shut or half-closed, the mouth slightly open/pouting,
rarely smiling; an inward-looking trance-like reverie, removed from earthly things.
- Cool/level: indifferent, self-sufficient, arrogant, slightly insolent, haughty,
aloof, confident, reserved; wide eyes, full lips straight or slightly parted, and obtrusive
hair, often blonde. The eyes usually look the reader in the eye, as perhaps the woman regards
herself in the mirror.
- Seductive: similar to the cool/level look in many respects - the eyes are
less wide, perhaps shaded, the expression is less reserved but still self-sufficient and
confident; milder versions may include a slight smile.
- Narcissistic: similarities to the cool/level and soft/introverted
looks, rather closer to the latter: a satisfied smile, closed or half-closed eyes,
self-enclosed, oblivious, content - ‘activity directed inward’.
- Carefree: nymphlike, active, healthy, gay, vibrant, outdoor girl; long unrestrained
outward-flowing hair, more outward-going than the above, often smiling or grinning.
- Kittenlike: coy, naïve (perhaps in a deliberate, studied way), a friendlier and
more girlish version of the cool/level look, sometimes almost twee.
- Maternal: motherly, matronly, mature, wise, experienced and kind, carrying a sort
of authority; shorter hair, slight smile and gentle eyes - mouth may sometimes be stern, but
- Practical: concentrating, engaged on the business in hand, mouth closed, eyes
object-directed, sometimes a slight frown; hair often short or tied back.
- Comic: deliberately ridiculous, exaggerated, acting the fool, pulling faces for
the benefit of a real or imaginary audience, sometimes close to a sort of archness.
- Catalogue: a neutral look as of a dummy, artificial, waxlike; features may be in
any position, but most likely to be with eyes open wide and a smile, but the look remains
vacant and empty; personality has been removed. (Millum 1975, 97-8)
Millum comments on how the male facial expressions depicted in the women’s ads he studied
related to his typification of female expressions:
There are fairly direct parallels with the above - the carefree, practical,
seductive, comic and catalogue. The other two male expressions selected
as types - the thoughtful and the self-reliant - have similarities to the
female introverted and cool, though the thoughtful is far less
introverted and the self-reliant more smug than aloof or reserved, but there are no
counterparts to the narcissistic or kittenlike. (For the latter a type
boyish might be postulated, but it remains potential). (ibid., 98)
Paul Messaris notes differences in facial expression between models in high-fashion magazines
and those in ads for less expensive products:
Models who display moderately priced clothing usually smile and strike ingratiating poses.
But high-fashion models are generally unsmiling and sometimes openly contemptuous. So
pronounced is this contrast that it is tempting to formulate it in a simple rule: the higher
the fashion, the more sullen the expression. The supercilious expressions on the models’ faces
serve to increase the desirability of what they’re selling by evoking status anxiety in the
viewer. (Messaris 1997, 38-40)