Face reader Eric Standop plies a very interesting trade. He’s a face reader. Physiognomy, as it’s called, is an ancient art of assessing one’s character by looking at one’s facial features. It’s a practice that’s been around for centuries: ancient Greece, India, and China. In his own book, Read the Face, Standop says South Africans and Latin Americans do it, too.
He says he can read these topics: personality, career, health, love, purpose, nutrition, destiny. I sit with him for a sample of how this works.
“You have three face shapes, which is unusual – only about 15 percent of the population has that,” he tells me. “You’re a hybrid of Fire, Tree, and King. You also have some Jade elements.” I had read his book, in which he outlines the 30 basic face shapes, but I couldn’t identify what I was or what anyone I knew was; you can’t just figure things out from a book.
Standop says the side of my face, looking from the temple to the jaw, is straight, indicating Tree. My jaw and lips belong to a King face. He doesn’t so much explain himself like that as he goes; he simply dives into what he sees and translates it into something that he hopes will be helpful to you.
This is how he breaks it down for me: Trees provide shade and grow lifelong. That means Tree face people are nurturing and enjoy learning during their entire lives. “You will not be boring when you’re old. You’ll always find something you will want to learn, because you love knowledge,” he describes. He speaks quickly and with only a hint of his native German.
Fire faces have a burning passion. They love the stage and communication, and are warm people.
The combination of Fire + Tree = a burning tree, or a burning bush. Standop says people with Fire and Tree qualities together are often sought out as coaches or mentors. Think of the burning bush that imparted wisdom on Moses.
Lastly, King faces are leaders on a mission, seeking to leave a legacy.
So far, the reading is basically right, though I’m not really sure I’m on a mission. Maybe I am and I don’t know it. “If I had to sum up your personality in a headline, it would be either ‘Intuitive yet Inquisitive’ or ‘The Practical Visionary,’” he decides.
How does this translate to something I can work on? He tells me I need to work on patience, find an outlet for my humanity, and not get caught up in other people’s dramas. “You grab the garbage of others too quickly; you’ll be really tired after listening to someone complain, for instance. To wash off that energy, the fastest thing is to take a shower, because water is cleansing,” he advises.
Unsurprisingly, Standop says some of my life purpose is to communicate. I’ve spent over 20 years as a journalist, so that fits. What I didn’t expect to hear was that I have leader and healer qualities that still need to be expressed.
I’ve just started volunteering as a yoga teacher at a senior center, so perhaps that counts as leading and healing? “I’m not a psychic or a fortune teller,” he qualifies. “I don’t know how that manifests in your future. You just need to look out for opportunities in your later life that might resonate with that.”
Standop travels the world reading faces. Some of his three dozen clients are corporate CEOs – mostly in the US- looking for guidance on how to better manage their team. Standop’s life is currently a whirlwind. In 2018, he stayed in 308 hotels and took 30 or 40 long flights. If his life was a book title, he says his would be “No Normal Day.”
He says his face reveals that he’s a world traveler, which would be accurate. He’s from Germany, met a face reader in South Africa, and decided to study the craft under a Chinese master in Hong Kong 15 years ago. It’s his passion, he says, to help people find their potential. He estimates he’s read 15,000 faces in 22 countries – it comes to about 300 to 500 faces a month. And no, he doesn’t read every face he sees. “That would be exhausting,” he laughs.
A few times a year, Standop meets up with good friend Richard Pilnick, a portrait photographer, and together they work on projects. At a recent SpaHalekulani event, the two partnered to offer services to the public. People could choose to book a face reading, a portrait, or both. The portrait comes with a poem that Standop writes, based on a quick reading of that person’s face, summing up their qualities. One doesn’t have to book with Standop to get the poem; he can read the picture if he didn’t read them in person.
Pilnick has an equally interesting story. A former fashion photography assistant in his native London, Pilnick decided to leave the industry after realizing during a month-long sojourn to India that he would prefer to pursue a different kind of photography- one that would capture the essence of a person, he describes. During that 2009 trip in Gokarna, he tested the waters by setting up a crude photography studio on the beach of this small temple town on the western coast, and inviting the villagers to come for a free sitting. One of those people was a man who Pilnick now calls a guardian angel.
“I remember him standing for hours to have his photo taken. When I developed the film, something touched me so deeply when looking at it. I knew I had to do this,” he recalls of that pivotal moment. He shows me the photo of a dark-skinned man with soulful, forlorn eyes. I feel sadness when I look at it, but Pilnick feels “transformation, liberation” – because of what it means to him and its influence on his life choice.
And why does Pilnick think the man was a guardian angel? “I went back to give him his photograph, and nobody in this tiny village, where everybody knows each other, knew him. It’s like he came to show me my purpose.”
Later that year, Pilnick was on vacation in Thailand, when he met Standop at a tai chi retreat. “The Universe brought us together,” he believes. The two hit it off, and eventually agreed to work together. They call their collaboration “Portraits of a Soul: Face Reading Poems.”
Of his personal face reading? Pilnick says, “It’s transformed my life. I have a deeper understanding of where I am, and I’ve seen how Eric’s been right. When I’ve lived my life in what he terms a ‘losing way,’ I have indeed struggled.”
He offers to shoot me. He has a grey backdrop set up and a very old-fashiony looking camera that smacks of those portable light boxes of the early 1800s. It has as much character as the black and white photographs he produces. I sit on a stool and chat with him.
I’ve spent my life in television news, and I’m used to lights, noise, color, speed, and a glamorous product. Even our headshots are polished to a sheen. Sitting with Pilnick was entirely the opposite of this, but in a lovely way. There was silence, a quiet energy, and connection.
I’m apparently still too used to something highly produced, because Pilnick tells me to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. A yogi who knew I am a yogi, too, Pilnick gave me some impromptu guided meditation to get me out of my head and, well, probably into that essence he strives for. When I open my eyes, he clicks.
Pilnick’s customers receive their photo and a poem in a few weeks, after he develops the film back at home, and after Standop pens something that speaks to the reading. What do you do with it? Pilnick suggests, “It’ll be like your personal song, a hymn sheet for your life. You can contemplate the process and let it guide you where you want to go. Let it be a catalyst for change.”
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