The Life Symmetric

For many people, body modification involves a lot of planning and decision-making. Many aspects of one’s life come into play during this time, such as job-related concerns and general aesthetic preferences. One commonality I have come across time and again when discussing specific modification choices with fellow modders is symmetry. I personally have never been concerned with the symmetry of my mods, but I know many people who have become so anxious over an asymmetrical piercing or tattoo that they are compelled to acquire its counterpart. Upon searching through the BME experience archives, I found a number of other people who seem to have a “thing for symmetry,â€? claim that they “believe in symmetry,â€? or even go so far as to say that they’re “obsessed with symmetry.â€? But why this focus on symmetrical modification?

One clue as to a possible reason behind this fixation is the need for symmetry or order that sometimes accompanies cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Persons afflicted with OCD often become extremely anxious if they feel that some particular aspect of life is not symmetrical, and often go to great lengths to achieve this balance. There is even a disorder called asymmetriphobia, which is (yea, you guessed it) the fear of asymmetry. So maybe there exists within some humans an inherent (or perhaps learned) anxiety in the presence of asymmetry.

Right Face

Another clue comes in the form of scientific research that has led to the common belief that facial and bodily symmetry contribute greatly to one’s perceived attractiveness. Studies show that even babies are inherently attracted to symmetrical features, as they spend significantly longer looking at pictures of symmetrical than of asymmetrical faces. There’s even a website that utilizes a picture of your face to show what you might look like if your right side was perfectly symmetrical with your left side, or vice versa. I tried it (pictures above), but the results were not as ‘attractive’ as I had expected.

There may even be evidence of an evolutionary reason for the perceived attractiveness of bodily symmetry. An article on WebMD points out that “If the potential mate has a great degree of asymmetry, he or she is judged to be less than optimal. In numerous species, asymmetry is linked to greater rates of disease and early death, and lesser success in fertility — all important to their selection as mates.â€? So perhaps the acquisition of symmetrical body modifications is the outward expression of insecurity about one’s natural features, and an attempt to give the illusion of symmetry. After all, no one wants to be alone.

Okay, so now that I know that the symmetry issue is relevant even outside of the body modification sphere, I’m still left puzzled as to why humans are so drawn to it. I have begun to wonder whether it is simply the fact that our bodies (and those of many animal species) are naturally symmetrical in many ways. Our bodies contain mirror images of each arm, leg, ear, cheek, kidney and so on. Maybe we’ve just become so comfortable in our own skin that somewhere along the way we developed an affinity toward symmetry.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t offer an absolute answer to this query, but perhaps those of you modders out there who do indeed have a love for mod symmetry can help fill me in. Until then I feel just fine about the fact that my left profile contains 5 more holes and one more tattoo than my right :)

49 thoughts on “The Life Symmetric

  1. I’ve 3 teflon subdermal bars in the left arm and 2 in the right, and i’d got lots of problems with the symmetry… it’s imposible to keep them paralelistic or on the same line as the arm has because of the muscle movement…
    First of all i became angry about this… after some months i began to see the mod only as a mod… and i luv it ^^

  2. H’iiiiiiiiinteresting…

    I’m fine with ink being asymettrical but other than that, I’m symmetrical…Most mods are on my body’s centre-line (PA, beads, lip, tongue, upper labial frenulum, septum…) but those which aren’t are paired…And always the same size. I can’t stand having lopsided lobes.


  3. i am indeed very symmetrical with my facial piercings, and i love it. i do see it as a beauty thing for one, but i also see it as kind of like a balance for myself. if i’m missing something on my left side that i have on my right (like my 1-3/4″ lobe), it makes me feel kind of down and long for it. but i’ve always been a sucker for the process of things and to take care of them during healing, having a counterpart just makes for more fun. it’s hard to say why i’m even drawn to it because i’m not completely sure. but for the most part, i see it as a very beautiful thing and that the person has taken the next step to caring for just a little more, and i find it very attractive

  4. I was obsessed with everything being symmetrical and perfect until, oddly enough, my high school ceramics teacher taught me that asymmetry was so much more interesting than symmetrical perfection. Now I like things to be just a little bit off. It’s better that way.

  5. I think certain piercings need to be symetrical to look their best, stretched lobes and cheek piercings mainly.

    One cheek piercing would look really, really odd.

  6. I used to really like that I had 2 holes in my left earlobe and 3 in my right… now that I’m stretching them though I feel like it looks wrong. I don’t like the way 2 and 2 look either, though — that seems boring. Maybe I need better planned asymmetry? :)

  7. I like the look of asymmetrical tattoos. Ill soon be finished a right arm sleeve whereas my left side has only one tattoo (on my leg, not arm). Personally I could have never had a sleeve on my left arm and have my right arm blank (It doesnt look wrong to me, I know it would FEEL wrong). Its just an inward feeling I have. And I agree with the other comments, I always try to not necessarily make my piercings symmetrical, but make sure both sides are evenly weighted (ie, I had my left eyebrow, right nostril, tongue and center labret pierced)

  8. All of my body mods thusfar would be considered asymmetrical to any other person, but i see my body as balanced. For example, I have 7 piercings (it was 8, but one had to be retired *sniff*) on my left ear and only 4 on my right. To anyone else, this would be asymmetrical, right? But I also have a tattoo on my right ankle. Seeing that my left ear and my right ankle are close to the two extremes on my body, i feel like my tattoo ballances out the 3 (then 4) “extra” piercings on my left ear.

    Yeah, let’s see if that makes any sense to anyone else. :-P

  9. I’m a little odd with symmetry. I don’t mind it when tattoos or piercings on the ears are asymmetrical but if I have a piercing on the face that’s not centered I feel…I don’t know how to explain it…itchy I suppose. I don’t feel right.

    I did have a nostril piercing on boths sides, but one feel out. I eventually got used to the fact I had a visible asymmetrical piercing, but it took a while and it was extremely irritating at first.

  10. All my piercing are symmetrical but i think thats cause they are only on my face. my tattoos are not. i agree highly with the eye being drawn to symmetry in facial features and it obviously carries out to other things we do to our face such as facial hair, eyebrows, ect. I wonder who is gonna read this and get the idea to make the complete asymmetrical face. Post a pic when its sent in.

  11. I come at this from the standpoint of not only having a few mods but also being an artist.

    Symmetry is something that really comes into play when drawing or sculpting, a trick that I think almost all beggining artists are told is to occationally hold their work up to a mirror because a mirror image helps you point out any glaring asymmetry as well as giving you a fresh view of the work. Humans really are drawn to balance, not always exact mirror symmetry but balanced forms where there is the same visual weight on both side. I think that is often what repels many people from modern art is that many works are deliberately assymmetrical which evolution has built into our brains to find unappealing.

    It definitely bothers me that not only do I have an unfinished tattoo on my left shoulder (it’s expensive and I’m a starving artist) but also that there is no balancing tattoo on the other shoulder yet. I don’t feel like I absolutely need to have the a mirror of my tattoo on my the other shoulder but I strongly feel that I need one of a similar size to balance.

  12. I prefer symmetry in some situations, like with earlobes and cheeks, and some tattoos. (all but one is centered/has a match)
    It depends on the type of tattoo and where it’s located.
    I just got little hearts done on the back of my thighs (symmetrical), and I showed my boyfriend and he said, “I thought you were only getting one.” And I was totally baffled by why someone would get one small tattoo on the back of their thigh without a matching one. The idea seemed strange to me.
    I have my side tattooed, and I think it would take away from that if I got my other side done. My ears aren’t even either. I think it wouldn’t suit me to have a conch piercing in each ear.
    I think I have a preference, but I don’t think there is a formula for when I think symmetry looks good and when asymmerty looks better.
    When I got my scarification done, I got it on my left side (which has more peircings). I got another one done about a year later, on the opposite side, but now I’m wondering: was it really because it seemed like the logical place (that could be out in the open to show off, or covered up) or that I was driven to symmetry?

  13. I guess I’m different than most… I’ve always had a problem with symmetry. I don’t like how it looks. My only mods that are symmetrical are my star tattoos and the size of my lobes. Other than that, I’ve always chosen my piercings to be asymmetrical. I feel more balanced that way :)

  14. Not symmetrical, balanced. I really don’t see the appeal in symmetry – It’s kind of boring for me acutally, atleast on me. I am balanced though, the same way people have mentioned before me.

    I can understand why people would like symmetry, but I just don’t find it interesting.
    Extreme assymetry would be even worse for me, but somewhere in between is just great…

  15. This reminds me of an ooooooold experiment (from High School in the early 80s) that virtually everyone’s face is vertically divided into an “attractive” side and a “monster” side. It doesn’t work with all people, but look for a few random & reasonably good-looking models’ images to try this experiment upon in your own spare time.

    I know ya’ll be surprised at what you may reveal.

    …and thank the heavens we’re not symmetrical/balanced!!!





    E-to-the-N-Z-O [the] B-to-the-A-to-the-K-E-R

  16. Symmetry is the beauty esthetic as parsed out by my profession. I spend a lot of time trying to tweak people to make up for little assymmetries they were dealt. Others find symmetry less desirable but for most we seem wired to view shape (even if not markings, tats or even piercings) symmetry as highly desirable.

    That said, I appreciate the assymetry of marking that a really good ink job will provide. When it comes to tats and piercing a balanced if not symmetrical look is often desirable but the right assymetric pierce is a thing of beauty too.

  17. Hmm, interesting entry. I have mild-moderate obsessive-compulsive disorder, and, unsuprizingly, my mods MUST be symmetrical.

    Tattoos don’t have to be perfectly symmetrical… my half-sleeves and my calf pieces will be different images, for example, but they will be of similar design… my piercings do have to be the same on both sides or in the middle, though. It’s currently driving me crazy that one of my ears is stretched several gauges larger than the other (the other has had some problems and I was forced to downsize).

  18. Heh thanks for all the comments guys…I really like what AwesomeDonald said about the complete asymmetrically pierced face! I’d love to see that! One profile completely modded, and the other plain…sheesh sounds awesome.
    Oh and RoseofSharon makes a good point about balance as opposed to symmetry…I like the idea of balancing mods based on the extremes of one’s body!
    Visit my own blog if you guys have a second, that would be awesome :o)

  19. I find this very interesting, because I have actually become obsessed with symmetry due to a complication that occurred during my birth. During the birthing process I became “stuck” (for lack of a better word), and they broke my shoulder blades in order to help get me out. It resulted in severe nerve damage in my right arm, and it never grew to its full length. I also don’t have full use or feeling in it (there were several other complications, but I won’t discuss them here since they aren’t related to my physical symmetry).

    Now, a lot of people don’t notice it until I point it out, but for me it has created an extreme social anxiety. I notice it at all times. Everytime I look in the mirror, my eyes go directly to my arm. During the winter I wear long sleeves any time I am in public because it makes it less noticable. If I see someone looking in the general direction of my arm, I will turn or move it in a way that they can’t see it. I have become comfortable enough to make jokes about it and discuss it rather freely, but it has really contributed to how I perceive myself physically. I’ve never felt “complete” on a physical level because of it.

    One thing that attracted me to body modification was that I could control my outter appearance and its symmetry, especially since I had a distorted view of my body from my arm. All my piercings have been symmetrical. I also have several tattoos planned, and all involve designs that will allow for some sort of symmetry. And I have contemplated getting tattoos on my arms, but I wouldn’t want my right arm done because I know it would never match my left arm. Plus it would only draw more attention to my arm.

  20. I used to have a really unhealthy obsession with my piercings being symmetrical – to the point where if I deemed a pair of piercings asymmetrical I would take them out and have them re-done. I had my ‘snakebites’ done a total of four times and have some pretty nasty scar tissue to show for it.

    My own preoccupation with symmetry (which extended beyond the realms of body modification) was actually my OCD, though I didn’t recognise this at the time. Since then I’ve reasoned with myself at how insignificant it is, and I’d like to think I embrace the asymmetrical now. I think it’s quirky. It adds character. The way I look at it is – I’m not perfect, so why should I expect my body modifications to be?

  21. [b]RoseofSharon[/b] I completely understand! For the longest time my only mods (outside multiple ear piercings) were a piercing in my left eyebrow and a small dolphin tattooed on my right ankle. I felt completely balanced because they were adorning two extreme points on my body.

    Even now, I have a tattoo on my left forarm and both calves tattooed. My right calf piece is bigger than my left so it balances everything out.

  22. to me its also more balance than symmetry…
    on my left side i have my cartlidge and 2 lobe piercings
    on my right i have my nostril and 2 lobe piercings

    it drove me nuts until i got my nose pierced!!

    in the future i want a industrial (right) and tragus (left)
    but before i do that i need to figure out something else for my left… i dont think i’ll feel balanced without it

    i agree some piercings need to be symetrical like lobes and cheeks… but others look weird to me
    im not too fond of both nostrils being pierced but i think it wouldnt look right if someone with large gauge nostrils (like pauly) only had one

    my moms friend has 2 lobe piercings in one ear and 1 in the other… it drives me crazy to look at it
    according to her it was a trend…

  23. This applies to well to things that I’ve learned regarding composition in my drawing classes. Symmetry is very boring in art; if you have a painting that is exactly the same on either side, it becomes very visually unappealing. Balance is a different story; a painting that is unbalanced leads the eye to ignore space on the canvas, which means that it becomes wasted space, unnecessary to the composition. (I’m pretty sure that anyone who has either had good high school art classes or college-level experience can understand what I’m trying to get at.)
    For myself, I try to keep most of my piercings symmetrical, but some are balanced. For instance, it felt fine to have to eyebrow piercings on the right, because they were balanced by the industrial on my left. For tattoos, it’s not important to me at all; the entire left side of my head/neck is covered in tribal, but I don’t have anything corresponding on my right. It’s very odd when You really think about it.
    As an aside, I don’t think that the left/right symmetry of the photo worked well because the model’s head seems to be very slightly tilted to her left. If the photo had been rotated to be perfectly aligned vertically, I think that the results would have been more pleasing. …But this is an uneducated opinion.

  24. I realized long ago that I wasn’t one of those individuals gifted with perfectly (or nearly) symmetrical features. When I got into body modification, I realized that here was a chance to make changes to make me look like myself. Piercings and tattoos (etc) should always be decided in mind of where they’re going. That means taking into account one’s personal local and general asymmetry. So a piercing might have to be set off a millimeter from the opposite to fit best with the curvature of muscle and skin. A tattoo might utilize different color or shape than it’s brother to enhance it’s own underlying tissue. In theory at least, body modification should enhance and embrace one’s symmetry or lack thereof. We need to try not to become too obsessed with smaller details such that we lose the overall picture.
    Body modification gives the individual the means to change their overall self, in different increments.

  25. When it comes to the human face, more symmetrical is more attractive, but TOO symmetrical looks really weird. Perfect mathematical symmetry of the face doesn’t occur in nature. That thing with the pictures, showing people that they are not perfectly symmetrical, is true for absolutely everybody. Try it with anyone’s picture. But it is also true that if a person is noticeably physically unbalanced, they are often judged to have poorer health, psychological problems and all of that.

    The human eye craves balance. All symmetry is balanced but not all balance is symmetrical. From a design perspective, there are two types, symmetrical and asymmetrical balance. Symmetry is used to for stability, unity, and order. It’s very calm, sedate, and therefore, sometimes considered boring. Asymmetrical balance is more dynamic because it’s achieved by balancing the visual force of unequal forms through contrast (e.g. value, direction, placement, shape, texture, isolation, and so on.) Asymmetry without balance is uncomfortable and unsettling. It gives you the sense that something is wrong even if you can’t figure out what.

    In terms of body mods, or anything else, unbalanced asymmetry is really what bugs people. Most people upon close inspection will find some asymmetry to them so there’s no point obsessing over it. Asymmetry doesn’t have to be a flaw. For people really concerned about it though, the focus should be more on developing visual awareness and achieving visual balance. I don’t know if that makes any sense to anyone I’m not very articulate.

  26. piercing-wise, I opt for symmetry. I’m not obsessed, I just think it is more aesthetically pleasing. My partner, however, is of the complete opposite opinion. Together, we are an odd couple!

  27. What about people who amputate only one digit etc. intentionaly not achieving symmetry? Also, the human body isn’t ALL symetrical, only one pancreas, liver…

  28. i tend to like asymmetrical piercings, like one anti-eyebrow or a monroe..i want a monroe, but my boyfriend is like “symmetry!! i can’t stand it when it’s uneven!” but i’m going to do it anyway.

    beauty is imperfection.

  29. I prefer assymetry–the human body is not symmetrical, and I like to enhance the beauty of that whenever possible. My bottom 3 ear piericngs are about all that symetrical on me–I have to admit to liking having both lobes the same gauge. I remember having a hard time convincing my piercer at the time that yes, I really did want five inner labia piercings. He thought six would be better because then I could lace them up, etc.

    When I think about it, I have far more piercings on the left side of my boday than right, with a few on my center line.

  30. This is a really interesting blog :) I’m glad by the comments too that I’m not the only one that doesn’t like symetry… I don’t like matching piercings, well apart from my lobes! And I feel wierd if I have to wear matching socks, but I wouldn’t wear odd gloves. I do like balance though, it’d be odd to have way more mods on one side than the other! I wonder what it secretly says about those that crave assymetry though, is it cause we want to be different from the norm deep down, or cause we want to repel potential mates and look unfertile? Hmmmmmm :)

  31. I tried this just then! Thanks for the site. It’s interesting to see the difference, and how akward it can look like despite how we believe how symnetry=beauty.

  32. Bah to symmetry. Unless my piercings are on my center line, Nothing about my mods are symettrical. Even my stretched earlobes, one is 2″, one is a pair of broken danglies, and I like it equally as much as when they were both 2″.

    Let me never be content.
    Let me never be complete.
    Let me never be perfect.

    So I ripped of Fight Club? So what? Wanna fight about it?

  33. I gave up on syummetry a long time ago.
    My face is far from symmetrical.. and I do as fine in life as I need to :) (married about to start a new career, good friends, etc).

    My wife has, in the past complained about my asymmetrical piercings, but I think she realizes it’s just the way it is… and doesn’t seem to care any longer. Hehe.

    I’ve even thought about only inking the left side of my body (not all of it). Who knows.

  34. i’ve seen people with one earlobe stretched and one untouched… the untouched one always looks so sad and left out…

  35. I’m one of those really symmetrical people by nature. My face is almost perfectly symmetrical (before anyone gets jealous…it’s symmetrically ugly…XD.) and I like to keep things as symmetrical as possible because I feel that it makes me feel more..balanced.

    I honestly feel the “weight” of something on only one side. It’s all mental, obviously, but I have to match on both sides or it really drives me nuts.

  36. most of my piercings are symmetric, 2 lip piercings, nipples, my 1 inch lobes, 2 tragus piercings. i do have a nostril piercing, no plans for the other side though. and going to get 2 dydoe piercings. and tattoos. 8 of them that are same on the other side of my body. i dont feel like i have to have them like that, well with my tragus i did kinda. i got it pierced, and went back an hour later cause it felt funny to me. i think it was just cause i was deciding if i should or not. and then i got it, and was like pssh heck yeah. thats my story.

  37. for a long time I thought that I needed to have my piercings symmetrical. I started with three lobe piercings in each ear. After I wound up loosing an earring and never bothering to replace it, I felt more comfortable with the idea that things did not have to match. I went out and got a cartlidge piercing (at 16 and with it being my first needle piercing -no gun- I was hooked) and the idea that both ears did not have to match became less of a deal.

  38. I’m so obsessed with symmetry that when i got my farthest molar tooth pulled out not too long ago I felt absolutely off balance because my other bilateral molar tooth was still there… i was close to asking him to pull it out too….lol but i didn’t.

    For me asymmetry is more of a spiritual and physical balance. I recentely lost my left nostril piercing and left with only the right one, i took it out, because i could literally “feel” the asymmetry, just lying in bed.

    When I get piercings, its always two, unless im piercing in the midline of my body, like my septum or tongue (center)…

  39. I’m planning on getting only my left cheek pierced in a few days, and people seem absolutly irritated by the fact that im not doing both. “But you HAVE to get them both done…it wont look even otherwise!” Ha.

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