Sample Chapter from The Face Reader by Patrician McCarthy, published by Dutton, 2007

You also are welcome to download a PDF of this sample chapter here.


The nose knows. It sits right there, in the middle of your face, playing a key role in telling the world who you are. Despite what the Earth personality believes, we do not live by bread alone. We need air. And our nose transports it down to our lungs, transporting it, filtering it, and warming it on its journey. If something gets trapped during this filtration, we sneeze it away—at more than one hundred miles per hour! That’s some powerful proboscis we’ve got.

Smell is an invaluable primitive sense. It alerts us if our house is on fire, or to the sexy, sensual scent of the person next to us in the café. And it has a lot to do with other appetites. Without smell, we cannot taste as acutely. If we are nosy, we will find out the answer to many mysteries.

In Mien Shiang our nose tells the world how much ego, power, drive, and leadership we have. As with all the features, size is the indicator, and in this case size tells us if someone wants to be “out there” or hang back and blend in with the crowd. One of the top ten questions I am asked in my workshops is whether reshaping your nose affects your personality. I am convinced it does. And more than one actor or entertainer’s career has taken a nosedive after he reduced the size of his nose. The nose is the subliminal symbol of power, ego, drive, and leadership in most all cultures. When you make your nose smaller, you are perceived as less strong. I believe Michael Jackson’s huge popularity and power began to recede at the same time, and as fast, as his nose did.

Always consider the metal element associations for the nose

  • characteristics — power, ego, drive, leadership
  • emotion — grief
  • element — Metal
  • organ — lungs
  • color — white
  • ages — early to late forties


  • large nose — power, leader, drive, ego, independent
  • small nose — imaginative, spontaneous, fun, naïve, outbursts
  • disproportionately large nose — strong survival skills, self-centered, very independent
A large nose that fits the face

A large nose that fits the face

The larger the nose, the more power, ego, drive, leadership, and desire to work independently. The United States is full of large-nosed people: migrants, pioneers, and adventurers who have overcome great obstacles to carve out a new life in a strange and often unreceptive country.

People with small noses frequently ask me if that means they do not have enough power, ego, and drive to be effective leaders. The answer of course is that anyone can be a leader, even a great leader, no matter the size of his or her nose (or other features). Large-nosed people have the gift of leadership traits, so they don’t have to struggle; they are natural leaders. The rest of us who don’t have those gifts merely have to work harder, more diligently, or maybe longer to obtain those goals. We can also partner with large-nosed people who are looking to us for our natural gifts that complement their challenges. Of course, if you have a small nose but prominent cheeks and cheekbones, your gifts of confidence and authority will more easily propel you to leadership roles. Or perhaps your Water features, such as a prominent forehead signaling your creative imagination, and your strong, determined jaws, are all the natural gifts you need to be in the lead.

A small nose that fits the face

A small nose that fits the face

Many with small noses don’t care to be leaders. They are best in group activities where they use their creative imaginations and spontaneity. Their challenge is that they can be naïve visionaries, impatient for results. This leads to frustration, which can lead to temper outbursts. Even so, they do think of others and are always willing to help out for the greater good, usually making the task fun. They love to play and have to love what they do in order to work hard.

I first met Paolo several years ago at a friend’s party. He was in his mid thirties, quite handsome, exceedingly charming, and spoke several languages. I was hardly surprised to see him surrounded by admirers all evening. But I was surprised to learn that he was president of a hot new start-up company that was making news all over Los Angeles. He had been entertaining us with the stories behind the headlines all evening, and I had been studying his face. I had a hunch about something so I sought out our hostess.

Christine had known Paolo for years, so I asked her if by any chance this eminently successful company of his was co-owned by a family member? “Oh, yes,” she said, pointing to a man of about forty who had recently arrived. “His brother Stefan is the CEO—and the brains behind it all. He lets Paolo be president or vice president of all his companies.”

Paolo had such a small nose that I had suspected he was more a figurehead than an innovative business leader. His great gift was his charisma, and I’m sure he brought much initial attention and interest to the company with this charm. I also knew that no matter how much fun it was to start a business, to keep it thriving you had to work very hard. Once the fun is gone, often so is the small-nosed person. Within months I heard that Paolo had suddenly left the company to travel in South America. Luckily, he has several successful family members scattered across a few continents and has had much fun over the years enjoying his impressive titles at many of these family businesses.

Here is a case in Mien Shiang where more is too much: Disproportionately large-nosed persons, those whose large nose is much too big for their face, are self-centered, thinking of themselves first, second, and always. Their strong survival instincts make them great adventurers. They are not good team players and not very good leaders, either, but they wouldn’t agree. They are better off working independently.

A long nose

A long nose


  • long nose — business-oriented, good sense, success, ambitious, proud
  • short nose — loyal, compassion, wary, difficulty committing

The nose of Thomas Wedders, the English circus performer, was seven and a half inches long.

The longer your nose, the prouder you are, and for good reason. You have a good nose for business, common sense, a healthy sense of ambition, great instincts, and people respond positively to your leadership. Your biggest problems are often derived from your greatest strengths. Your tendency to resent those who do not show appreciation for all of your tireless efforts can cause dissension in the workplace. Be careful not to look down your lovely long nose at those who do not have the same natural sense of fairness and justice that you have. And remember, family life does not need to run with the same efficiency as your work life. In fact, it shouldn’t. Trust that having fun is good for you and your family.

16  A short nose (but the strong chin gives the subject a  strong will)

A short nose (but the strong chin gives the subject a strong will)

Short-nosed people are loyal and compassionate, but generally short on drive and ambition. They just don’t have the emotional stamina to thrive in competitive conditions and are often wary and overwhelmed by those who have strong egos and drive. They like the results that the aggressive types get, and this can lead to frustration, even resentment, and a rough time committing to anything. A colleague of mine, Janos, has a short nose, but a strong ego, plenty of drive, and natural leadership. He is like so many other people who are “shorted” by one gift, but make up for it with others. Janos’s prominent eyebrows denote his intense passion, his high-angled cheekbones reveal his natural authority, and he has the most determined jaws on the planet. If his nose were any longer, I am convinced his ego and drive would be much too overwhelming. He’s just right the way he is.

Set and Positioning

  • high-set nose — ambitious, proud, energetic, pacesetter, self-reliant, doesn’t like rules
  • low-set nose — loyal, traditional, good partner, family-oriented
A high-set nose

A high-set nose

My friend Brian is a social activist and agitator with the highest-set nose of anyone I’ve ever met. The gift of the high-set nose is primarily ambition, and no one can match his when it comes to his crusade to eliminate hunger and empower the poor and oppressed in his own country. This nose certainly “comes off his face,” which the ancient Taoists considered necessary to be a warrior and leader; it reflects his self-reliance, abundant energy, and righteous pride to confront hostility and demand change without fear of intimidation. This is not a nose that goes by the rules. In fact, I would call it a revolutionary nose.

The Taoist monks claimed that people who have low-set or flat, close noses are not so interested in being leaders. But they do like working for powerful leaders who have clearly defined values and expectations that they can plug right into. Their loyalty is a valuable asset, but it can lead them astray if the leaders they admire lose their own moral ground.

A low-set nose

A low-set nose

Derek, a former student of mine, has a low-set nose. Last year, while in his third year of studying Traditional Chinese Medicine, he realized that the homeless and poor of Los Angeles’ downtown skid row would benefit immensely from acupuncture treatments. Unfortunately, he could find no acupuncture clinics on skid row where he could volunteer his skills. So, this man with a low-set nose quickly gathered six of his fellow Traditional Chinese Medicine students and a licensed practitioner from Yo San University and headed down to skid row, needles, herbs, and nutritious food in hand. That was the beginning of the continuing mobile clinic that draws together more clients, practitioners, and students each time. If that isn’t leadership, what is? The difference that I detect between the leader with the high-set nose and one with the low-set nose is the high energy versus the low-key energy; the tearing away at boundaries versus the pushing for new paths; the self-reliant warrior versus the team player. Which is better? Neither, of course. They both create momentous transformation in their own vital way.


  • narrow nose — narrow outlook and range of interests, conservative with money
  • thin nose — sensitive, moody, intuitive, self-centered, refined, easily influenced
  • sharp and pointed nose — a nose for news
  • broad nose — enthusiastic, sensual, optimistic, dependable, capable
  • straight nose — loyal, successful, disciplined, impatient, appearance important, fair
A narrow nose

A narrow nose

Be careful not to confuse the narrow outlook and narrow range of interests of the narrow nose person with narrow-mindedness. These people tend to be mega-experts, honing in on the most detailed, esoteric specifics of their chosen interests. They do not like to spend money frivolously or frequently. Nominate them for your club or class treasurer, but don’t expect them to join you for an impromptu weekend trip to Paris for shopping.

A thin nose is different from a narrow nose, but it is a fine distinction. Once you get used to looking at thousands of noses, you will begin to see the subtle differences. In Mien Shiang a thin nose means that the bone and cartilage seem delicate or fragile, and the skin stretches so tightly over the nose that it appears it might tear. A student once noted that many nose jobs have this look, and I have to agree with her. The description for those with thin noses sounds like the prototype for the country-club set: refined, elegant, delicate, with impeccable taste. One of their challenges is that they are easily influenced regarding issues of taste, propriety, and trends. This desire to be proper, appropriate, and perfect can make them appear self-centered. When they find themselves too dependent on others’ opinions, they need to rely on their astute intuition. Their occasional moodiness seems to be more snappish than heavy or depressed, not making them good candidates to be nurtured out of their moods. They would rather be left alone to sort things out.

A thin, sharp, and pointed nose

A thin, sharp, and pointed nose

Do you have a thin nose that is particularly sharp and pointed? Then you have a great nose for news. With your natural inquisitiveness and probing nature, you would make a great investigative reporter. Or at least a popular person in your social and work groups because you know all the stories and fine details about everyone and everything.

A few years ago an energetic vegetarian nutritionist with a thin, sharp, and pointed nose attended my workshop at a beautiful California coastal resort. She was hoping this Mien Shiang workshop would help her learn enough about the Five Elements for her to create fitting menus for her clients based on their elemental types. I loved her enthusiasm and ingenuity, but the other workshop attendees were becoming perturbed with her frequent interruptions to apply my teachings to her specific needs. She amiably agreed to hold some of her questions for our breaks, and to e-mail me later in the week. I thanked her, then added, “By the way, you have what we call a wonderful nose for news.”

“I should have,” she answered, rolling her eyes. “I was an award-winning journalist for fifteen years.”

“I have a feeling you’re going to be an award-winning nutritionist, too,” I told her. My guess is that by now there is nothing she does not know about any fruit or vegetable, from avocados to zucchinis, and that she can apply all of the details of the Five Elements to her culinary creations.

A broad nose

A broad nose

If you have a broad nose, you might be the one to take off on that impromptu intercontinental shopping spree. You love to be on the go and will enthusiastically take advantage of as many opportunities for pleasure as you can. Though you can get lost

in sensual pursuits, you know your limits. Your many friends depend on you, and you don’t let them down.

Besides the thin-nosed people, you will see a lot of straight-nosed people in the country-club sets, especially among the Metal personalities. Something about the straight nose looks elegant and regal. Perhaps that is why these people are often thought of as being snobbish, even when they are the most egalitarian people on the planet, though it is true that appearance and appearances are quite important to them. They are always impeccably dressed, and their homes and offices are attractive and neat as a pin. They value their relationships and are disciplined, fair-minded employers and employees. Though they are impatient by nature, they are not snappish or rude.

A straight nose

A straight nose

Success seems to come easily to the straight-nosed person. It doesn’t hurt that their friends, coworkers, and family frequently offer help and advice.

I knew an exceptionally straight-nosed woman who was intent on climbing the social ladder. Though Margot didn’t yet have the income or affiliations she needed to reach the top, she looked fabulous. She worked hard on looking the part, and that alone helped her attain a few rungs on her climb. One day she was trying to explain to me why our mutual friend Lydia couldn’t be invited to her holiday dinner party. “You mean she’s not coming because she doesn’t look right?” I asked, thinking I was teasing Margot.

“Well, yes,” she nodded, relieved that I finally understood. “I’m hoping to get appointed to the board of the museum, and two of the members will be at the party. You can imagine what impression I would make if I had a shop girl at the table, dressed like a ragamuffin.”

“She’s been your friend for thirty years,” I protested. “She’ll be crushed.” “Of course she won’t. She understands how these things work. Besides, I’m having another party the next week and she’ll be my guest of honor.” Before I could protest further, I remembered that Lydia also had a precision straight nose; she most likely did understand how these things work. And both she and Margot had considered each other loyal and trustworthy friends for many years. I decided to mind my own business.

An interesting addendum: Since my friend’s appointment to the board of the museum, I haven’t been invited to any of her dinner parties. Oh, dear.

Three thousand years ago the ancient Taoists believed
that large-nosed women would make their husbands
successful, and the small-nosed women would nurture
their husbands to success. In these modern times,
those women use these same skills to make or
nurture their own successes.

Tip of the Nose

  • rounded tip — material pleasures
  • fleshy tip — quality, gourmand
  • split tip — split feelings of materialism
A true gourmand’s nose, round and fleshy

A true gourmand’s nose, round and fleshy

A rounded nose belongs to the material girls or boys. They are not greedy, but they appreciate things of quality. They would rather go without than put up with an inferior substitute.

If you love good-quality food and drink, you most likely have a gourmand’s nose, one with a fleshy tip. If you don’t have one yourself, these are the people to dine with. Let them choose the restaurant and the menu. Sit back and enjoy.

People with either fleshy or rounded tips of their noses that are split (bigger on one side than the other) have split feelings about their love of things and food. It might be their guilt that keeps them from completely enjoying themselves. A student once said he was glad that the end of his fleshy nose had a little split in the middle. Otherwise, he was sure he would be very overweight.

Markings on the Nose

Reminder about facial markings
  • Markings such as scars, lines, and some discolorations are acquired, while others, such as moles and birthmarks, can be inherited.
  • Markings on the left or right sides of the face reveal father’s or mother’s influence as well as your own inner or outer personality and behavior.
A nose with a split tip

A nose with a split tip

Markings on the tip of the nose reflect the emotions of the heart. If the markings are red, it means the feelings are inflamed or highly emotional. Greenish or brown markings usually indicate that not only is the heart hurt, but anger is attached to that heartache.

A few years ago we were discussing these markings in class at Yo San University, and the next week Jason, one of my students, came in a little bit late, after everyone else was seated. Before I knew it, his classmate Vivien called out, “Oh, goodness, Jason, you have a heartbreak!”

Jason’s cheeks turned as red as the bright dot on the tip of his nose. He ignored the comment and slumped into his seat. I gave the rest of the class a nod to let them know that we would not pursue Vivien’s comment, and to please stop trying to catch a look at the tip of poor Jason’s nose! (Not that the round, vivid red dot on the left side of the tip of his nose was hard to miss — it was a classic.)

During the class break all the students rushed out of the classroom, except Jason. Sure enough, he told me, his heart had been broken a few days ago and he was suffering. All I could do was offer my sympathy and remind him of his good qualities and strengths, which were many. I also pointed out that since the red dot was on his left side, he might want to be careful of keeping his feelings too closely guarded inside himself. “I know you are intensely private, but remember to let those close to you know you need their help right now; don’t try and do this alone,” I urged him.

Jason gave me a long, sardonic look, then said, “Like I could keep any secrets from this class. Face reading — harrumph!”

To his immense credit, when we resumed class, Jason offered to sit in the “hot seat” so that his fellow students could observe the marking on the tip of his nose, and for the next few weeks he let them monitor it, confirming their educated guesses that as the red dot grew paler and smaller, so did his heartbreak. It took a while, though. I was happy that by being a dedicated acupuncture student Jason was able to get the support he needed.

Inevitably, whenever I teach about the tip of the nose and the heart’s emotions, someone will ask me about Michael Jackson. It has been reported, and pictures do seem to confirm, that he has literally lost the tip of his nose. They will ask, “Does that affect his heart emotions?” Since I do not know Mr. Jackson, nor do I know much about his personal life, I am of course reluctant to speak as an expert on his emotions of the heart. But I do admit that I would be shocked if the constant reshaping and eventual loss of his nose tip has not had a harrowing effect on his heart. I fear that he could indeed be in perpetual heartache.