What’s the Deal with Dimples?
by Allison Ford
Dimples just might be the most desired flaw on the human body. They’re a symbol of youth, of impishness, and of innocence. But dimples are still a flaw, and even though the face claims the vast majority of dimples, it’s not the only place they can show up.
The Most Fabulous Facial Flaw
A dimple is a minor imperfection in the skin, caused by a shortened muscle, the zygomaticus major, which runs from the middle of the cheekbones to the corners of the mouth and lifts up the corners of your lips when you smile. When this muscle is not correctly formed, whether it’s attaching to the wrong part of the jawbone or it’s simply too short, the result is a dimple. The shortened muscle pulls at the skin, creating the little peck that appears on the cheek, just above the corners of the mouth. Most people’s dimples are only visible when they smile—that’s when the shortened muscle tugs at the skin most—but some people’s dimples are visible at all time.
Dimples are dominant genetic traits, so it only takes a single gene to inherit a parent’s dimples. If one or both parents have dimples, there’s a high probability that their child will have dimples, too. Even the look of a particular dimple is inheritable, and some families’ dimples are particularly deep, particularly large, or very recognizable. Most dimples occur bilaterally, that is, on both sides of the face. Everybody has two zygomaticus major muscles, and they are usually the same size. It’s much less common to have a dimple on only one side of the face. We associate dimples with youth because for many people, they only last through childhood. As we grow and age, our skin and muscles stretch, and sometimes dimples disappear.
From Top to Tush
Although facial dimples are the most recognizable, dimples can actually occur anywhere on the body where there is pliant skin and a layer of fat beneath the surface. Dimples on bony parts of the body like hands or feet are unlikely, but it’s possible for them to occur on buttocks, breasts, or stomachs.
One highly recognizable place for dimples is the lower back. Colloquially known as the “Dimples of Venus,” these small lateral indentations occur at the base of the spine, directly above the buttocks. They are the result of a shortened ligament that reaches from the spine to the skin. These dimples, sometimes called “back dimples,” occur much more often in women. They’re often seen as an incredibly desirable characteristic, but like other dimples, they are genetic, so there’s no exercise or weight-loss program that will lead to developing them.
Another more unusual dimple is a sacral dimple, which is a cleft in the skin that occurs directly above the crease of the buttocks. Some sources say that about one in twenty babies are born with this skin imperfection. Usually they’re shallow and nothing to worry about, but deep sacral dimples can sometimes become problematic as a child ages, when dirt, oil, and hair make their way into the indentation, possibly causing an infection. Keeping the area clean is usually enough to prevent complications, and for many children, the dimple goes away as they grow.
In extremely rare situations, a sacral dimple can be a sign of a more serious condition. If it’s very deep or accompanied by swelling, pain, or other signs of inflammation, it’s wise to have it checked by a doctor. Spina bifida is a condition where the skin surrounding the spinal cord does not properly fuse shut, and a sacral dimple is sometimes an indicator of this neurological defect. However, the vast majority of sacral dimples are harmless and don’t need any medical intervention.
Not every indentation on the body is a dimple. Cellulite on the lower body is caused by gaps in the connective tissue beneath the skin, which forces fat to gather in small pockets. It’s not caused by tiny muscular irregularities like true dimples. Many women love the look of a cleft in a man’s chin, but those ridges are usually caused by variations in the jaw bone itself, not the skin on top.
Our affinity for dimples probably won’t go away anytime soon. They make us think of cherubic children and the innocent days of childhood. For anyone not born blessed with this flaw, hope is not lost, thanks to modern medicine. It’s now common for surgeons to offer a dimple-creation procedure, recreating the effect of this muscle mistake for the truly dimple-desperate.