Not What You’d Expect: What Blind People Can Teach Us About Physical Beauty

Courtesy of WatchCut Video

What does beauty mean if you’re blind?  After all, you can’t see, right?  Does it actually matter to a person who can’t see?

The answer?  Yes!

I came across a fascinating video by WatchCut Video interviewing blind men and women on their relationship to beauty.   This video generated over 900 comments and over 400,000 views (for video see below).  Why?  Because this short film gives us an honest and thoughtful view into how blind people really think about how we all look.  While they may not be able to see, their desire to be beautiful and be among beautiful people is just as strong as that of seeing people.  We might have imagined that a world without sight would turn us into less shallow, deeper human beings.  But, alas it is not so.

I say, “Thank goodness!”

The women and men in the video admit how important it is for them to be attractive, and for their mates look good as well.  Despite society’s pressure on us not to be vain, or certainly to never admit to it, they, refreshingly, confess that they DO care about it.

So how do blind people experience beauty?  As one subject states: “other senses kick in.” Blind people can detect a curvaceous body, or gorgeous sound, a sexy scent, and smooth skin.  As expected, they don’t think vision has a whole lot to do with people’s perception of beauty.

Some of you idealists may bemoan this story, as you yearn for a utopian society where we can be like the unseeing, that is, blind to others’ physical looks.  Considering all the pressures to be beautiful and all the biases around appearances, I understand this sentiment.  But this video brings something else to light that I still think can still inspire all of us.  Because beauty can be experienced through all of our senses, we all have beautiful aspects of ourselves to appreciate, or to appreciate in others.  It could be someone’s infectious laugh, tender skin or warm touch. This video reminds us of all the gorgeous parts of ourselves and others that we often ignore.  But, also, by resurfacing the physical characteristics of beauty we often forget, this video reminds us us to open our eyes to all the many, many more ways the world around us is so beautiful.

Thank you to all the brave and beautiful blind participants in this video for helping us see more clearly.

Is the World of Commerce Our Major Source of Beauty? Are We OK With That?


I was struck by a recent article in The Week by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry titled “Steve Jobs And the Modern Hunger for Beauty.”  With the anniversary of Steve Jobs’s death and the recent release of another movie about his life, Gobry takes a look at Jobs’s passion for beauty and our willingness, no hunger, to follow suit.  Gobry artfully takes us through time and explains the changing views of beauty from something spiritual to scientific to political to commercial.

What is most disturbing is not that we no longer have an appreciation for beauty or that we are not fulfilling it, but HOW we are fulfilling it.  As he writes, “the pressures of free market capitalism create a world which has room only for brute efficiencies — we used to build cathedrals, now we build megamalls.”  Are we OK with that?  Of course I appreciate any and all forms of beauty — from computers to office parks.  But what about beauty for its own sake, not as a way to enhance a functional space or a tool but as an experience all on its own?

Some could argue that we don’t have the time to appreciate or that we don’t live in a culture that values beauty on its own terms.  For example, we aren’t going to cathedrals or hanging around museums nearly as much as we used to so why not invest beauty into our everyday things?  I get it.  After all, trying to drag my kids to a museum is as likely as me meeting Matt Damon up on Mars.

The reality is so much of today’s culture is around commerce.  If the only ways we can truly appreciate beauty are via today’s everyday cultural spaces and things — malls, office parks, computers and automobiles, then I say let’s take it.  Moreover, by integrating beauty with these more accessible and everyday aspects of culture  (vs the distant or even intimidating places like cathedrals and museums) we may actually appreciate beauty even more.

Sure, I love those moments when I’m taken out of the everyday bustle of life and struck by something beautiful.  I crave moments when I can just revel in it.  But if I and my family can get just a taste of it more often and without trying too hard, I say why not!



Weekend Observations: Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Beauty?

Can you suffer from beauty overload?  In other words, can too much beauty decrease its positive effect on us?
I was thinking about this after hearing a provocative and well-presented talk about the hazards of ostentatiousness within our community.  The argument, which I vehemently agree with, is that public displays of lavishness make those who are less well-off feel ashamed for their lack of wealth.
I’m sure you’d all nod our heads as this too.  But what does this have to with beauty exactly?
If you took each element of a highly extravagant party apart, you would probably notice how beautiful each one of these elements were, e.g., the flowers or the music etc.  But because they are piled one top of one another, they lose their luster.  Being choiceful about what we choose to buy and experience will undoubtedly make us appreciate those singular items or moments more acutely.  Do we need 100 pairs of shoes or bags?  No, of course not.  But maybe we should ask ourselves, will appreciate all those shoes and bags less because we have so many.  Maybe…
I love beauty and I think we should find ways to experience it as much as possible.  But I now wonder whether we need so much of it.  Yes, we should embrace beauty always, but maybe not embrace all of beauty always.

Why We Are Attracted to Art From a Neuroscience POV

From a scientific and evolutionary point of view, we are attracted to art.  But why?  The beauty of the person I can understand.  According to most theories out there we are attracted to bodies that appear healthy and reproductive.

But art? Huh?

Among the many theories I’ve shared in this blog, here’s one that I find particularly fascinating.  I’m basing my summary of this theory on an excerpt I read in the NY Times.  I have to admit, it was one of these articles that took me five times of careful reading to understand, and I probably only understood 20% of it.  BUT, I think I “got” the most important 20%.

According to the author, Eric Kandel, and based off of numerous neurological experiments, it’s been proven that our brains are wired to respond to the beauty of art.   But why have our brains formed that way? We are attracted to art because we want to understand and share in the thinking of the artist.  It’s an inherent desire.  As Kandel writes: “our response to art stems from an irrepressible urge to recreate in our own brains the creative process – cognitive, emotional, and emphatic – through which the artist produced the work.”  In other words, through art appreciation we aren’t only just observing a beautiful creation, but actually getting into the brains of the artists and learning how they think.

My question is whether we’re conscious of this in any way.  So much of beauty is visceral, no?  Though, after reading this theory I can sort of see it in my own behavior; I just never thought of it that way.

I guess the next time I see a beautiful piece of art, I’ll have to see if I recognize this myself.