Wednesday, January 5, 2011

It's in the Eyes

[This is a follow-up to Eyes and I.]

Having matching prosthetic eyes has been both what I expected and anything but what I predicted. Though I know I made the right decision for me, I have yet to feel comfortable with this new version of myself. And there's absolutely no forgetting they are there because they make themselves known in countless ways. For example, over the holidays I discovered that your eye lids don't like touching the freezing surface of acrylic. It's like touching any mucus membrane to cold plastic. Ugh.

There are moments when I forget they exist and go through my life pretty much as I did prior to all this eye craziness. It's peaceful to just be the me I've always known. Then some physical reminder will transpire and I'm back to consciously knowing I'm different from before. I pause during the day and take deep breaths trying to inhale a new self-concept that includes these eyes that I try to not view as other. They might come out, but they are me. Trying to wrap your mind around that is not exactly easy.

The other mind-bending aspect of this is other's reactions. Actually, it's the lack of reaction. Friends who have known me for years have literally not been aware of the change. Apparently the ocularist made eyes that so fit me that they look like they've been there my entire life. Since I'm not sighted, I can't exactly judge what superficially seems to be a deficiency in observational skills. Not noticing? It blows my mind each and every time it happens.

Based on who has and has not noticed, I have come up with a determining factor – how the person felt about my appearance before. I suspect those actively disturbed by it are aware of the change because they are aware of how I look in general.

Part of me worries that those who do not see changes in how I look may have gotten to a point where they don't really see me anymore. Did that "not seeing me" happen as a coping mechanism for being around me? The idea that people must not truly see me to be comfortable around me is upsetting and all too familiar.

Then we have changes in behavior. One man who I know in a wait staff capacity suddenly became much friendlier, making certain I knew his name, tossing off "good night" or "take care" when I walked past him out the door, and trying to strike up conversations. I'll admit it freely. My response has been polite indifference. Personally, I think he's lucky I haven't given him a lecture on not treating people differently based on how they look.

And of course there was the "beautiful" incident. I encountered an acquaintance who hadn't seen me in months. While it took a minute for the difference to register, when it did her reaction was the most intense thus far. She said, "Oh, wow, your new eyes. They look great." Then her voice changed as she cupped my cheek in her hand and said, "You look beautiful." I held back, "I looked beautiful before, too. Glad you finally noticed."

Finally, the other day I am pretty sure my request for the Cheese Man to go above and beyond was met because I asked in a funny way, tossed my hair, and smiled. Never has that happened to me before. There's a certain heady power in it that I hope I never exploit.

So has this changed my thinking about anything? Yes. It dawned upon me recently that I am walking around with less about me that gives people pause. I have long posited that physical differences such as scars, abnormal features, or deformed eyes loom so large in other's perceptions that they are unable to see the individual. Not only are my physical charms beyond their ken, but they don't really notice my intelligence, sense of humor, or quirky personality. My physical difference blinds them to who I am.

Now with my "normalized" appearance, there is less to kidnap other's awareness. This will shape my interactions in ways I cannot ever know for such a thing is impossible to assess. Its impact on dating does seem clear to me. With less obscuring me, people will have a better chance to know me which I find disturbingly wrong, but nonetheless my new reality. On one hand, I will never know if a person would have found me attractive before. On the other hand, I won't object to an increased chance of romantic entanglements.

I mourn the loss of my old appearance. It taught me so much about society and human nature. With my new eyes, I am now experiencing the world in a different way. Much of it makes me even more convinced that societal standards of appearance are wrong and need to change. If anything, I am more motivated to change the world.

2 comments:

Kim said...

It was time for me to catch up on your postings and I did. Plenty of food for thought. I can't help but think that, ironically, your new "eyes" are causing (I don't want to say "forcing") you to "see" the world in a new way. Which is poetically appropriate, and probably worth much more thinking than I can do now....

Jen said...

Yes, Kim, I am being given a new perspective on the world. It's fascinating and I only wish I could observe it visually. How many people are now trying to make eye contact? How many men are looking at me in ways they possibly didn't before? Who amongst my friends is reacting and who isn't?

I think I put up a new picture for my profile with the new eyes. I'm cuious if anyone will notice. Next I''m putting it on Facebook.