Friday, 6 September 2013

What I See when I look in the Mirror

According to its press release, the What I See Project is 'a global online platform that recognises and amplifies women's voices'. I was delighted to be asked to be part of this fascinating project, but I was also worried by the project's apparent emphasis on the visual. As I say in my video reflection, modern society's obsession with how we look has the unintended consequence of privileging sight over all the other senses. This in turn has the nasty effect of turning blindness into a tragedy. 

I have found that society's obsession with the misery of blindness makes it very difficult for the blind and the partially blind to feel happy and confident about themselves. When pity is the prevailing emotion you encounter in strangers, it is easy to think of yourself as a victim. Self-pity is a destructive state of mind; it leads to low self-esteem and depression. But until society stops pitying the blind, how will the blind learn to stop pitying themselves?

I want to use my part in the What I See project to encourage women to think critically about our relationship with sight. Why do we care what we see in the mirror? Why is appearance to crucial to us? Do we really learn important details about a person from how they look to us? My face-blindness means I cannot recognise my family, friends and colleagues by their facial features. Instead I recognise them by their general shape, their unique style and their voice. This can have its disadvantages but it also has its uses. It constantly reminds me that we are much more than what we appear to be: we have experiences, history, memories which are not necessarily visible on our surface. As another contributor to the What I See project, Karen Morris at Beyond the Bathroom Scale reminds us, bodily appearance is overrated. Karen writes eloquently about the need to embrace the reality of how our bodies look here.

The communicator videos and ambassador profiles on the What I See webpage are reassuringly resistant to the purely visual. It turns out that I needn't have worried. Most women see much more than their surface appearance when they look in the mirror. But society at large is still obsessed with sight. Hopefully this will change in the wake of this exciting project.

Upload a video describing what you see when you look in the mirror and you might win an invitation to the What I See launch event at the Science Museum on October 1st.

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