From Spelling God with Two O’s
Infants are looked at, even before they can look back. As children grow, they cover their nakedness. Choosing how we want to be seen is a part of controlling our own destinies. So we pull the shades and close the door. We avert our gaze, as a matter of respect, away from the person shown in a manner not of his or her own choosing. Being seen improperly can cause injury.
We present ourselves as we want to be understood. Appearance is an announcement, an advertisement of yourself; how you choose to appear to others is a reflection of your values.
There is no clear distinction between the you that others see and the you that you believe yourself to be. Your self-image is shaped by what you think others think you are. And much of what others think you are is what they see of you.
Appearances can also deceive. There may well be a beauty in the beast. But a total disregard of appearances is to misunderstand our place in the world. We move about, others come across us and they see us. People are as much a part of the landscape as clouds and trees, buildings and streets. We know that our souls are soothed by objects of beauty and are assaulted by things that are ugly. What beauty you have, let others see, thereby making their lives more pleasant.
When poet Louis Simpson was visiting his ailing mother in Italy, he spent time at outdoor cafes doing what many do—people-watch. Here, from his memoir, is one of his comments on that experience:
“Italians are good-looking. Even the old ones who are thin or fat or bent out of shape seem to remember when they were good-looking. They care how others see them and try to make the best of what’s left. Not like Americans who walk about in a cloak of invisibility . . . as doctors, accountants, truck drivers. Italians know they are being looked at; you can’t go through life trying not to be seen; you are here definitely, a part of the universe, so you should try to make as pleasing an impression as you can. You owe it to others.”