In a looks-obsessed world, are blind people immune to appearances when they fall in love? As a new film looks at how sight-impaired people find romance, Damon Rose who is blind, says you don't have to be sighted to be shallow.
There are many questions that blind people find themselves fielding regularly. There's the one about whether you can see in your dreams, the one about how you know where your mouth is when eating ... but the other, and possibly most surprising of all, is the one that goes: "How do you fancy someone if you can't see them?"
To answer the question simply and directly, blind people will tell you that it's the voice, brain and personality which initially catch the eye, or in this case, ear. It's a good understandable answer. Everyone hears attractive voices on the radio. Voices are powerful organs that convey humour, quirkiness, intelligence, sweetness and attitude.
How I'd love to be able to sit here and tell you that blind people are without prejudice... that's just not true
Your voice is the mouthpiece for the brain, it communicates your personality very effectively.
Though love at first sight may happen for people blessed with eyes, love after first discussion is the closest you'll get to it if you can't see.
I've often thought that "sighties" might be just a little bit disabled by having vision. I've seen friends chasing people for their looks yet getting hurt very badly because their beauty is only skin deep, their personality somewhat rotten.
But good looks and attraction can be complex for blind people. And oh how I'd love to be able to sit here and tell you that blind people are without prejudice: not caring if you're a prince or whether you're plug ugly and that we don't care about such superficial matters. Sadly, that's just not true.
It's impossible to live in the UK and not soak up discussions about beauty and presentability. It matters to everyone else, so of course it matters to us by proxy.
When I was a teenager, I went to a boarding school for blind children where the sound of wildly rushing male and female hormones could be heard on every corridor. I particularly remember a new girl arriving. No one took much notice in her first few weeks... until one lad said they'd heard she was blonde.
Blind Loves is a Slovakian film featuring four sight-impaired people
She may have been a quiet shrinking violet but she suddenly started getting a lot of attention after her hair colour was made known. Of course, few of her admirers could see her crowning glory, or even knew that blonde was a kind of light yellowy brown, but because "blondes" are talked about as desirable, and dare I say thought more attractive than darker haired people, she became very popular.
Shallow, isn't it. But beautifully so.
Similarly, a blind friend of mine fell completely head over heels in love with a girl he thought the world of. They started dating. He talked about her all the time and, as mates do, he stopped going down the pub and started to prefer homemade meals and a nice bottle of wine with his loved one.
I remember him saying how much he liked her soft voice and her perfume. They had similar politics, liked the same films, read the same books - a match made in heaven.
Then, his brother met her, unpleasantly told him she looked "a right dog" and my friend dumped her.
She was devastated... and he started going to the Red Lion again.
I found it terribly sad but half understood where he was coming from. So insecure was he about the world and what image and attractiveness meant, that he felt he had to get rid of someone who could reflect badly on him because he didn't know any better. And on this occasion, he deferred to his brother who can see, after all.
Feat of clay
Beauty is power. Attractive people have an air about them. They're often very confident. As the phrase goes ... they can walk into a room and own it. But if the room has blind people in it, the "power" of their looks goes out of the window.
This can be confusing for people whose good looks usually count for a lot more than I'm giving them.
Sighted ambassador for blind people - Lionel Richie and his lump of clay
Let me give you an example. I'm at a party. I start talking to someone. I have no idea whether they're good looking or not until this happens:
"I just thought I'd better tell you what I look like. I'm 5ft 5ins, I've got shoulder-length blonde hair, my eyes are a deep brown colour and my skin tones are very light. If anyone asks who was the petite one you were talking to, that'll be me."
Huh? What? Hello? How am I supposed to react to this?
This is a situation that a number of blind friends have reported happens to them too. In the early days I mistakenly thought I was being chatted up. As I got a older though, I began to realise that this was more of a case study in egotism.
Some people just can't bear the idea that the blind person in the room won't consider them special or even worth talking to... until they tell you how good looking they are. The irony is that blind people tend to think less of them for doing it.
Of course, Lionel Richie has taught us that blind people are even more soulful than his music. The video which accompanied his 1984 hit Hello featured a storyline where teacher Lionel had a seemingly unrequited love for a blind student in his art class.
At the end of the video, we discover she has feelings for him too because she modelled a likeness of his face. Her soul touched his in a way that meant she didn't need to be able to see him to know what he looked like. I guess the biggest insight into what blind people think is attractive is to hurl a lump of clay at them and see what they turn it into.
Damon Rose is editor of the BBC disability site Ouch! Blind Loves is showing at London's ICA until 7 June. See related internet links, right
Below is a selection of your comments.
Wilkie Collins's 1872 novel "Poor Miss Finch" is all about this issue (blind girl, identical twin brothers, she regains her sight from an early cataract operation but the twin she loves has been disfigured in the meantime). Recommended for anyone who is interested.
This article mentions perfume but makes no mention of how "natural" smells i.e. body adour, pheromones etc. affect the way a person is perceived by others (whether fully sighted or not. I find this very strange.
Marianna Galea Xuereb, Malta
The writer is absolutely right, we "blindies" (is that a word) still want to be seen partnering a good looking girl/boy. But relationships for the blind have so many more complications than can be addressed here. How do you make eye contact across a room, pick up a smile or a look that says "talk to me some more" etc, or even tell if someone is wearing a ring that indicates they are engaged/married. I know several blind people who find everything to do with relationships so much more difficult, as if it isn't bad enough for "sighties".
Ken Reid, North Berwick, Scotland
Thank you for this article. It not only helps me to understand blindness a little; but also helps me to understand myself. Well done.
Dave Weston, Walton-on-Thames
There's a reason why physical appearances matter, and they matter to everyone, probably even the blind. It's all about biology. As living organisms we are drawn to fitness (reproductive fitness) whether we are conscious of it or not. Perhaps the blind are less concerned with a well shaped nose and more concerned with a physically fit body. This stuff matters, it's etched in our DNA regardless of our physical abilities.
Mark, Seoul, Korea
Fascinating! I really enjoyed reading this. Such an honest and humorous insight.
A really thought-provoking article. Bringing out the point that, even though sighted and unsighted people have some differences, underneath we are all the same. Thanks
What a sensitive, truthful and informative article. The world today is 'looks-obsessed' and it is all pressurised image especially young females. Like blindness anyone with an impairment or disability are often talked at as if they are not there or less intelligent. Articles like this gladly set the record straight.
tim mcmahon, pennar/wales
Looks aren't everything but they do indicate reproductive health, which is an understandable selection mechanism for a mate. Why shouldn't blind people be as interested as anyone else in this aspect of a potential partner?
Tom Kennedy, Montpellier, France
I once went out with a blind girl, but our relationship was spoiled by her so called friends who told her I was only going out with her because I felt sorry for her! I rather suspect that they thought if she took up with a sighted person, she would leave them behind.
It's not something I've considered before but has made me rethink my own views.
Not sure I'm ever going to give a blind person a lump of clay in that case.