At one of the three Seders I attended, a gentleman approached me and said, “You probably hear this a lot, but you have beautiful eyes.” No it wasn’t a pass, just a passing compliment. So why is this a big deal? Well, until about a year and a half ago, I always thought my eyes were brown—not that there is anything wrong with brown eyes. I just don’t have them. They are actually a little hazel and green, and even sometimes have blue rims around them. Yet, though I have looked in the mirror millions of times in my life, I never noticed. It started me thinking about how many things we never notice in ourselves and in those around us—but mostly in ourselves!
Several years ago, the Dove marketing team had an FBI forensic artist sketch a series of women based purely on the way they described themselves, and again as others described them. The artist could only hear their voices, not see their faces.
As reported by Emily Sohn in “Why We Don’t See Ourselves as Others Do,” on Discovery.com, “the video revealed stark differences between the way the women saw themselves and the way others saw them.” It turned out that “the self-described portraits were the least attractive” – leading the Dove marketing team to conclude “that we are all more beautiful than we think we are.”
So, why can’t we see ourselves as we really are?
Sohn points out that experts say our sense of self-image develops through a “complicated interplay between cultural ideals, life experiences and accumulated comments by others. The result is, inevitably, a distortion of reality.”
It’s relatively easy to pick ourselves out in a photograph. According to David Schlundt, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, that’s because “we all have internal representations of what we look like.”
Schlundt adds that all of our experiences, negative messaging, all the teasing we experienced as a child, all the self-consciousness we had during adolescence, and all the worrying about whether we would be accepted as good enough or attractive enough, affect how we think of ourselves. “It’s not a perceptual thing,” adds Schlundt. “It’s a combination of emotion, meaning and experience that builds up over our lifetime, and gets packaged into a self-schema.”
What this means is that our perceptions of ourselves are not objective. “They are really tinged and colored by the emotional experiences we have had.” And how we see ourselves often affects how we interact with others. For relationships to be healthy we not only need to see those in our lives clearly, but see ourselves clearly as well.
Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.