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The Power of Eyes

The other night Judith and I were watching a television program, a drama series that exhibits more than the usual amount of real-life feelings, and I was struck by how I am so much more affected by women’s and girls’ eyes than by men’s eyes. I suppose that’s not hard to figure, since I’m a man. But the more I thought about it, the more impressed I was by the power of eyes.

A few weeks ago, we saw a French Film, "Amélie," about a naïve young woman, and her beauty stunned me. Then I noticed that her eyes were black. I could see no iris at all. Now, they may have been dark brown, and it just didn’t show up very well in the print. I wondered if they were actually black contact lenses. Whatever, the effect on me was, as I said, stunning. If I had been a character in the film, I’d have given that woman anything she asked, swallowed as I was in the depths of her eyes.

A documentary program on Public Television a few months ago described some evolutionary aspects of the human face. It said that large dark eyes suggested arousal, and that is sexually stimulating (which of course is what evolution is all about). Large eyes in general suggest youth—a person’s eyes grow relatively little from childhood, so they seem larger in a small child’s face. And that stimulates the nurturing instincts in adults. It’s no cultural accident that large, widely spaced eyes are considered most attractive.

We have a dog, a female retriever named Tasha, who has big brown eyes that she uses to communicate with, manipulate and make weak kneed mere humans, as well as seeing what’s going on in the house and yard. When she wants something really badly, and she knows I know what she wants, she avoids looking directly at me. She just looks straight ahead. If she’s not sure I know, she’ll glance at her food cupboard, then ever-so-briefly at me, then back at the cupboard, as though to draw my eyes along with hers to the object of her desire. If I’m otherwise occupied, such as watching television, she will sit across the room, directly under the television set, and stare at me until I ask her what she wants. (Usually, it’s food. She doesn’t always get what she wants.) Or she will come up to my chair and lay her beautiful head on the arm, and turn those big brown eyes on me, and stay there until she’s acknowledged. There’s no way that any human being can resist those eyes.

On the other hand, our Himalayan cat, Comanchi (it’s spelled right—he started out as Chi when he was a gentle kitten, but then grew, well, you know.) has very interesting, crystal-clear gray-green eyes. When aroused, and that means in his case spoiling for a fight, his irises disappear and, depending upon the light, his eyes shine crystal black or glow bright yellow-orange. (Flash photos of him don’t show the familiar "red eye," they glare white-hot out of the picture.) I’ve wondered how he can see with his lenses adjusted to f-0.04—a camera with that kind of f-stop would have no depth of field whatsoever. It would be like when you have just left the ophthalmologist’s office with your eyes dilated. Maybe the narrow depth of field gives him a more precise estimate of distance for pouncing. Anyway, Comanchi doesn’t seem to have any problem seeing. But he doesn’t use his eyes seductively, as Tasha does. Not his style. Eyes are to see with.

And eyes are what both animals look at. Comanchi watches my eyes when he’s into mischief, for he knows I’ll act if I see him. If he’s on the dining room table, and I enter the room, by the time I’ve crossed the room to him, he’s gone. Tasha also watches us to see if we’re watching her when she’s trying to get us to do something for her, such as feed her or let her outside. Somehow she can anticipate our response, too, even before we’ve made a move.

I remember when women began to use dark eye makeup, back in the 1960s. Before that, sex appeal centered on the lips. That was probably an effect of Hollywood movies, especially in the black-and-white era. Some actresses—and actors—early in film used darkly outlined eyes, but it never struck me as sexy. The image quality wasn’t so good in the early days, so maybe that was a way to show you where the faces were. But after the World War Two movies, when Rita Heyworth and Yvonne deCarlo wore the reddest lips you ever saw, movies gradually went "natural" for a while. And then along came the miniskirt and eyeliner again. Startling at first, dark eyes became the norm. You could see the soft shape of a woman’s lips in the close-ups, without all the lipstick, and I got used to that, too. It wasn’t long before a woman who appeared in a film without heavy eye makeup looked as though she just woke up. Even when they showed a woman just waking up, she had on her mascara and eye-liner and whatever else they use. In real life, it would have been smeared all over her face and the pillow and probably the man’s shoulder, too. They didn’t dare cry.

But draw you in, they did. They did me, anyway.

There’s an old adage about flirting, that a woman flirts by staring at a man’s eyes, but a man flirts by staring at a woman’s lips. Works every time, they said, although the obvious question about how each one knew the other one was flirting didn’t get much press. One might also ask: is the woman who is staring at a man’s eyes looking to see whom he is looking at, or presenting him with those eyes? (In one movie from my youth, they were called "bedroom eyes." Probably by Bogart, or Van Johnson.) Perhaps, she is noticing that he is looking at her lips, which—well, may have the same effect on her. I might glance at a woman’s lips and remember the taste of strawberry wax, but I’ve always gone for the eyes. They tell me a whole lot more about how much better I’d like to know the bearer. My male ego, of course, wants to know if she’s noticing me.

Remembering ‘way back to the time Judith and I first noticed each other in crowds ("across a crowded room . . .") it seemed to be pretty mutual, but I wasn’t being very analytical at the time, so I don’t remember exactly how it went. Only that it went, and still goes.

Even though I’m now well past my prime, my weakness may get me into trouble someday. And our dog is getting fat.

 

Donald Skiff, December 13, 2001

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