Thefreedictionary.com defines beauty as the quality that gives pleasure to the mind or senses and is associated with such properties as harmony of form or color, excellence of artistry, truthfulness, and originality. While the majority of people will recognize beauty in a colorful sunset or gorgeous model, there are many types of beauty that are not widely appreciated. Beauty in those with disabilities is one of these areas.
How are Disabled People Perceived
Although many people with disabilities appear 'normal', there are many that have physical features that define them as being disabled. Down's Syndrome is a condition that most people are familiar with. It is normally characterized by a small head, upward slanting eyes, rounded cheeks, abnormally shaped ears and short stature. In modern society, these features are not considered beautiful and those with Down's Syndrome may be mocked because of their looks. That is not to say that society is right. There are many people with disabilities who are incredibly beautiful . . . if only we knew how to recognize it.
Understanding Beauty as God sees it
Our perception of beauty is often superficial whereas God looks deeper and sees the beauty that emanates from heart attitudes and inner feelings. Instead of judging people by what we see, God would have us look beneath the surface for the beauty of caring souls, thankful hearts and worshipful spirits.
Perfection is not needed for Beauty
After oranges in a commercial orchard are picked, they go through a sorting process which is based on size and the appearance of their skin. Those of an acceptable size with no blemishes are sent to supermarkets and fruit stores. The blemished ones go for juicing and pulping. An orchard owner once told me that the difference is purely superficial. If slices were cut out of a blemished and an unblemished orange and held up to the sun, the flesh inside would look the same and would allow the sun to shine through in the same way.
Look for Beauty
People see beauty in many different ways. A clock maker may see beauty in the finest precision workings from Switzerland. A Carpenter may see beauty and potential locked into a plank of wood. My husband is a mechanic by trade and admires cars and understands the intricacies of their engines. To appreciate the beauty in disabled people, we need to understand them and regard them as God's creation; as fellow human beings who have much to offer.
A Special Kind of Beauty
I enjoy photography and have learned that beauty is far more than a set of perfect features. It's about being human and expressing emotion. Mentally disabled people often lack inhibitions and what you see is what they are feeling. If they're sad, their faces and body language are sad. If they're excited, it shows through raised voices and exuberance. I love to photograph people's faces and expressions, especially those that are beautiful in unusual ways. At our community carol meeting last year, there were a couple of middle-aged men with mental disabilities. One of them had an old cordless microphone and he was thoroughly enjoying himself. He had all the right moves and sang into the microphone with great gusto. I was photographing the event and made sure I took a couple of shots of him and his somewhat quieter friend. Their carer approached me after wards and asked if she could have copies for the supervisor of the home they stayed at. The pictures were well received as these women could see the beauty in the men's joyful expressions. Where the crowd may have seen a couple of weird old guys, we were privileged to see two people rejoicing in the freedom of who they are.
Changing our Perceptions
We all have our own preconceived ideas of beauty and many of these may be based on Hollywood standards. When observing people with disabilities we should bear in mind that their circumstances are often different to ours. Different body shapes may mean clothing has to be made for them and the latest fashions may not be suitable. In a similar fashion, those with an unsteady gait or balance problems may require plain-styled or built up shoes. Mobility problems can lead to weight gain.
A young man with Down's Syndrome frequents our local library and wears his pants cinched up high around his waist. It always warms my heart to see him as he's affable and friendly and loves to be acknowledged and included in what is happening around him. Most people treat him well but occasionally he gets overlooked and some people stare at him because he looks and dresses differently.
A Challenge to us all
The world is full of people with disabilities, ranging from mild to severe. Some are blatantly obvious; others almost invisible. As we go about our daily lives this week, let's make a decision to actively look for beauty in those around us. It may be something as simple as a smile, a wave or an expression or it may be a full blown extravaganza of emotion. The simplest way to see beauty is to accept people as they are and refrain from judging them for the way they look, dress and behave.
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7NIV)