it’s in the eyes

You can tell a lot about a person from their eyes. It’s not specifically their eyeballs so much as the muscles around those eyeballs. A slight raising of an eyebrow, tension along the sides. It speaks volumes. Pair it with body language and you have a wealth of information sitting in a single picture.

This weekend, I got to study tons of eyes. That sounds creepy. Before you picture piles of eyeballs in jars (oops, too late!), let me tell you they were paintings at the National Portrait Gallery. The presidents in particular were intriguing. Last year, I finished a fascinating book about the presidents and their personalities (Personality, Character, and Leadership in the White House). Armed with snippets of personality info, I studied the portraits.

One by one, I stood in front of the presidents, seeking to know them.I saw Washington’s dedication in his posture, even though all he wanted was to enjoy his home and his family. Jefferson’s restlessness was written all over his body, as if he were saying “Could you hurry up? I’ve got things to do.”

I saw Lyndon B.’s insecurity and lack of self-esteem that resulted in numerous affairs. I saw Carter’s affable nature in his easy-going expression. I saw Reagan’s passion in his eyes, augmented by a fearless determination and a hint of humor. (According to the display, upon seeing his portrait, Reagan remarked, “Yep, that’s the ol’ buckaroo!” You could see that sense of humor in his face, but underneath it, a steely layer of resolve.)

It was incredible, to stand eye-to-eye with the leaders of my country.

I wandered through the other the collections, nodding my greetings to Winston Churchill, Louis Armstrong, General Patton, Ernest Hemingway, and Jane Addams. I paused when I saw F. Scott Fitzgerald. My husband commented that he definitely looked like a writer. I studied the picture. It was in his eyes, a look that said he wasn’t really there, and in his smile, as if he were enjoying the world he was creating in his mind. It was an expression I understood well. So naturally I posed next to him, with my own thoughtful, writer-y expression.

(That’s e.e. cummings in the background. We had a nice little debate about what was on his head: a bandanna or a bright-red combover?)

It’s in the eyes. We reveal so much with an expression, a posture. Even when we try to hide it, what we think, what we feel, sneaks out.

What do your eyes say about you?


  1. Jennifer K. Hale
    Mar 26, 2012 @ 14:45:42

    Love this post, H! Neat! As a US History teacher, I’m proud of you for taking an interest. And what an “interesting” interest! I hadn’t thought about this. I need to read that book on the Presidents.


    • halee
      Mar 27, 2012 @ 14:58:01

      I love psychobiographies! I mean, I know what the presidents accomplished, but to learn about who they were? Insanely awesome. And there were some definite surprises in there (I won’t spoil it for you). 😉


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