Disability Is Beautiful: How the Gospel Changes the Way We See
Rick Guidotti had been trained to see and capture a very particular standard of physical beauty. But walking down New York City's Park Avenue one day, the fashion photographer spotted a girl with albinism. Though her fair skin and white hair fell outside the familiar window of beauty, he saw her with new eyes.
Guidotti's shift in seeing—the same kind of "aha!" as when a scientific discovery or a forgotten name suddenly bursts forth—is what professor James Loder calls "convictional knowing." In that moment, recognizing the girl's inherent beauty, Guidotti didn't see disability or deformity. He saw humanity.
Guidotti, whose client list includes Yves Saint Laurent, Elle, and L'Oreal, insists that this out-of-the-box beauty isn't "inner beauty." "I don't believe in that," he explained recently to Bloom, a magazine for parents of children with disabilities. "I'm as shallow as it gets. These kids are gorgeous; we're just not allowed to see it."
Driven by this new way of seeing, Guidotti launched Positive Exposure, an arts organization that photographs children with various genetic differences. Guidotti described to Bloom the first young woman he photographed: "Even though she was stunning, gorgeous, she walked in with her shoulders hunched, her head down, no eye contact. She had zero self-esteem. But then photographing her and showing her her magnificence, like 'Look at yourself!' I watched her transform in front of the lens. And it happens every time."
Guidotti's telling of the first photo shoot resonated with another story I heard recently, one into which my own life is being woven. Last month a few friends from Durham, North Carolina, and I visited Friendship House in Holland, Michigan. The first of its kind, Friendship House is an apartment-style home for adult residents with disabilities who share living space with grad students at Western Theological Seminary. The testimony we heard from residents, students, and parents was univocal: Though some residents were in some ways underdeveloped when they moved to Friendship House, the growth they've experienced over the past several years is nothing less than remarkable. The growth came from being seen by others through a holy lens. When they were recognized as beloved individuals who bear God's image, and afforded the freedoms and responsibilities which that reality entails, they blossomed.
The work of Positive Exposure and Friendship House brought to mind Jesus' teaching that the eyes are the lamp of the body. The image was once confusing to me, as if Jesus were saying that light could come out of the eyes, like robot laser-beams. Jesus seemed to be insisting that a certain type of seeing could bring light to darkness. The lens of Rick Guidotti's camera—a tool so often wielded to distort the imperfect reality of human bodies—is an "eye" like that. Through Positive Exposure, the "eye" itself bears light. In fact, by illumining the humanity of his subjects, Guidotti's camera affords others a glimpse of the beauty that is more true about individuals with genetic differences than the differences themselves. The lie of worth-less-ness, which too often swirls around our friends, is dispelled when they are seen as they really are.