The original title of this post was going to be “Why Babies Are So Cute”. But let’s face it, there are some very funny looking, non-cute babies out there. That’s sort of a politically incorrect, faux pas thing to say, but admit it – we’ve all thought it. But even the babies who won’t ever make it to Gerber Baby status are fascinating. We can stare at them for hours, watching every little flicker of expression, waiting for a smile, not wanting to look away lest we miss them do something, well, cute. When there’s a baby at a social function, it is not uncommon for those immediately surrounding it to let the conversation slowly fade while they all drift into a sort of baby trance.
What is the cause of our fascination with these little creatures? Why do these pooping, crying, drooling, only potentially rational beings have such power over us? I have a couple of theories.
The first one is simple enough: their size. We seem to find many small things fascinating: bonsai, doll houses, quantum particles, etc. When we’re used to seeing something a certain size and someone makes a miniature version of it, we can’t look away. The tiny tree looks exactly like a real tree, except it’s less than a foot tall. It’s amazing. Babies are similar. We marvel at their tiny fingernails. It’s fascinating to think that we were once that small, and that someday they will be as big as we are.
But a less obvious and perhaps more “real” cause of our fascination is the total lack of self-consciousness that comes along with being a baby. Babies lack self-consciousness in the most literal sense of the word. It seems plausible to assume that they do not know that their hand belongs to them when they wave it in front of their face. They do not know they exist. Therefore, all their movements, noises, and facial expressions are completely natural and totally guileless. And I think that is why we love them so much. We are fascinated by this pure, unadulterated humanity. We see in them what we long for. Our world is filled with so much political correctness, so many fake smiles, so much small talk. The relationships we value the most are the ones in which we feel most able to “be ourselves.” It gets tiring to be so self-conscious all the time, and I think we long to be able to just be free and loose and not even be aware that people might be judging us. Like babies. They are really the only socially acceptable example of a non-self-conscious person.
And I think that when we watch them and engage with them, we are able to lose ourselves a little in their cuteness. They manage to transfer some of their purity to us for those few moments, and we are renewed. We get to experience a little of that freedom, and we appreciate them for it. In babies we encounter a tiny creature with an immense power – the power to temporarily banish our self-consciousness – and we are fascinated.