How To Look At Brown Eyes

© Copyright 2021 Chloe Robinson, Ryerson University. 

Brown eyes are the most common eye colour in the world, accounting for close to 80% of the world’s population (Simpson). Although there are many different eye colours, there is only one type of eye colour pigmentation, which is called melanin. Melanin is found in the the coloured part of the human eye, also called the iris. The amount of melanin present in the iris determines the precise colour of your eyes. Eyes with a small amount of melanin in the iris would be blue. Eyes with a tad more melanin are green, hazel, or perhaps light brown. Those eyes with a high concentration of melanin are medium or dark brown (Hellem).

brown eyes
Fig 1. Jeffrey Riley. Brown Eyes, Unsplash, 7 Apr. 2019,, digital photograph.

My eyes are brown. The darkest shade of brown you can find, in fact. When I was a young child, I envied my dad’s serene green eyes, because truth be told, brown eyes just didn’t get much flack. I remember I was speaking to a fellow dark-eyed friend about the lack of songs dedicated to brown eyes. Don’t worry Van Morrison, if you’re ever reading this, you’re good in our books. She shrugged her shoulders, rolled her eyes, and told me that’s just the way it is because our eyes are “just plain brown”. That answer didn’t sit right with me. I wanted to know, what do people see when they look at brown eyes?

If you were to ask a geneticist, he might tell you that he sees brown eyes as genetic expression determined by your parents. Human eye colour originates with three genes, and these genes account for the most common colours we see: brown, blue, and green. Eye colour isn’t a perfect combination of the two parents’ eye colours, as if you were to blend two paints together. Rather, each parent has two pairs of genes on each chromosome in their DNA sequence, in which a plethora of possibilities exist for how this genetic information is expressed in terms of eye colour. Darker colours tend to dominate within gene expression, so it is often the case that brown wins out over blue or green (Dubow).

If you were to ask a physiologist, she might tell you that she sees brown eyes as an indicator of low pain tolerance. Clinical research conducted on group of women in 2014 showed trends that indicated women with darker eyes experienced more pain than their light-eye-colour cohorts (Teng and Belfer).

An oncologist might tell you that he sees brown eyes as a form of protection. One benefit of having more melanin is that you’re less likely to suffer from the effects of harmful sun radiation. Although no individual is immune to sun damage, people with high concentrations of melanin are generally less likely to develop skin or eye cancer (“The Science Behind Brown Eyes”).

If you were to ask one psychologist, she might tell you that she sees brown eyes as sad eyes. Some clinical research hypothesizes that people with brown eyes are more prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a psychiatric condition often characterized by feelings of hopelessness, lethargy, and sadness that occur during fall and winter months. The darkness due to short daylight hours often plays a role in SAD. When light enters the brain, it causes a decrease in levels of the melatonin hormone in our bodies. Higher levels of melatonin correlate with higher levels of depression. Due to their lack of melanin, light eyes naturally allow more light into the brain. Therefore, because people with lighter eyes are able to let in more light, they may show a degree of resiliency to the darkness of fall and winter (“Seasonal Affective Disorder: Why Brown-eyed Women Are At Risk”).

If you were to ask a second psychologist, however, he might tell you that he sees brown eyes as honest eyes. Research studies have been conducted that indicate people tend to associate brown-eyed men, in particular, with significantly higher degrees of trustworthiness, compared to blue or green-eyed men (Kleisner).

If you were step away from the scientific and the pathological, what kind of answer might you reap from a poet? A poet might tell you that when she looks at deep brown eyes, she sees two black holes with the capacity to hold a galaxy in them and draw you in. When she looks at chocolate brown eyes, she sees the organic dirt of Mother Earth that grows beautiful sycamore trees and nurtures each tender flower. When she looks at light brown eyes at noon, she see two pools of honey drenched golden in the sun. She might also tell you that you’ll never look at brown eyes the same when you fall in love with someone who has brown eyes.

If you were to ask me what I see when I look at brown eyes, I might tell you I don’t see a lot of these things. I see the resilient eyes of my mother, a woman who can hold all the pain in the world and still remain stronger than anyone I know. I see the sharp eyes of my favourite school teacher, a woman who got dealt with skin cancer twice, and survived. I see the roving eyes of an old lover, a man who I now know I couldn’t trust. I see the aging eyes of my grandmother, a woman who never went one day without a smile on her face even in the darkest of hours. I even see myself in the reflection of that dark iris.

Dear reader, next time you look into someone’s brown eyes, perhaps you will look at them a bit differently. If that person tells you that their eyes are “just plain brown”, please remind them that brown eyes should never be prefixed with “just plain”. Brown eyes have too much depth to be called “just plain” anything.

Works Cited

Dubow, Burt. “Eye Colour: How It Develops and Why It Changes.” All About Vision, Accessed 3 Feb. 2021.

Hellem, Amy. “Brown Eyes: All About Brown Eye Colour.” All About Vision, Accessed 3 Feb. 2021.

Kleisner, K., et al. “Trustworthy-Looking Face Meets Brown Eyes.” PLOS One, vol. 8, no. 1, 2012.

Riley, Jeffrey. “Brown Eyes”, Unsplash, 7 Apr. 2019, Accessed 8 Feb. 2021.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder: Why Brown-eyed Women Are At Risk.” Medical News Today, Accessed 3 Feb. 2021.

Simpson, Victoria. “The World’s Population By Eye Colour.” World Atlas, Accessed 3 Feb. 2021.

Teng, C., and Belfer, I. “Correlation Between Eye Colour and Pain phenotypes in healthy women.” The Journal of Pain, vol. 15, no. 4, 2014.

“The Science Behind Brown Eyes.” Michigan Eye Institute, Accessed 3 Feb. 2021.

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