I am sorry for being somewhat absent her on my blog for a few weeks, I have thoroughly missed writing my blogs and talking to you. In truth I feel a bit as if I have neglected my old baby for the past few months through pursuing projects and other things. Fact is, I started my blog (it will be 4 years in July) before anything else and I want to return to writing more blogs.
Today I wanted to write a blog post on a topic that I am sure some of you may be familiar with, but for the of you who aren’t then hopefully this will be an education for you.
Below is the video on ‘You Don’t Look Blind.’
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Now as I’m sure most of you know I’m a fashion and beauty blogger, but I am one also registered as Severely Sight Impaired.
But, would you believe that for out people I meet, not all, but a lot its a massive, epic culture shock for them?
After that have taken a few seconds to observe me, they usually retort with the words in a startled, amazed or sometime suspicious voice ‘But you don’t look blind!’
These famous last five words are so often heard among the ranks of many visually impaired people and its become somewhat of an enigma. What I men by this is that no one can be sure of what they mean when these words are said. We often take guesses, grapple for answers and some of us brave few (not including myself) have even gone so far as to ask ‘well what does blind look like?’ Yet, they are never given an answer to this question that plagues many of us.
But, let me just clarify one thing before I delve further into this social mystery among the VI (Visually Impaired) world. I am not fully blind, I am registered blind or severely sight impaired as it is now referred to in the new registration terms. Yet, I still have some remaining vision in my right eye. So, please don’t be mislead by the term blind, being registered blind and being blind are two completely separate things.
The ‘You Don’t Look Blind’ quote is something I’ve heard many, many times in the past. But, recently I received a number of comments over on my YouTube channel without naming names one person said they was ‘skeptical’ of my having a visual impairment because of the fact that I looked beautiful, had porcelain skin and perfect eyebrows (these were her own words and not my own.) This is one of a number of comments I’ve received and someone even went to the extent to make a derogatory video about me saying that I couldn’t be blind and that I was clearly lying because I chose to decorate my long canes and talk about fashion. Well, after hearing these comments both online and in reality I have simply had enough. So, I wanted to make a video and write a blog on this topic, because quite clearly some people need educating on the topic.
The strange thing is that people who say ‘You Don’t Look Blind’ seem to be under the impression that it should be taken as a massive compliment. Of couese I know most people are genuinely not saying the comment to cause offence or in malice. But, ‘you don’t look blind’ is insulting and frustrating. This is because in affect your incredulity about discovering someone who contrasts with your notions of sight loss for whatever reason their good looks, confidence, fashion sense, independence is in affect condescending to other people with sight loss. I had one person say ‘but you’re so pretty! you don’t look blind’ or ‘but you are so confident, you don’t look blind to me.’ It is as if by this assumption they don’t don’t appear sight impaired because of their presentation is therefore implying that the majority of sight impaired people cannot be this. That by this logic they must usually be unconfident, ugly, unfashionable, weak, clumsy and so on. Which when one looks at is this way is the most offensive thing you could say. It is like saying, ‘you’re good looking for a woman.’
Lets start with talking about the Blind representation in the media and culture. When I googled ‘Blind cartoon’ on Google I was utterly incredulous to discover a torrent of images all depicting blind white men, who were of an older age group, wearing dark sunglasses, orthopaedic shoes and non descriptor clothing in very drab and dull colours. They all also had very grim expressions and were never depicted to be in company of anyone.
There have also been numerous other representation of blondes like this in TV shows depicting minor blind characters who frankly were very non palatable, sometimes evil or the antagonist of the plot and to my personal view, not a realistic depiction of sight loss. Over the years sight loss has been a disability stereotyped to one kind of person, its always perceived as an age related disability and one that renders you incapable of doing anything. Of course I am in no way saying that there aren’t equally positive representations of sight loss like in the 1992 film The Scent of a Woman and countless tv characters with sight loss in modern soaps and series. There are also some very positive presentations of sight loss in modern children’s and young adult fiction Iggy in Jame’s Patterson’S Maximum Ride series for example.
Yet, there still seems to be a very hard flea to shake as it were in the social conception of blindness majorly constructed by cultural beliefs and social ideas.
Here are some of my observations from my findings.
Connotations of Sight Loss from Research and Comments I’ve Encountered
- Visually impaired people are all male (depicted from cartoon images.)
- Visually impaired people are majorly white (depicted from cartoon images.)
- Visually impaired people are elderly (from cartoon images.)
- Visually people are always portrayed as male (from cartoon images)
- Visually impaired people are incapable.
- Visually impaired people cannot be confident.
- Visually impaired people are not happy or funny.
- Visually impaired people are not intelligent.
- And lastly, visually impaired people cannot be attractive, beautiful, sexy, fashion aware, makeup savvy or just people in their own right.
Note that all the above are not my thoughts on blindness, of course not, these are merely notions of sight loss that I believe have been cultivated by a mixture of poor media representation and public opinion over time. Perhaps a member of the public met a visually impaired person who acted in a certain way to make them think that all people with sight loss would act similar to this. As people can sometimes deduce that everyone in that category of people we bestow a label upon to be the same merely because of that category. However, I am not under the impression that everyone who is non-disabled or fully sighted is under the accordance that sight impaired people cannot be their own person. I have met many people on my travels who are simply lovely and very accepting of who I am. To be honest the good people I meet outweighs the bad, yet I know I am not the only one who receives comments about not seeming to be visually impaired.
When I was at an event with Victa Children, I spoke to a group of lovely youths who all experienced similar encounters and have heard the ‘You Don’t Look Blind’ words too. After conversing with a lot of people it would seem that we all have a mixed idea about what people mean when they say this, a lot of people, including myself, believe it is a mixture of things. Some believe it to be merely the way a visually impaired person acts or presents themselves, some people think it is age related and that people cannot accept that someone who is young being visually impaired because they think all people with sight loss are old, some just think its merely the fact that visually impaired people are not the meek, vulnerable and unpalatable characters we’ve seen in media portrays before.
But, heres what I think it is, I believe its all about how one looks, acts and presents themselves when out in public. Yes, indeed it can boil down to an age related topic as I myself am 21 and have had sight loss from infancy Its also a lot o the time to do with confidence and being independent and able to do things without aid. I get its of comments from people who don’t believe that I can possibly be sight impaired due to the fact that I am able to go to the gym, take photographs, work and even swim. I had one person query the validity of my sight loss because i was able to win well. I wanted to argue that what about the many blind and visually impaired swimmers in the Paralympics like Chris Holms? How would they feel about people questioning their sight loss just because they can swim. Its also to do with facial expressions to, how people react to social situations. Often people are shockedd that I am able to look at them, smile, laugh, pull faces with a conscious awareness of what they mean. Because, for them its as if they believe that all people with sight loss don’t understand what it means to be happy or show annoyance. It can also boil down to how someones eye visually look. People can assume that sight loss has to be something you can visually see in their eyes. Some cases of sight loss mean that peoples eyes will have visual symptoms like being slightly sunken or glassy. Certain eye conditions impact your eyes from the exterior. Some people who have never bene able to see may experience there eyes sinking slightly because they have never been able to use them. But, there are lots of eye conditions that don’t affect your eyes visually, like mine. My condition affects my optic nerves, they do shake from nystagmus, but thats not something you immediately notice about me unless you look at them for a while. Its also linked with the way a visually impaired person walks, lots of people with sight loss walk confidently be that through using a cane, a guide dog, a sighted guide or no mobility aid. But, this condense and ease with their environment can sometimes also lead people to question whether a person is visually impaired or not.
Yet, I also think its a lot to do with the way I and others like me dress, I like to wear floppy hats, high heeled boots, skater dresses, eyeliner and lipstick in plum colours. I know lots of friends and fellow bloggers who also do, Steph from Bold Blind Beauty, Jill Barkley on Insight Radio, Secrets of Beauty, Laura Turner from RealEyes Fashion, Laura Legendary from Elegant Insights, Molly Burke. These are all people who also love fashion, style and to look good even though they have vision loss and guess what we are not the only ones.
There are lots of people with different types of disables all who lead normal lives. They are confident, smart, beautiful, fun, adventurous, brave, accepting, forward thinking, driven and open minded. They don’t let their disability prevent them from being their own person, just like I don’t and won’t let mine get n the way o my dreams.
There are way of being able to do things in life. There is lots of assistive technology about to help people with tasks, their are mobility aids, advice series, support groups, networks and people who are, like me, trying to help other people with disabilities move on with their life and do what they love.
You Can Apply Makeup and Curl Your Hair? How Can You Be Blind?
I can apply makeup, but it is a skill that have learnt over years and with the help of my mother who was a makeup consultant for Estee Lauder Company for 8 years. I have found tools and product that make my life easier for me. I have practiced curling my hair, but it was not through want of trying. I practiced that over years, burnt my fingers quite literally many times to get to the point where i am now.
You Are Fashionable? How Can You Be Blind?
I love fashion, but this is because I grew up in a fashion orienteated household, I grew up in London a metropolis where the fashion scene is huge. I use fashion as my way of saying that I don’t have to be stereotyped by my disability. Its my form of confidence. I can see colour, feel fabric, try on clothes I know what style suits my body shape and I use an iPad with Zoom to view new trends and styles.
You Are Confident? How Can You Be Blind?
My disability has made me stronger, I’ve dealt with playground bullies, I’ve overcome anorexia, I’ve gotten a scholarship to study at University, twice. I’m confident because I don’t let my disability define me.
You Are Indépendant? How Can You Be Blind?
I am indepedant because I have been encouraged to be, I was never blanketed as a child or as an adult. I do things myself because when I was at primary school not many believed I was as visually impaired as I say, including some eye doctors. So, I had to do things independently. I have a Guide Dog, I have technology to help me travel and above all I want to live, I want to be free and I want to live my life before its time to return to the Universe.
Now, let me begin to put things straight for anyone who may be reading this who is a “non believer.” Sight loss does not equate to someone being abnormal or unodiary. Sight loss doesn’t mean that someone looses their entire identity or who they are as a person. If you see someone who is visually impaired or disabled and they are pursuing their dreams, look nice or who don’t conform to your idea of sight loss that dent mean to say they are lying. That just means they have effectively said to their disability, ‘you may be a part of me and here to stay but hell if i’m gong to let you ruin my life.’ They are people who go out and do what they live in spite of their disability, because under the label of disability they are still people, I am still a person.
Even though I have Septo Optic Dysplasia I am still me, I still like to wear nice clothing, apply makeup, read Harry Potter, go on Instagram, go for walks, spend time with my friends, laugh as we talk about random things, I run for the bus, I swim and I’m not that different from the next person. I’m not a rarity, many people with sight loss feel the same way, they do ordinary everyday things. We don’t exist in a little bubble where normality is something we cannot grasp.
So, the next time you see someone who is like me and who has sight loss and perhaps they conflict with your idea of what sight loss should ‘look’ like. Remember, to not digest everything you hear and see.
The aspersion that people can be lying about having a disability should not be thrown around lightly. Disability is hard to live with at times and I beleive its not something anyone would wish to lie about.
I am reaching out to both my sight impaired friends to always remember that you are your own person, before your disability. I am reaching out to those of you who might have said something like this, please try and be a little more open minded and remember to ask yourself ‘does blindness really have to look like anything?’
Thanks For Reading