How do I look?

This is a question very often asked by blind people when trying on an outfit. We often get given answers which inform our decision to proceed with what we’re doing, or change our approach, but the truth is that we will never really know what our answer to that question is. We are relying on a trusted source of information but if we could really see what we were trying on, would our choices be different?

I decided to write this post after reading this:

http://silkspun.net/2017/02/06/on-blindness-and-the-body/

I was deeply moved by her article and thought it would help to share my experiences and how I have gradually learnt to take control of my appearance in the hope that it will help others in a similar situation.

 

Victoria wearing a multi-coloured dress, standing in front of an artwork

 

Victoria in a long white dress, with black and brown braids, with a sunflower Alice-band around her head

 

Victoria in an orange cow-neck fitted jumper dress, standing in front of a Christmas tree

 

I lost my sight at the age of 7 as a result of some eye operations going wrong. Until then I was partially sighted enough to attend mainstream school, watch television, draw, paint, and do all the things a sighted child could do.

A partially sighted Victoria age 6, standing in a white dress with her birthday cake

 

After losing my sight, I remember my mum and sister teaching me how to recognise things with my hands. Such as knowing how to tell if my clothes are inside out, locating the right buttonhole for the buttons on clothes, learning to eat with a knife and fork without making a huge mess, etc.

I often hated mornings when it was time to get dressed as my mum and sister did not just lay out my clothes for me, they asked me which outfit I would like to wear. When I made my choices, they would then describe what I had chosen, and ask me why I chose them. A discussion would then occur after which I would realise why I could not wear that combination. After a while, I started to choose my own outfit combinations following the colour rules I was given. At that time, I was not aware that they were helping me take control of my image.

 

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My Mum and I

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My sister and I

 

My sister always told me about the importance of being presentable. It is more so if one has a disability because there is a tendency for society to expect less of you. You defy their expectations by appearing in a way that says “my disability does not impact on my ability to take pride in my appearance”, and you are taken more seriously. In saying this, she was not advocating that appearance is everything, but in a situation where a blind person doesn’t have the advantage of using eye contact to draw the attention of someone, it is far easier to be approached by other people who are often led by visual cues, if you are looking presentable.

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My sister and my nieces

 

So how does one get to a point where they are happy with their appearance when one cannot see?

I must admit, seeing is important because it helps us confirm how great we look, or what needs adjusting. As a blind person, I learnt a lot from growing up in a family of people with good fashion sense. Conversations I have had with my sister, my Mum, my nieces etc have helped me build on ideas of how to dress myself in a way that makes me feel confident in my appearance. I can now go shopping independently and ask questions that ensure that I am choosing what is right for me.

 

Victoria in a multi-coloured, flowery top and black leggings touching shoes in a shop

 

I also think that one power we have as blind people is the ability to summon a feeling when we want to. I do have days when I feel really out of sorts and no matter what outfit I wear, I feel that I’m not looking great. Such days, I would “Look” at myself in the mirror, say to myself, “Victoria, you’re totally rocking this dress”, before I leave the house and I sincerely hope that I do.

I have made some errors in the past by wearing things that don’t quite go well together, or sometimes, I am in such a hurry that I have worn two different shoes. On such occasions, I “Own” my mismatched appearance and because it is a rare occurrence, people tend to think I was double dared to do so.

Negative comments about my appearance? Yes I have received quite a few of those from those close enough to give them, and yes, they do hurt at the time you are being told, but I would rather be aware of things I have to work on, because again, it is giving me control over my appearance. I must admit it does reach a point where I censor what I take in, especially if the person I am interacting with is in the habit of giving me negative feedback all the time. Some people have extremely high standards and they may want to foist those standards on to you. There is nothing wrong with having high standards of fashion, but for me, if it gets to the point where it causes me constant worry, I take what I can from what I am being told, and ignore the rest.

For example: I have been told that my eye lashes look better with mascara on, but whenever I try to apply it, I end up jabbing my eye or dropping blobs of it on my cheeks hence ruining my blusher. You know what? I have given up on them. I would only wear mascara if I have the help of a sighted person.

 

Victoria in a strapless gown with brown hair and blonde tips, full makeup with mascara

 

Victoria in a headshot, full professional makeup (didn’t do this myself :)) Photo by: Lilla Nyeki

 

I know I couldn’t get any blinder from a mascara injury, but I still would like to keep my eyes intact thank you very much. Another example is when I am persuaded to choose clothes that need constant adjusting during the day such as tops or dresses that hang off the shoulder. Yes, I know they are “In” but I have more important things to worry about when I am out or on stage than having to constantly hoist up a sleeve that keeps sliding off because it is hanging precariously around my arm.

So I do not think there is a clear answer to whether we as blind people will ever know how we look in any outfits, or how we look as people. We will get honest feedback from people we trust and we can work with that as guidelines. The important thing to remember though, is that to the people who really matter, what we look like will only matter to them a little bit as they will be more interested in what we carry in our hearts.

I will be posting something else about ways to bring outfits together if you are blind and have no concept of how colours work. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

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