When I learned about my visual impairment, one of my first thoughts was “What am I going to look like?” Like most teenagers, I was concerned with my looks and I didn’t like the idea of my vision impairing my fashion. I knew that blind people often wear large black sunglasses and carry canes and I wondered how they managed to still dress fashionably, apply makeup, and do their hair. Although I am less concerned with my looks now than I was when I was a teenager, I still enjoy fashion, clothing, and makeup. Over the years, I have developed a number of strategies to continue enjoying fashion, but my concern about my appearance continues to shape the way I navigate my disability.
Here’s a rundown of how my disability affects my morning beauty routine. Choosing my clothing involves a series of second-guessing myself—is this black or brown? Does this color match that color? Is this black or blue? Is this pair of pants actually dirty? Are there any stains on this? Is this wrinkled? Is there cat hair on this? Because my bedroom is generally pretty dark, I usually have to move between my bedroom and the hallway, inspecting each of these items.
Then, sometimes I put on makeup, using a series of steps that I hope are foolproof. For example, not being able to see where my foundation still needs blending, I rub and rub until I think I’ve covered every possible spot. Then I move into my eyeliner, which I have learned how to apply by the feel of the pencil tip on the ridge of my eyelid. Then I apply my eye shadow, which I know if I use just a little at a time, I have less opportunity to smear on the side of my nose or too high near my eyebrow. At this point, I have very little idea of how things are looking, so I make sure to ask my boyfriend to check my makeup.
I never thought it would be possible for a boyfriend to check his girlfriend’s makeup (and to be able to trust him on his judgment), but my boyfriend has done this so many times that he has seen plenty of errors, so he knows what to look for. He gives me his approval and I’m off. There are certainly days when I get to work and realize my pants have a stain on them or that I’m wearing brown tights with a black skirt or that I have mascara smudged on my cheek, but who doesn’t?
There are still ways, though, that I can’t imagine altering my appearance. For example, sunglasses are absolutely essential to my daily life—without them, even on overcast days I can hardly cross a street with confidence. But wearing sunglasses, even on an overcast day, is not that unusual. A few years ago, though, I visited a low vision technology store and tried on a few pairs of sunglasses with huge sides and colored lenses. I looked at myself in the mirror and stared at the giant blue lenses that covered the sides of my face and stuck out a few inches from my face. I thought to myself, “If I wear these, I will become a blind person.” I quickly grabbed my brown, typical-sized Ray Ban sunglasses and put them back on to compare. “These work just as well,” I quickly told the salesperson. I did believe that the Ray Bans worked almost as well as the other sunglasses, but the truth is that of course they don’t work quite as well. “Ray Bans are a great brand,” the salesperson assured me. But at the root of my decision to keep wearing my Ray Ban sunglasses was the feeling that, if I wear the other kind of sunglasses, then I will have to fully adopt the identity of a blind person.
I keep telling myself that if I wore those big sunglasses, I wouldn’t be adopting the identity of a blind person—I would just be myself with different sunglasses. My fear, though, is that other people would see those sunglasses and see a blind person, not me. Of course this can’t be true for all people that I would encounter, but I think this feeling is exemplary of the ways that disability, the body, and technology interact. We expect bodies to look a certain way and when they depart from the norm, either by biological or technological means, we put people into categories and create identities for them when in reality, identities are not singular—they are multidimensional and flexible. So yes, I am visually impaired, but I am also a woman, a scholar, a writer and a fashionista at heart. Annika Konrad lives in Madison, Wisconsin where she is working on her PhD in Composition and Rhetoric. Featured image: “Sunglasses” by YIM Hafiz is licensed under CC BY 2.0