The following post was written by Kerry, a freelance journalist, blogger, and radio host from the blind and visually impaired community. In this post Kerry shares her experiences with fashion, beauty, and vision loss as she searches to find her own personal style.
As a little girl, I wasn't always dressing up in my mother's things. I was more likely to be found taking her lipstick, or that of my big sister, and drawing a picture with it.
I’ve always hated makeup, both the Halloween kind and, then when I got older, the cosmetic kind and the pressure to wear it anyway because that’s what women do, it was difficult. I’ve always been sensitive to smells and textures, such as the feeling of wearing tights as a child or anything made of wool. The smell of makeup, combined with the fact that it isn’t easy to see if you’re visually impaired, I still don’t wear it regularly if ever at all.
I hear people talking about finding their style and I wonder what mine even is, still working on finding it as I approach forty-years-old. I don’t know how much of one I even have. I don’t tend to wear things that are uncomfortable, such as heels, when even if the world does it, I choose not to. Websites and communities such as Bold Blind Beauty mean a lot to me who does struggle in a world where looks are everything or very nearly so. I know I love fragrance, though scent sensitivity is a common concern and accommodation in 2022 must mean we need to be sensitive to others.
I do enjoy getting my nails painted, feeling the smoothness of the polish, especially loving it when my nieces choose my colours for me, including sparkles. I love the texture and softness and the playing with the length of my hair which has always been thick, not to mention the pampering to be had at a salon. When it comes to hair though, I don’t do anything real elaborate with it on my own such as a lot of styling or product use, with the daily headaches I’ve had for years. My ears weren’t pierced until my early twenties, but now I’m glad it’s one of those built-in accessories I can put in and forget about. I don’t have much of a skin care routine to speak of and avoid the sun as much as possible due to the fact that I have to watch my skin cancer risk with being on medication which lowers my immune system.
As for fashion, it’s a slightly different story and that’s why it’s exciting to see clothing made inclusive, but these days, I’m just as likely to wear things with messages, words and statements I feel represent who I am now.
I am curious still, about the colour of an item of clothing, but it's a complicated thing the longer I don't see what I wear.
I was born with low vision into a family of four children, with my younger brother coming along and only having light perception. We both were born with Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) which evolved into a syndrome with other issues like kidney disease and scoliosis. For years, I could see enough to wear glasses and read large print, but it was colour I loved and was always drawing something.
Then I had a mysterious issue with my eyes when I was on dialysis, resulting in the need to remove one. The doctor saved me from losing my right eye with heavy doses of steroids, but since then my remaining vision has lessened with the additional decades of my life.
This meant that fashion and beauty became tricky things. I was used to at least seeing an outline of my face in a mirror, with a little added distinction so I could see my light face and darker hair framing it, depending on how dim or bright it was in the room. I could see the shapes and indent of my eyes and a general idea of what a shirt looked like on me. Not seeing myself in the mirror will likely never be easy for me, but my interest in fashion and hair and fragrance and accessories hasn’t disappeared. It’s only evolved.
Blind people are constantly fighting the stereotype that we don’t care what we look like because we can’t see ourselves. Not all of us care the same way, but neither do people who can see.
I grew up borrowing my older sister’s clothes because we shared a closet. She’s the only person I truly feel comfortable shopping for clothes with because she knows my style and preferences and I trust her to help choose things that will work for me. For me, it’s all about texture now that colour is beyond my visual reach. I still remember colour and, although the memories are slightly faded, I hope they won’t ever totally leave my mind.
Texture in clothing means I look for soft fabrics, with materials that are going to feel good and comfortable beneath my touch and against my skin, and the all-over chronic pain I experience means anything too tight or textured hurts. As a child though, never did I think there’d one day be braille fashion, but the fact that it is a tactile thing, I don’t see why not. I was so pleased to come across Aille Design in 2021. I quickly went to the website and reached out to Alexa and my Diversity Includes Disability t-shirt was on its way. I look forward to purchasing more pieces in future for my wardrobe.
I am always looking for products to feature and spotlight, especially for the fact that the packaging is so inclusive, especially the wash/dry instruction card and individualized thank you card that came with it, all in braille so I could read and not need someone to tell me how to launder the shirt.
My little brother and I have always been close, even as close a relationship as I’ve always had with my older brother and sister, because my younger brother knows what it’s like to be blind and this means we have a connection unlike that of anything else. On the radio show/podcast I created and host with him (me as writer/producer/social media/guest booker and him co-host and audio engineer), we are always looking to promote diversity in any area, disability inclusion in everything from science to literature to products of all kinds.
We started Outlook on university radio back in 2018 on air through Radio Western at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. We are available to stream live from the station’s website and as a podcast as well. On our show we cover accessibility, advocacy, and equality amongst other topics around intersectionality, disability inclusion, around blindness awareness and the sharing of diverse perspectives. Outlook has given us an outlet, a place to speak our minds and feel heard, all while avoiding the visual aspects of media which both of us can’t see.
Not being able to see yourself, this doesn’t take away the desire to see yourself.
I had more sight and lost that and I do struggle to fit in in a sighted world where appearance is important, where most people see the world visually, but creating our podcast is a positive way for me to direct my energies and my frustrations at the lack of ability for most to see the world in any other way but one.
With Outlook, we want to share our perspective and showcase the good work others do; on which, we talk braille an awful lot. We were taught it from a young age and is our favourite thing to talk about. Just knowing there is someone like Alexa out there, coming up with innovative ideas in the fashion scene, but doing it in a way that’s not simply making a braille shirt for blind wearers. Instead, she’s made the effort to bring people together through fashion, both blind and sighted alike, and she’s done it using braille. And I can’t tell you how happy that makes me, to have the knowledge that there are people out there taking us into account.
Outlook can be streamed live every Monday morning at eleven EST: https://949fm.ca/stream.m3u
It can also be found by searching Outlook On Radio Western on all major podcast platforms. Kerry and Brian are always looking for guests and feedback on their show. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow them on Facebook @outlookonradiowestern.
Aille Design founder, Alexa Jovanovic was recently interviewed by Kerry and Brian. Listen to the episode at one of the links below!