I have been told on many occasions that I look like a very confident person. That I give off an air of sophistication, that I look “bougie” and even that I look intimidating – Who? Moi? But, the truth is, I’m none of those things, but I sure have become quite gifted at faking it!
I’ve spent the last 35 years slowly watching myself go blind. Watching from the inside out as people’s faces have gradually become less recognizable, numbers seemingly began to blend into each other and having to increase the magnification on my computer screen more and more with each passing year. Over time, I could no longer appear to look people in the eye, thus changing how I had once communicated and connected with the world around me. All of this while trying to continually figure out how to find new ways to successfully function in a world where differences are not always celebrated and disabilities are viewed with at best pity, at worst contempt. Let’s just say, I don’t always feel confident, sophisticated or intimidating.
In my battle to find my place in the world, my clothing has become my armour, empowering me with the ability to have some control over how I feel, how I’m perceived and how I’m treated so that even if I’m really freaking out about that interview or speaking engagement, no one will ever know. Every superhero has something they are trying to hide, and though technically I’m no superhero (yet lol), I employ the same tactics. What I wear and how I carry myself allows me to draw people’s attention to the things about me that I want them to focus on, while redirecting the focus away from what I don’t want them to see. Basically I’m pretty much a Houdini using clothing as my smoke and mirrors.
I’ve faced many challenges being a person with a “disability” (don’t you just hate that term? The connotation is one of weakness, inability, unattractiveness and everything else that can sound negative when it comes to a person). I learned at an early age the importance of assuming control of the conversation when I meet someone. By this I mean, finding ways to get an individual to see me, before they see my “disability”, and my go-to tools on my utility belt are my clothing and my body language.
I never thought about my “faking it” in so many words until I watched a TED Talk by Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy called: Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are. In it, she discussed the study she had done of the body language of confident, alpha type individuals and those of less confident individuals. Scientific research shows that performing the poses or characteristics of an “alpha” can help you become more alpha like; basically, faking it until you make it. Science has also shown that what you wear can have a direct impact on how you feel about yourself. Essentially, look good, feel good. I can vouch for the fact that these two tools can go such a long way to helping you feel good about yourself.
When I walk into a room, rather than trying to blend in the way I used to want to do when I was a kid and trying so desperately to fit in with my friends and hide the fact that I was the “blind girl”, now I want people to notice me. My very big, natural hair, my tall frame and often, my very bold outfit. I have had to walk into environments where I don’t even know if I will be able to see well enough to navigate the space, but rather than running away from the situation or being timid and staying around the edges of a room trying to blend in, I choose to express the part of myself that is most important: my personality, my creativity through my style aesthetic, and my uniqueness, not because I’m female, black, blind and have managed to successfully navigate a world that tells me I don’t belong on an HOURLY basis, but because I’m an amazing person, deserving of respect, dignity, acceptance, and love.
Now this may sound cocky, but trust me when I say it took me a long time to begin to think and feel this way, and I have not perfected the technique either! And let’s not get it twisted, I’ve also had some extremely embarrassing moments that would test the confidence of the most confident individuals. But thank God, I don’t embarrass easily and I don’t take myself too seriously so as long as my skirt does not end up over my head, I’m usually good humoured about seemingly embarrassing situations. And should the worst come to pass, well, at least I know I have on cute panties! Lol.
But I have to admit that the one area I struggle with most has nothing to do with mobility issues (i.e. navigating a space etc.) but rather with building relationships. I love meeting people and making new friends. I’m a very social person. However, meeting new people and building those relationships when your eye sight is as bad as mine is challenging. Let me paint you a picture; you go to a wonderful event, meet a lovely man or woman and have a great conversation about a shared interest for an hour. The following week, you go to another exciting event and reintroduce yourself to the same person. They look at you like your crazy because they know y’all spoke for like an hour just last week. They don’t realize that when you casually mentioned in the conversation that you don’t see well, you really, really meant it – sigh. Y’all, I’m still trying to figure this one out. As I typically don’t want my sight to be the focus of every conversation I have, needless to say, I really would prefer not to provide every new person I meet with my full medical history so that they will not think I’m cray, rude or snooty if/when I re-introduce myself to them at a future event!lol I won’t lie, these situations happen often, and they really do chip away at my strength and perseverance. But, I refuse to give up on me.
And while I still have days where I don’t think I’m amazing, don’t feel confident, sophisticated or intimidating, I still tell myself I am all those things. I speak the words as a mantra until I start “feelin’ myself” again.
It’s so hard and terrifying for me to share these little known facts about myself as it feels like now everyone will know my Kryptonite. Every superhero is always trying to hold on to that secret identity right? But, I was inspired by an amazing young lady who is facing similar challenges to what I had experienced growing up and feeling all alone. To help her - and remind myself that our not seeing well is not something we need to be ashamed of. I wanted to share this so that at least she knows that it’s ok to feel down sometimes, but we are still truly blessed. Despite all the obstacles that will come our way, we are strong, intelligent, beautifully sculpted by the Master’s hand and armed with everything we need to overcome. We are both going to make it in life. Correction, we’re not just going to make it, we’re going to kill the game and our eyesight will just make the game that much more memorable!!
Fashionably, confidently, sophisticatedly and intimidatingly yours,