my Relationship with Makeup and Mirrors

Mirror, mirror, on the wall
I cannot see you, not at all
But I don’t need to hear your call
To know that I am fair as all

Ok, I’m not a poet, and I’ve only had one cup of coffee. But I hope you get the point. One of my many superpowers afforded to me by being blind is that I can put on makeup without a mirror, and do a fine job of it, too, I’m told. But I can also go weeks, months even, without even once wondering what I look like.

In last week’s Book review I mentioned the author, a blind woman by the name of Jennifer Rothschild, included make-up tips in her memoir, Lessons I Learned in the Dark. She said that, as a speaker and musician, that was one of the most frequent questions she received from female attendees after events. “But Jennifer, how do you put on makeup?”

Though no one’s ever asked me this personally, I found the question disturbing, disappointing, intriguing, challenging, and determined to sit in the back of my mind. My reaction to it has evolved through the following series of sentiments over the years.

“Wow, people are so shallow! You have a brilliant woman of God in front of her and you’re obsessed with vanity?”

“I wonder if a lot of blind women feel insecure about this? It’s never bothered me…”

“Is it really obvious I don’t wear makeup? I wonder if people think I avoid it because I’m blind and thus can’t do it…”

“Maybe I should make my lack of makeup some kind of anti-ableist stand, that requiring women to cake their faces in toxic chemicals for the concealment of visual imperfections is a merely sighted perspective on the world and I needn’t feel obliged to participate.”

“So…just out of curiosity…how does one put on makeup when one can’t see it? I mean, it might be useful someday, and I know it helps with photos, and I’d hate to mess up someone else’s photo memory by being distractingly washed out. That wouldn’t be polite…”

“Ok, this topic has taken up far more of my thought-life than it deserves. I’m just going to learn how to do it, put that tool in my box, and move on.”

There’s a lot to be said for most of these positions. As makeup modifies one’s body chemistry, appearance, and self-impression it’s a very personal thing, but that’s not to say it’s so personal it can’t or oughtn’t to be discussed. Makeup and blindness are an interesting combination.

To my surprise, when researching for this post I discovered that there are, in fact, blind makeup artists! The conversation’s going on, and I’m a little late to the table. But sometimes getting to that table is a journey worth talking about in itself.

There is an underlying fear in many adults with disabilities that I have encountered, an apprehension of not being taken seriously as fully functional, independent, even valuable adults, let alone professionals. I had this sense of rarity of being a professional with a disability reinforced recently when speaking with an assistant attorney general of my state who is a wheelchair user, and who said it was very nice to speak to someone with a disability who’d “broken into the realm of being a professional.”

Unfortunately, the stigma of blind and disabled people being unable to dress and present themselves in a professional manner is alive even today. It contributes to the disheartening statistics mentioned in This post. For me, the allure of having one more tool of modern professionalism, in this case makeup, at my disposal was stronger than the memory of my adolescent diatribes against vanity.

I’d dabbled with makeup off and on throughout college, chiefly for the purpose of dampening the effect of stage lights on a pale blonde, but now I really wanted to learn what I was doing. So, a week or so after I finished my graduate studies I called upon two trusted girlfriends, booked a consultation at a local Ulta store, and steeled myself for what I assumed would be a complicated, and possibly emotional, ordeal.

It was certainly emotional, but the emotion was more mirth than anything like discomfort, insecurity, or frustration as I had anticipated. I mentioned in my Axe-throwing post that people in customer service usually have one of two common reactions to serving, teaching, or working with their first blind customer/coworker/client/et cetera. Happily, the consultant working with me took the challenge with gusto.

So, into Ulta I went, friends, flanking to either side. Their official purpose was to help with the selection of colors. But I had also picked these two particular ladies because I knew if I started obsessing or taking myself or anything else too seriously they would find some gentle, even humorous, way of communicating it. This should be a fun exploration of something new, not carry the weight of the professional reputation of all people with disabilities!

This is called “catastrophizing,” assuming the worst-case scenario and acting on that assumption. It’s deeply rooted in the fear that one cannot survive said disaster. Naturally, the chief remedy is to convince someone, body and soul, that they can, in fact, survive that worst-case scenario.

Or, in my case, to forget about it entirely.

The consultant at Ulta had a delightful sense of humor and understood my goals perfectly, choosing products and colors that are very nearly fool-proof. We talked about the clean beauty movement, application techniques and how I could adapt them, and Greta’s habit – apparently universal to dogs – of licking any foreign substance off my face if given half a chance.

We had so much fun while building a makeup routine personalized to my individual needs that I forgot about the greater complexities of feminism, vanity, professionalism and activism. My own core value of simplicity rose to the surface, and I came out with products and techniques that would allow me to achieve a good look with only a miniscule investment of time and energy. It was far more “me” than any concessions to philosophizing could have produced.

For those of you who are interested in the more technical aspects of putting on makeup when you can’t see a mirror, I’ve provided the following links. I will note that I found far more resources for those who are partially blind than for those who are totally blind. This, I suspect, is partly due to the fact that there are more “partials” than totally blind people in the world.

After our delightful hour spent in the store, my friends and I walked across a couple of parking lots and down a block to a local restaurant for some really sumptuous Mexican food. During the course of our conversation, one of my friends mentioned that “she had the most gorgeous purple highlights.”

“She?” I asked.

“The consultant,’ my friend replied.

“She…” I repeated, with a  sinking feeling. “The voice sounded masculine. I’m pretty sure I used masculine pronouns…”

“I’m sure she understood,” my friend assured me. “I mean, how else were you supposed to tell?”

That being said, I offer this very late, probably never-to-be-heard apology to my consultant that evening. I meant no disrespect, invalidation, insult, or anything of the kind. That lovely person made a difficult activity into a truly affirming one, and I am grateful for their exquisite understanding and social acumen.

Unlike many women, I have never experienced consequences for not wearing enough or wearing the wrong, makeup. I don’t know if this is because, as in the case of motherhood, people just assume I don’t because I’m blind or if they really don’t care in general or if I’ve just never been around people prejudiced enough to make unkind remarks of that sort, but after a conversation or two with friends, my husband, and my therapist, I decided that ‘I just don’t care enough to put time into it very often” is a good enough reason to not bother except on special occasions.

Insecurity is apparently no match for “out of sight, out of mind.”

I am now the proud owner of a little bamboo mesh bag containing foundation, blush, eye shadow, lipstick, and assorted brushes. I practice applying it all once a month to ensure I don’t lose the trick of it, but the real acquisition that night was the confidence to wield, or let go of, this tool as I choose, without having to wrestle with any other pressure than my own needs and desires. Inside that little bag is freedom.

Apart from anything else, the whole experience above helped me identify some threads of anxiety lurking in the back of my mind and settle them. And, after all, isn’t that the chief end of makeup? To smooth over insecurities?

Your favorite blindfluencer challenges you to face one insecurity in the next 30 days. Face it, then sit back and watch the fear melt away.

3 thoughts on “my Relationship with Makeup and Mirrors

    1. I’m glad you found it so accessible. It feels like both such a basic and yet complicated thing, most girls and young women explore it in early adolescence but I didn’t really learn much about it until I was 30. Sometimes when we don’t learn some thing at the same age most people do it can feel very isolating, but I believe it’s always a good day to learn something new


      1. Yes, I can understand some of that because of being a latebloomer in many things. I got into makeup around 23 myself, but I remember how as a child I would always try to act like the other kids around me just so I wouldn’t come off as too different from them to be accepted by them. Being at a different pace than others meant you would be singled out and avoided or worse made fun of. Not fitting with the majority can be a really isolating experience.

        Liked by 1 person

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