Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, Spotlight Sunday

Bold Blind Beauty

Today’s Spotlight Sunday, Part Two: I am featuring Stephanae McCoy and her wonderful site Bold Blind Beauty.

I came across this helpful resource through social media and I immediately knew I had to get in touch with her, and I am very glad I did.

We spoke for a long time, one April afternoon over Skype, and I learned about her own life and how it inspired her to start a website to offer style, fashion, and makeup tips and trends, in a way that women who are visually impaired and blind can understand.

Stephanae has a quote on her site which took hold of my attention right away. I felt like we might have a similar outlook on life when I read it.

“Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path
and leave a trail.”

That is precisely what she is doing with her website. This Ralph Waldo Emerson quote spoke to me and made me want to check her out and I hope you will too. First, here is our conversation.

***

When did you begin to lose your sight and how did you handle the change?

My vision loss began back in 2005. While looking in the mirror, I took out my right contact lens and since I still had in the left lens my reflection appeared as if half of my face was missing. Oddly enough I wasn’t afraid but I didn’t know what to think as I took out my left lens. Having high myopia (extreme nearsightedness), everything appeared normal once again except for when I closed my right eye. If you’ve ever looked in a fun-house mirror that’s how the vision in my left eye appeared as everything was distorted and it was such an eerie feeling.

The next day I called my doctor thinking that my new blood pressure medication was causing the issue and I was told to contact an ophthalmologist immediately. I was given an emergency appointment and my diagnosis (macular hole) was one of which I’ve never heard. The doctor explained how the nearsighted eye functions and why the macular hole developed. He went on to say that he was sorry he couldn’t do anything to restore my vision but he would refer me to a retina specialist.

Initially, handling my vision loss was not a major ordeal because I was under the care of a wonderful retina specialist who told me that all the statistics of vision restoration were in my favor. After my first failed surgery though I began to feel a little nervous; however, the second surgery was successful and I didn’t have any more issues until I developed an epiretinal membrane in my right eye. This was the point when life became more challenging for me as it affected the way I did my job, I began using adapted equipment to continue working, I was beginning to find it more difficult to read and while I was still able to drive, when the obstructions became too much for me to bare I voluntarily gave up driving.

As my vision continued to decline, I went for second and third opinions while simultaneously scouring the internet in search of a cure. In addition to the macular holes in both eyes I now had cataracts, a torn retina, glaucoma and way too many uncomfortable eye procedures in a vain attempt to keep my remaining vision. In view of all I was going through I reached my breaking point and felt I could not handle anymore, I was depressed, felt extremely isolated, lonely and very angry.

What was the hardest thing you found to deal with about vision loss?

The most difficult thing about losing my vision apart from not being able to see was the lack of general awareness, loss of information, and the negativity associated with blindness. It’s not an easy thing to go through however with the help of my blind and vision impaired friends I was able to see that I could still live a very fulfilling life with this disability.

Describe your own style before and after your loss of vision? How did lack of sight effect it?

I would describe my style as polished professional. After I graduated high school I went to business school and took a personal development course for women that taught me everything from poise to etiquette, style and elegance. I learned how to walk, sit, stand, speak, mannerisms, apply makeup and dress for success. Since I always knew I wanted to be a professional I learned early on how to dress the part to obtain my goal.

The loss of sight hasn’t greatly affected my style as I’m still the same person and I love being polished. Being able to mix and match colors has become a little challenging because I can no longer differentiate between shades of color. It’s easier to deal with colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. On occasion I do have to seek the opinions of family and/or friends on how a certain outfit appears on me since my mirrored reflection isn’t clear.

I find that shopping online for clothing and accessories is so much easier than going to brick and mortar stores mainly due to accessibility. Plus I enjoy taking all the time I need and being able to have shipments delivered so that I can then try them on in the comfort of my home. The added benefit with so much online competition is many retailers also offer free shipping.

What made you decide to start BoldBlindBeauty? What were you hoping to accomplish with the site? How did you want to help women who are visually impaired and blind with their personal style?

Two years ago I was approached by the President of the Pennsylvania Council of the Blind to do a makeup presentation for the women of the organization at our annual convention. Part of my preparation for any public speaking engagement is researching my topic and when I was looking for material on the subject of makeup for blind/vision impaired women I found very little information.
I titled my talk Bold Blind Beautiful because as blind and vision impaired women we have to be bold just to go out and conquer the day. I intentionally chose the word beautiful as a descriptor because it was my small contribution to alleviating the negative connotation associated with vision loss. The segment went over so well and there was so much interest in it I thought hmmmm why not do something on a grander scale and see what happens? This was the birth of Bold Blind Beauty.

What has been the response you’ve had from people since starting the site?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve had many women and a few men contact me via the site from all over the U.S., Canada, UK and other parts of the world supporting me and letting me know that it’s about time. The fashion industry does not cater to those of us with disabilities in general let alone people who are blind or vision impaired. I believe the reason is that people think because we can’t see that equates to our not caring about our appearance when nothing could be further from the truth. Granted, it takes a little more time and effort by providing descriptions but this information is essential for us to enjoy all that the industry provides to our sighted counterparts.

What advice or tips do you have for visually impaired and blind women about personal style, fashion, and makeup, as someone who was sighted before and now has become visually impaired?

The first piece of advice I would give is to get to do a self-evaluation and what I mean by this is style is individualistic and knowing yourself is the first step. Style like art, is a form of self-expression and communication which encompasses the whole person. It begins on the inside with our personality, lifestyle, values, likes, dislikes, mannerisms and it permeates all areas of our life.
Since the loss or lack of vision curtails the way we receive information it can be challenging but not impossible for us to develop our sense of style. Loss or lack of sight doesn’t mean we are non-persons who are unconcerned with how we present ourselves or live our lives. As long as we have the capacity to learn and are open to different methods on how we can partake in the world of fashion, we too can acquire the skills to be self-sufficient in this arena.

The key is honing our confidence and this piece of advice applies to everyone not just blind/vision impaired people. When we are able to assertively communicate our confidence how we are perceived becomes less important.

The last piece of advice I want to give is to have fun experimenting with your style, break the rules, this is how trendsetters are born.

What do you hope to do with your site going forward?

I want to inspire blind and vision impaired women and collaborate with them so that together we can develop unconventional approaches of defining our individual style, effectively using cosmetics, shopping for the latest trends. I envision the collective creativity of this demographic becoming mainstream in the fashion industry so that we can have a future as fashion designers, editors, stylists, photographers and models. Ultimately it is my hope that in so doing we can dismantle the myth that simply because we cannot physically see does not mean we lack vision.

***

I want to thank Stephanae for agreeing to talk to me about these things. She is greatly appreciated by us women who need a little extra help to find our personal style. I am so glad I came across her site, which can be found

Here,

And I know she will continue to offer a valuable service for visually impaired women everywhere.

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5 thoughts on “Bold Blind Beauty

  1. Stephanae and Kerry, this is such an interesting interview! You are both such inspiring and impressive women. Thank you for sharing Stephanae’s story and for helping people realize that a disability is merely a challenge to be dealt with.

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