Woman shaving her legs while lying in bathtub.

10 Intrusive Personal Hygiene Questions People Ask Me as a Blind Woman

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After the initial shock wears off when people discover I’m legally blind, the “tip-toe questioning” commences. That’s when a sighted person decides to ask me ten less offensive questions on their quest to get the balls necessary to ask me that one, burning question they’re dying to know relating to my disability. While I’m pretty open to answering just about anything with relation to my visual impairment, I’m busy and I’ve got two kids to take care of. In an effort to avoid this annoying process, here are 10 of the most common personal grooming questions I’ve been asked along with my honest (sorry, Mom) responses.

1. How do you shave your armpits? Yup, people have asked me this. No, really. Do you remember that Julia Roberts long armpit hair phase?  Well that “look” doesn’t fly with me! I shave my underarms like any other woman. In the confines of my shower, I put a little bit of liquid soap under my armpit. I raise my arms over my head (one at a time, of course) and then make three long strokes with my Venus razor in the direction the hair grows. I go slightly farther down with the razor than I did before I lost my eyesight just to make sure I haven’t missed any stragglers.  TMI? Remember, you asked.

2. How do you pluck your eyebrows?  I’m a firm believer in knowing your limits. Plucking my eyebrows is beyond the scope of my current skill set as a blind woman. I’ll own that. For $7.00, I can walk into any nail salon in New York City and get a brow wax.  Money well spent if you ask me. However, I am happy to report that does not mean I don’t use tweezers for other personal grooming.  I am quite capable of pulling out an occasional chin hair by feel!  Don’t pretend you don’t have any. You know who you are.

3. Can you paint your own nails?  In a word, no. But if I’m being totally honest, that was always difficult for me, even when I could see. On occasion, I do paint my daughter’s nails with a non-toxic nail polish called Piggy Paint. The brush is large enough for me to hit those tiny fingers, giving their nails enough color to make them happy.  At 3 and 1 years old, neither one of them are requesting French manicures, so I’m in good shape. At least for now.

4. How do you put on lipstick?  I became blind when I was 32 years old. I had a good 16 years of practice before becoming visually impaired. I think I know where my lips are. MWAH!

5. What about mascara and eye liner?  If I wasn’t already blind from cancer, I probably would have lost my eyesight in a tragic liquid eyeliner accident. That crap is not easy to apply for any woman. I usually make a feeble attempt in the hopes I will somewhat resemble Adele, but I actually end up looking more like Johnny Depp a la “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Not pretty. Truthfully, I tend not to wear eye makeup because it irritates my eyes. If I do want to wear it for a special occasion, I will happily pay someone to do my makeup professionally.

6. How do you shave your legs?  Same as the pits (see #1). I hike my leg up against my shower wall, lather up, and break out the razor. I start at my ankle bone, going all the way up my thigh, then move slightly over with every pass of the razor. I’ve cut myself many times using this method, but no more than I did when I had 20/20 vision. Sometimes, being a woman is just complicated. Pain is beauty, right?

7. How do you take care of your “lady parts?” Don’t believe someone has really ever
asked me this? I hate to tell you, it’s happened on more than one occasion. I have two responses: I either leave “it” alone or seek out professional help from an aesthetician (waxer). Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to go anywhere in that general vicinity with an electric trimmer. I tried that route once when I was pregnant with my first child and I needed an emergency visit to my OB-GYN afterwards. Yeah, how’s that for an overshare. Needless to say I didn’t need stitches, but it came pretty damned close. No thanks, this blind chick has learned her lesson.

8. What about your Aunt Flo? Are you kidding me with this? (Insert eye roll with my good eye here.) Here’s the thing, there are certain things a lady knows just because she’s a lady. It doesn’t require any significant detailed explanation. We have 4 other senses besides eyesight that allow us all to know what’s going on with our bodies. And that’s all I’m going to say about that. “Period.”

9. How do you brush your teeth? With a toothbrush. Enough said.

10. How do you style your hair? My hair has always been relatively short. I’m the low-maintenance type and never fussed over my “do” so to speak. I would wash it, towel it off, and blow dry. Most ladies will agree that if you’ve gotten into the habit of parting your hair to one side, it just seems to naturally land there after awhile. That didn’t change after I lost my eyesight.

Since being diagnosed with alopecia in April 2016, hair is no longer an issue for me.  I just choose between one of my two wigs, throw it on, and go. At home, I’m usually au natural – meaning I’ve startled a few delivery men by answering the door in all my bald-headed glory. I have to admit, I’ve kind of enjoyed that part of my hair loss journey.

Here’s the thing, I totally understand your curiosity. It’s not so much the questions themselves that bother me, it’s their delivery. Take it from this blind woman, most ladies don’t like being asked overly personal questions with regards to their beauty regimen. Would you ask a sighted person any of these questions? Probably not.

If you encounter someone who is blind or visually impaired, stop the “tip-toe” questioning.  Respectfully, come right out and ask what you want to know. You might be surprised by some of the answers you’ll get.

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I Hope for as a Blind Transgender Guy

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Growing up, there were two secrets about me I wanted no one to know. I had “weird feelings” — what I later understood was being transgender — and I was and am very visually impaired. Both were and are hard for some people to deal with. Both are visible to those around me. Both mean that people ask odd questions sometimes. ”What do you see?” ”How do you use that big stick?” ”Do you need help?” ”Can’t glasses fix it?” ”You’re faking, you can see some.”

The trans questions are often both more frustrating and more unkind. ”What’s it like?” ”What surgeries are you going to have?” ”Why did you choose to be this way?” ”Do you like guys or girls?” And the worst, ”You could just be a lesbian, you know that, right?”

I am not a girl, I was just born in a female body. While I am legally blind, I have some vision, and I can for the most part do things without help. If I need help, I will ask.

Sometimes I wonder what causes people to ask what is “wrong with me” more — the cane, or the fact I neither look straight or totally male or female by society’s standards. Hormones will change my appearance over time, but for now I am at the crossroads of gender. In a sense I am the same way when it comes to my vision; I am somewhere in between sighted and blind. I have enough sight to see a person, though not much else. I have fallen off curbs, walked into things, and all those experiences visually impaired and blind people know all too well.

I wish people would understand that my visual impairment hasn’t broken me. I still ride horses, still live my life, and still am me. Being transgender, being female to male or as I think of it a trans man, doesn’t make me a monster; it doesn’t mean I need to be fixed. It means I was unlucky enough to be born in the wrong gender, and I have to take hormones and have surgeries to get to the true me.

I am not someone who is going to hurt your kids, nor do I need to be prayed for. I am simply the blind guy standing on the street corner, who is hoping he will get through his day being gendered correctly, and not walk into any stop signs.

The Mighty is asking the following: Are you in both the LGBTQ and disability/disease/mental illness community? What is one thing you want society to know about your experience? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
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helen keller

6 Reasons I Admire Helen Keller: A Birthday Tribute

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June 27 has always been a personally significant day for me. It’s the anniversary of my first date with my husband. I guess it’s safe to say that date went fairly well because exactly three years later, he proposed. A year after that, June 27, 2002, we took the plunge and got married. Fast forward 18 years and we’ve had our very own Lifetime Movie version of marriage. Cancer, family drama, blindness and oh yeah, two toddlers. However, it wasn’t until after I lost my eyesight that I realized June 27 is significant for another reason — it also happens to be Helen Keller’s birthday. And when you’re a blind woman navigating vision loss, you need to stop and pay homage to the woman who paved the way.

No elementary school education would be complete without learning something about Helen Keller. She was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to Arthur Keller, a retired Army Captain, and Kate Adams. Helen was actually a healthy baby but contracted what doctors referred to as “acute congestion” (possibly from scarlet fever or meningitis) at 19 months old, essentially causing her to become both deaf and blind. My youngest daughter, Aoife, is 20 months old and I can’t imagine the fear Arthur and Kate must have felt as they watched their little girl make that transition, especially during the 1800’s.

Helen was a smart cookie. She tried her best to understand her surroundings by using her remaining senses of touch, smell and taste. However, in her autobiography Keller admitted she was pretty frustrated and perhaps understandably pissed off (my words, not hers) that she could not communicate with her family though traditional modes of conversational speech. By the age of 6, Helen resorted to a way many children express their anger; she began having tantrums, and by all historical accounts they were epic.

Her parents were beside themselves and knew they had to do something to help their daughter. They began to search for a teacher. Several candidates were hired, only to quit after receiving a dose of Helen’s raging behavior. Helen’s mother contacted Perkins School for the Blind Director Michael Anagnos, who sent Annie Sullivan, his prized graduate, to Tuscumbia in March of 1887.

Annie had a reputation for being a bit of a badass herself. Also visually impaired, Annie was sent to Perkins School for the Blind after the death of her mother and brother. She was a Perkins educated, strong-willed woman, dedicated to her profession. But little Ms. Keller wasn’t about to make Annie’s job easy for her – not by a long shot. While Helen eventually referred to her and Annie’s initial meeting as her “soul’s birthday” – ever grateful for the impact Sullivan had on her life – the relationship started out as more of a Ramsey Bolton versus John Snow battle, cirque Game of Thrones 2016.

Helen liked to fight, and the chick fought dirty. She hit Annie. Punched her. Kicked her. It’s even documented that Annie Sullivan lost a tooth as a result of Helen’s rages. And if the daily smack downs weren’t enough, Keller’s parents also interfered with Sullivan’s teaching methods.

Eventually, Annie convinced the Kellers she needed to be alone and independently control Helen. She moved into a small cottage on the family’s property. Through patience, perseverance and consistency, Annie finally developed a trusting relationship with Helen Keller that blossomed into a mutually respectful working relationship. Sullivan taught Helen “finger-spelling” – signing letters for words into the palm of her hand. Annie adapted some of the methodology she learned at her time with Perkins to incorporate Keller’s fascination with nature. The real breakthrough occurred when Helen learned the word “water” while Annie pumped it onto her hands from the well located just outside her home. From that point forward, Helen Keller was a force to be reckoned with in changing the world’s attitudes towards the disabled community, especially for deaf-blind people. Here are six amazing facts about Helen Keller that prove why she deserves our utmost R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

1. Helen Keller was brilliant. By age 10, Helen Keller had mastered braille and the manual alphabet. She even learned to use a typewriter. When she was 16, she spoke well enough to enroll in preparatory school. In 1904, Helen Keller became the first deaf-blind person to graduate from a college. But in typical Keller style, she didn’t just graduate, she finished cum laude from Radcliffe College.

helen keller
This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b26030.

2. Helen Keller had an impressive posse. Yeah, that’s right, I said “posse.” Helen rolled with the big boys of her generation. She was friends with everyone from Alexander Graham Bell to Lyndon Johnson. She also had a very close relationship with author Mark Twain, who actually coined the endearing term “miracle worker” for Helen’s teacher, Anne Sullivan.

3. Helen Keller was an “OG” feminist. Helen Keller didn’t just advocate for the disabled community; she took an active interest in a lot of issues, especially those relating to the woman’s suffrage movement. Keller had an opinion and she wasn’t afraid of sharing it on every subject from politics to birth control. She used her disability as a platform to explore these issues and proved to the world that she was an independent thinker.

4. Helen Keller was an accomplished writer. Helen wrote her first book, an autobiography about her life, when she was in college. She authored 12 books in total and countless articles reflecting her experiences as a deaf-blind woman and other causes she was passionate about. In the mid 1950’s, Helen’s writing inspired a television movie about her life which was then produced into a successful Broadway play. Eventually, “The Miracle Worker,” became an Oscar-winning film – landing both Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft with the coveted golden statues.

5. Helen Keller was a frequent flier. Between 1930-1950, Helen traveled to over 39 countries, changing perceptions about people with vision loss all over the world. Her mere presence was so impactful in some of these communities that blind schools and rehabilitation centers were established as a direct result of her visits.

6. Helen Keller was a passionate activist. Helen Keller lobbied on behalf of the American Federation for the Blind for 44 years. During World War II, she specifically sought to help blind veterans, orphans and refugees. She received several awards and citations for her dedicated activism from both the U.S. and abroad.

Since losing my eyesight four years ago, Helen Keller has become more than just an elementary school history lesson. She’s more than the infamous “Miracle Worker” scene of Patty Duke pushing on that water pump. Helen Keller is the woman who laid the foundation. She taught the world that the disabled community can do more than merely exist within society; we are capable of contributing to it. As someone who, like Helen, lost my sight from an unforeseen medical condition, I believe her birthday is something to be celebrated. Thank you, Helen Keller for being a strong, deaf-blind woman. Thank you for using your disability as a platform to educate the world. Thank you for paving the way for me to live successfully as a blind wife, mother, social worker and blogger! Like you, I will never lose sight of life, love and laughter. Happy Birthday, Helen Keller!

The Mighty is asking the following: Share a powerful moment you or a loved one has had with a public figure. Or, write a letter to a public figure who you feel has helped you or a loved one through his or her work. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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What I'm Learning From My 'Chrysalis' Year as a Legally Blind Young Adult

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I’m leaving home tomorrow.

Even though a few months ago I left for the first time, this feels more real and substantial for some reason. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m going alone. Not that I’m flying alone, but that I’m going to really be “on my own” when I get back to my orientation and mobility training program in Seattle. This time, no one is coming with me to help, but it’s not a bad thing. Neither I nor my parents have any doubts — I can handle all of this.

To a lot of people, this kind of thing happens naturally and isn’t a big deal. But even though I’ve always been intelligent, things were more difficult to learn because I had much less vision than others in a sight-dependent world.

After graduation, I decided to take a gap year. Even though many young people do this, I wasn’t excited about it at all. I didn’t want to be any more different from other people than I already am. It turns out, the problem was really my perspective. Living and working with other blind and visually impaired individuals at this program has really opened my eyes (pun intended.) It hasn’t been easy. Going to this program feels like your disability is being shoved in your face every day, and that’s hard, especially knowing I am going to lose more vision as I get older. Everyone there has a lot of emotions about their situation. Each person has a story, none of us are perfect and we don’t always get along.

Blindness doesn’t discriminate. Rich, poor, tall, short, thick, thin, all kinds are affected by this impairment. To put it simply, the OTC (Orientation Training Center) is a lot of imperfect people trying to make the best life they can for themselves despite the challenges they face. That’s not a mantra or anything, just my personal assessment.

At first, I was a little disappointed looking at my friends’ college pictures, thinking “that should be me.” I got over it, though. This year was my chrysalis. I have two acceptance letters plus scholarships to great colleges and a ton of possibilities. I love myself and have more confidence than I ever have before. To be honest, it’s a wonderful feeling.

Although I’m surprised and proud when it comes to my metamorphosis, I didn’t write this solely for that reason. School was really hard. I was a caterpillar at one time. Sixth grade to 11th felt like I was crawling on my belly, trying not to get eaten. In 12th, amazed I survived to that point, I started to make my chrysalis. I know I’m not the only person who felt like school was more about survival than having a good time. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but if you’re thinking about giving up on yourself, don’t do it. Not for me or your S.O. or even your mom, but because if you give up, you will never get to know all the wonderful things you can be.

Follow this journey on The Blink Butterfly.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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How This 'Fabulously Chic' Icon Helps Me Feel Confident After Vision Loss

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Meeting the world on its terms after losing much of my eyesight was difficult. Prejudice, inequality and inaccurate presumptions, though not new, were now based on my disability.

“As she steps forth to face the crowds

Some will stare, some will pass.

Captures attention as she goes

What do they really know?”

You’ve probably heard the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know.” For example, I didn’t know I couldn’t see until I put on my first pair of eyeglasses. Prior to wearing eyeglasses, I functioned quite well because I wasn’t aware of what I couldn’t see, so as far as I was concerned there were no limitations to what I could achieve.

“She walks on by, her head held high

Opinions form in minds.

Some only see the stick she holds

What do they really know?”

Likewise, while I knew there was a significant disparity between the abled and disabled communities, I was stunned to find myself caught in the middle of two worlds. Many times I felt alienated for not being fully sighted, yet also not fully blind.

“I’m sick of people staring at your cane. It’s 2016, why do people still stare at people who use mobility devices?” my son asked me when we were on a recent outing.

“With cane in hand she proves she’s strong.

Breaking through opinions

She’s changing minds, she’s changing views

Shows them what they should know.”

I am grateful that I can’t see the gawking, however this is the reality of living with low vision in the sighted and non-sighted worlds. Sighted people can’t comprehend why a person who appears to see uses a white cane, and on the other end of the spectrum, blind people can take offense to people who aren’t totally blind being referred to as such.

Acceptance, the one thing most people yearn for, can seem especially elusive when living with a disability. However once we become confident enough to accept ourselves with our disability, we can begin to meet the world on our terms.

Abigail.
Abigail.

We are living in an era where people with disabilities are aggressively finding creative solutions to overcome the obstacles we face. Abigail, the poem by Jazmin Ruiz contained within this article was inspired by the stylish new white cane icon.

“Strength and beauty is what she holds.

Walking tall, head held high.

And there she goes achieving goals

That’s all they need to know.”

Abigail has sight loss, yet she is fabulously chic as she walks confidently with purpose, letting her white cane guide the way. The icon was designed with a two-fold mission in mind: to embolden women who are blind or have sight loss to embrace their individual greatness, and to eradicate the stigma around all kinds of visual impairments.

As a society, let’s begin a clean slate, operating from a standpoint of “we don’t know what we don’t know” to view people with an open mind. Let’s cease placing people with disabilities in a box of conformity based on what we think they can or cannot do. Once we are able to do this, we eliminate limitations.

Follow this journey on Bold Blind Beauty.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe your experience of not quite fitting under one specific diagnosis or a label your community identifies with. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Blind Man Files Lawsuit Against McDonald's Drive-Thru Policy

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A lawsuit against McDonald’s is alleging that the fast-food giant’s drive-thru policies violate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Plantiff Scott Magee, a resident of Louisiana who is blind, visited a McDonald’s franchise on foot one night in August 2015. Finding that the restaurant’s lobby was closed for the night, Magee sought service from the drive-thru. According to his suit, attendants “refused service to him, laughed, and told him to go away.”

Magee believes this constitutes discrimination, saying in his suit that “blind people must hope for a companion with a car or paid taxi services to assist them in selecting and purchasing McDonald’s food.”

Magee and his lawyer, New Orleans-based Roberto Luis Costales, filed a class-action lawsuit against McDonald’s Thursday in Chicago’s federal court.

According to the suit, the burger chain shows no “concern whatsoever for the accessibility of the late-night drive-thrus to the disabled.”

Neither McDonald’s nor Costales, responded to The Mighty’s request for comment.

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