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My interview with Brendan Magill on his workshop to help blind and partially sighted people think about how they present themselves and how these choices affect the way that others see them.
Seeing yourself as others see you
As a child, I wasn’t really interested in make-up and dressing up nicely, but I remember having a big basket of things for the bath and little bottles of perfume (my Nan was an Avon lady!)
When I went to High School, things began to change, and I became more interested in what I wore. I had my first venture into make-up and changed my hairstyle dramatically, which was a disaster, but at least I learned what I really didn’t like and could grow it out again!
I’ve always had friends and family who would give me honest feedback about how I look. My boyfriend knows that if I ask “does this look ok?” I’m looking for an honest answer before we leave the house! But what about blind people who don’t have anyone to give this feedback or who genuinely don’t care how they look? How can they get feedback if they want it, and what impact can not caring about their appearance have on them?
I know Brendan Magill because he runs a number of mailing lists for visually impaired people. The one most relevant to me is UKVISE, the list for self-employed visually impaired people.
When I discovered that Brendan had designed a workshop to help blind and partially sighted people understand more about how to present themselves at interviews and in the workplace, I decided to find out more about it. Why did he think this training was necessary? What mistakes had he seen people making?
I did a telephone interview with Brendan and this is what he told me.
1. How important is your own physical appearance and presentation to you as someone with a visual impairment?
I have congenital cataracts, but I’ve always had a useful amount of residual vision. My brother has the same condition and my dad was partially sighted. He could see more than us, but he always presented himself very well.
I can still hear my mum saying things like “head up, chest out, tummy in!” That was just what we did.
As my sight has been getting worse, I have come to understand why a lot of blind people don’t hold their head up high. There’s nothing to focus on. But still, it does look better if you sit up straight, with your head up, and face the person that you’re talking to. Not doing this draws attention to yourself in a negative way, because people wonder why your posture and body language are not the same as those around you.
I never thought about why I do some of these things. I just did them. I turned myself out well.
I went to New College Worcester. Whilst we weren’t pushed very hard to present ourselves well, we got involved in activities locally such as a youth club or dance classes. That was good for us because it helped us to become more social in the wider world, even though we were going to a special school for blind people.
When I got my first job, the first thing my dad did was to take me out to buy some new clothes for work so that I could look my best.
2. Why did you decide to create training to help visually impaired people to present themselves appropriately at work?
Throughout the following few decades I was always decently turned out when I went to work or into town. The result of this was that I seemed to get on very well in the community and people treated me well. I didn’t realise how much of that was happening until much later on when I started doing some IT training at RNC. I hadn’t thought about personal presentation much before then. I was teaching a group of students of various ages. I thought “some of these guys are actually quite scruffy! They won’t get a job looking like that.”
I was teaching them IT, but I said on certain days they had to come dressed as though they were coming to work. Some did and some didn’t.
One guy was in his 40s and he’d been losing his sight for a while. He used to come looking scruffy with a shirt he’d been wearing for a few days and a scruffy jacket. He needed a shower.
I took him into the office and had a chat with him about how he could spruce up his clothes. The following week was an improvement.
A few weeks later he finished his course and came back for speech day. He came to see me and was looking much better. Not only that but he’d got a job.
He probably did know that he wasn’t looking his best, but I think he hadn’t thought about it and how this would affect how other people thought of him.
The other one was harder. It was a girl in her early 20s, fortunately the same age as my own daughters. She used to come in to class dressed as though she were going clubbing with very revealing tops. She would do this even on days when she was supposed to be dressed for work.
I pointed out how revealing the top was. “If I could see more than I can, I would be able to see more than I should. You might want to dress like that on a night out with your friends, but it’s not the way to dress for work or college.”
After that conversation, I really needed to mention it to another member of staff. I talked to one of the female members of staff who was interested in the way people dress and present themselves. She was running a make-up session and said she’d include some tips about how you dress as well.
On speech day, the same girl came to me. She still looked gorgeous, but this time she looked presentable as well. She got a job too.
Those two experiences got me interested in the way people who are visually impaired are turned out. I started thinking about my own experiences, and watching what the blind and partially sighted people around me were doing. That’s when I got the idea for the workshop – seeing ourselves as others see us. This was nearly 20 years ago. I got a lot of advice from the female members of staff, particularly for the girls. I ran the workshop a few times for different organisations. I haven’t run it for a long time now, but I think it’s something that is very important.
It’s all about understanding that you can’t be totally free in the way that you present yourself. You need to fit in with the workplace as it is. If you can’t see how other people are dressing, you might not know what’s appropriate.
When you’re in work, you make friends with people. Blind people shouldn’t be afraid to ask their colleagues what they wear. But first you need the colleagues, and you won’t have those if you don’t pass the interview stage because of the way you look.
3. What would you say are some of the consequences of getting it wrong, and how can inappropriate personal presentation reduce someone’s chance of passing an interview or being fully integrated into the workplace?
If you turn up at an interview and are not presentable, you probably won’t get the job. Personal presentation is so important, particularly in jobs where you have contact with the public.
Regardless of your skills and experience, the interviewer might think “we don’t want someone like that turning up for work.”
If you’re already in employment, It makes you more segregated and you get known for the problem or unusual fashion choices, not for what you bring to the team.
Even if you know what’s appropriate, if you can’t see for yourself, you may need to get advice about what colours and styles can be worn together.
4. In general, have you found that sighted colleagues mention when something does not look appropriate or something is not right?
Most colleagues would be unlikely to tell you. Maybe it’s easier for girls, but first you have to build up trust and a good working relationship with them so that they feel comfortable about pointing things out.
There is a fear that things can be taken the wrong way. Sometimes colleagues don’t like to tell you about things that don’t look good because they don’t like to think they’re criticising someone with a disability. Also, they might not be sure how the blind person will react? Sometimes they even think that blind people don’t care. Sometime they’re right about that.
5. Why do you think that some blind and partially sighted people don’t have access to information about presenting themselves in the best possible way?
I think a lot of it is to do with political correctness. It’s seen to be wrong to criticise disabled people.
Families sometimes don’t know how to deal with it, or they don’t want to address uncomfortable issues.
6. What tips would you give someone who finds it difficult to go shopping for clothes on their own?
Start off by asking your family and sighted friends for help and advice. We need those sort of friends who can give us honest advice, and taking part in mainstream activities is a way to meet sighted people. Find a hobby or an activity that you can share with other people and explain to them what you need, rather than expecting them to know about blindness-related issues.
Sometimes the staff in shops can be really helpful, but the level of help available varies a lot between shops, and it’s hard to tell someone that they really don’t look good, which is why some shop assistants may be reluctant to do this. An honest friend or family member may feel more comfortable suggesting that you try something else.
Also, if you ask for the truth about how you look and the comment isn’t totally positive, take it on the chin and don’t be overly sensitive.
7. Do you ever get questions about make-up? How do you deal with those?
Very rarely. I used to refer them to my wife or my granddaughter. If you don’t know something, it’s better to say “I don’t know about that but I know someone who does.”
8. Where can we find out more about your work?
You can go to my website.
So, you know that on English with Kirsty I talk a lot about various beauty products. I’m not saying that everyone should take the same interest in make-up etc as I do, not being able to see is not an excuse to not care about how you look because even if you can’t see yourself, the people around you can still see you.
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One of my friends was surprised that eye cream features in my skincare regime, but even though I don’t tire my eyes with the hours and hours I spend in front of a computer screen, because I’m not actually using my eyes, it’s still important to take care of this most sensitive part of my face.
I first started using the Elderflower cooling eye gel from the Body Shop. This isn’t an eye cream as such, but it is cooling and refreshing on the skin.
Also, after watching loads of “best of 2016” reviews on Youtube, I decided to try the Kiehls avocado eye treatment, which I’m going to review here.
This eye cream contains avocado oil, which is said to be the most moisturising of all fruit oils, as well as vitamins A and E. It also contains shea butter, which protects skin from dehydration and improves the appearance of dry skin.
The Kiehls eye cream is thicker than the Body Shop one, but you can’t really compare the two products because they have different functions. The Body Shop one is to cool and moisturise, whereas the Kiehls one is more about moisturising, preventing dehydration and addressing concerns related to dry skin around the eyes.
It’s true that my eyes don’t work as hard as those of people who can see, but I’m in my mid 30s now, and I want to do what I can to reduce any fine lines or signs of aging. I do take care of my face, but eye creams are specially formulated to treat the more delicate skin around the eyes and target some of the problems we can get in this area, such as fine lines or dark circles. I’m not going to obsess over these things, but as I can’t see them, I want to keep them at bay!
The fine lines and wrinkles come because the skin makes less collagen as you age. They can also be because of sun damage, though I guess this is less likely in my case as I’m super-fussy with my high factor sun block and moisturisers.
Whilst doing a bit of research on this topic, I discovered an ongoing debate about whether it is necessary to use specific eye creams on this area, or whether a good moisturiser should do the job. Ultimately I think it’s a matter of choice, and I’m not trying to persuade you one way or the other. My main point is to say that just because I don’t use my eyes, I still see the importance of looking after the area around them, to nourish this thinner, and more sensitive skin, and to do what I can to combat lines and/or dark circles, which are bound to show up at some time, whether or not you can see.
How about you? Do you use an eye cream? If so, which is your favourite? Let me know in the comments! Next time I want to try the eye cream from Barefaced – has anyone tried that?
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Have you ever wondered what your make-up would look like if you did it without being able to check in the mirror?
I can see the sun streaming in through the window, or whether the light is on or off, but as I have been almost totally blind since birth, that’s all I can see. No shapes, no colours. So when I do my make-up, I can’t check in the mirror to make sure it looks ok.
When I was a teenager, I never considered make-up as something that wasn’t accessible to me. It was just like everything else – I’d probably have to find a different way to do it, but as long as I could get the results I wanted, I didn’t care about the process and whether my friends did it the same way. That doesn’t mean that the learning process was easy. I was being taught by people who had always put on their make-up using their sight, and if you can’t do that, sometimes you need to be creative.
The first thing you need is honesty. The only time my grandmother said “You can’t go out like that” was when there had been a particularly bad loose blusher disaster of which I was blissfully unaware (I never use loose powder blusher now because it’s too unpredictable!), and when I ask my partner whether my make-up looks ok, I’m not looking for a “you look wonderful” (unless I do of course!). I want to know if I’ve got the look I was going for or if I missed a bit of foundation near my hairline or had a mascara fail. I can usually tell if I did the latter, but it gives me peace of mind to check. That doesn’t mean I won’t go out the door without asking someone first, but if I’m on my own, I’m probably a bit less adventurous.
The hardest thing for me is having no concept of colour. I don’t know what my favourite colour is because I’ve never seen them. That makes it harder to decide what look I want to go for. I can make informed choices about the types of product I want to use, but when it comes down to the colours, I have to trust people. Rather than naively trusting anyone though, I do think about all the feedback together, to look for patterns. Some shop assistants are fantastic, whereas others just want to sell you stuff. Even well-meaning friends can get it wrong when they are influenced by what they would usually buy, instead of really thinking about what would suit someone else. You can ask 10 people and get 10 different answers, so I tend to choose people whose choices and suggestions have got me the most compliments and people who can explain their choices.
I wouldn’t say there is one way for blind people to do their make-up. I know blind women who like short mascara brushes, use powder eye shadow and get their lashes tinted. I don’t do any of these things, but I think you just need to find out what works for you. I tend to be a more hands-on kind of girl, blending products in with my fingers so I know exactly where they are. I avoid powders where I can, apart from my foundation setting powder, because cream products have less chance of fall-out, and when you can’t see the end result, it’s good to eliminate the chance of product landing where you don’t want it to. Until a few months ago, I wasn’t aware of many of the products that are on offer now. I have discovered new things that make life much easier and solve some of the problems I had as a teenager. I’m now eager to see what else is available, both by trying things out in beauty subscription boxes, and working with brands to make their products and services more accessible to blind people.
My products fall into two categories – ones that I’m happy to change up all the time, and ones that I stick to because I’ve found something that I like.
I like foundation in a pump dispenser because then I know how much product I have each time and that one pump of it will cover my face. When you can’t see the coverage, you have to be thorough and aware of the areas that you sometimes miss. For example I pay extra attention to my hairline and above my left eye, because these are the areas where I sometimes forget to blend, and the skin under my nose so that I don’t forget it altogether! I then cover it with some fixed powder using the sponge that comes with it.
When I was younger, I used powder eye shadows, but to be honest, the results were a bit hit and miss. I could usually manage to cover the eye, but sometimes there was fall-out on my cheeks and I wasn’t always sure that I had got rid of it. It was only recently that I discovered two types of product that make the process much easier for someone who can’t see: cream shadow crayons and cream shadow pots. Both of them are cream-based. I either use the crayons or sticks to colour in my eyelid, or I apply the cream shadow to my finger tip and apply it to my lids. Ok, it’s non-conventional, but it is a way to make sure I apply the make-up evenly and exactly where I want it to go. Eye primer can make this process more difficult, because the eye already feels creamy before you add the products, but again it’s about being thorough – going over an area twice is better than missing half your eye!
Some blind women don’t like applying mascara, but I’ve always found it ok as long as I’m not rushing. The critical point is making contact with the brush. I usually bring the brush up to my eye and blink gently so that my lashes touch the brush. This means that I don’t poke myself in the eye with it or paint part of my face. Once I can feel the lashes with my brush, I can follow round and coat all of them. I always go for bigger brushes that look the same all the way round. Combs annoy me. I’ve found one that I like now and the only reason I would change would be if someone recommended a fatter brush.
You already know about the blusher disaster that made me hurl my loose blusher to the back of the cupboard. When I was a teenager, I swapped it out for a fixed powder, but as I couldn’t feel it on my face very well, I was never sure about the coverage. Now I have cream highlighter, which I just draw on my face and blend in, cream blusher and cream contour. I love these products, because applying them is a really tactile experience. I can feel where they are. I can feel the shape of my face and where the product needs to be. I can feel if something isn’t blended in properly because of the texture on my skin.
I know there are blind women who use a lot more brushes than me for jobs where I use my fingers. It’s a matter of choice. The idea that a brush may not be clean or it may have a different colour on it than the one I want to use is a major turn-off for me, and I feel I have more precision with my fingers. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t try them, but I don’t feel I need to use them just because most other people do.
Applying lipstick is not difficult, but I find the traditional lipsticks easier to apply than the liquids, because you have more control over exactly where they are going and they are more forgiving than the extra-long lasting liquid ones if you make a mistake. I have a selection from different brands because they are easy to identify by touch. If I have a number of lipsticks or cream shadows from the same brand, I mark the packaging in some way so I can tell them apart.
I’m no expert and I know I go for simpler looks than many of my sighted friends. That’s ok for me – partly because I want the make-up to be more subtle anyway and to enhance what’s already there, and partly because I would rather do a simple thing well than a complicated thing badly! I’m still learning, but I wanted to share these ideas to show that this is something that blind people can do if they want to.
I can’t see the results, but the people around me can, and if I do it well, I feel good about it in the same way that I feel good wearing nice clothes or a piece of jewellery.
Some of my favourite products
These products won’t suit everyone, but I’ve listed some of the ones that I like and find easy to use. Also, as I can’t easily get pictures of all the products that I use, linking them means that you can have a look at the images on other sites or get further information.
- ELF hydrating face primer
- Max Factor Face Finity All Day Flawless.
- Max Factor X Creme Puff Pressed Powder
- Maybelline New York Master Strobing Stick Illuminating Highlighter
- MUA LUXE Whipped Velvet Blush
- Maybelline Colour Sensational Lipstick – 740 Coffee Craze
- Burt’s Bees Blush basin lipstick
- Kat von Dee studded kiss lipstick
- L’oreal volume million lashes mascara
- Max Factor excess shimmer cream eye shadow
- Charlotte Tilbury, eyes to mesmorise cream shadow in Jean
- Maybelline color tattoo veils – breathless
Over to you!
Has reading this article made you want to ask any questions? If it has, post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer! Also, if you’re visually impaired and you want to add anything about how you apply make-up, or any tips for making it easier, I’d love to hear them!
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My tips on applying eye make-up when you can’t check in the mirror.
I’ve been using eye make-up since I was about 15, but I’ve only recently discovered some products that make it a lot easier and reduce the chances of things going wrong. When you can’t see, avoiding mistakes is even more important because you can’t look to see whether you’ve done a good job. If my boyfriend or a trusted sighted friend is around, I usually check to make sure everything looks ok, but I am also confident enough to go out or go on a video call with one of my English learners without first getting my make-up checked.
In the past, I used to use powder eye shadows. I labelled them all up in Braille with a friend so that I knew which colours were where on the palate. (Braille is a tactile writing system used by blind people). We printed the words out onto plastic sheets and stuck them on the lid of the palate above each colour.
The problem with powder eye shadows is that, even if you get good coverage on the eye, if you can’t look in a mirror, you can’t tell if there was any fall-out under your eyes or on your cheeks. This definitely isn’t the look I was going for, but sometimes the powder went in places where I didn’t want it, and this was annoying.
Then I discovered the whole idea of eye crayons. I first heard about them on my friend Joanna’s blog MyPinkRambles. You can look at some of the crayons that Joanna bought here.
Joanna makes a good point about brands and their names – sometimes it’s really hard to work out what colour things are if you go by the product names. I understand it’s all part of the marketing, but I wish that brands would includemore information in their product descriptions sometimes.
Anyway, I now have a few eye shadow crayons, and colouring in my eyes with them is much easier than using the powder, with the additional bonus that there is no chance of fall-out because the colour goes only where you put it.
When I was telling my friend Amy about this – you’ll get to meet her on the blog soon – she suggested that I try the paint pots as well. They are cream eye shadows that you can apply with a brush or your fingers, and, like the crayons, the colour only goes where you put it. At the moment I have two cream eye shadows:
Both of them go on well and last well. I prefer the packaging on the MAC one because it doesn’t have such a high lip around the product, which means it’s easy to access it. The MAC one does feel more luxurious, but if you are looking for a cheaper alternative, the Maybelline one works fine.
Applying mascara is an art and it’s best to learn when you’re not in a hurry. I prefer non-waterproof ones, because it’s easier to be sure that I really have got rid of it all when I take it off.
I usually bring the wand up to my face and blink gently until my eye lashes make contact with the brush. This is a good way to avoid getting poked in the eye with it. I prefer the big, fat brushes, because they give you more surface area to work with. At the moment I am using L’oreal volume million lashes.
I haven’t done much with eye liner in the past, but I got a pencil in my Body Shop calendar, and it’s easy enough to draw on the line because I can feel where the tip of the pencil is and where the line needs to go.
This is something that I hadn’t tried before, but my friend Amy gave me the Make-Up Revolution eye primer, to lay a foundation for the eye shadow. As long as there isn’t too much product on the applicator, this can just be painted on to the eye, using the fingers on the other hand to initially position or guide the applicator if necessary.
What about you?
If you’re visually impaired, what are your favourite products? Do you have any tips to add to this list?
I’m not an expert – I’m just sharing my experiences and what has worked for me. I’m still learning! In fact, I don’t think we should ever stop learning.
If you haven’t tried any of these things before, the best advice I can give is to try out a few products and get some feedback on how you look. Just because something works for me, it doesn’t mean it will be the best choice for you. When I was a child, something that I hated with a passion was the one-size-fits-all this-is-how-blind-people-do-things-idea! So if it’s something that interests you, I’d encourage you to just give it a go.
Also, if sighted readers have any tips or products to recommend, let me know. If I’d known that cream eye shadows were on the market, I would have snapped them up years ago!
If you want to find out how I do the rest of my make-up, check out this article!
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