“Oh my gosh, I don’t know what I would do if I were blind,” is something I hear a lot after people find out I’m visually impaired. Then they’ll ask me a dumb question like “Why don’t you just wear glasses?” as if they’re suddenly an ophthalmologist.
I understand it can be hard to comprehend what it must be like to go through life with little to no vision, and I have no problem answer any of the dumb (or not so dumb) questions people may have. But I do have a problem with people equating blindness, or any disability for that matter, to weakness. Having a disability doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish things or that you are helpless.
Molly Burke is a beauty and fashion YouTuber who recently hit one million subscribers and has collaborated with notable YouTubers including Shane Dawson, Cassey Neistat, Gabbie Hanna and Lilly Singh. She speaks naturally in front of the camera and effortlessly applies her makeup, and when you first come across her, you may not realize she’s completely blind.
Burke suffers from Retinitis Pigmentosa, a rare disease which causes the breakdown of the cells in the retina. Throughout her childhood, Burke began to slowly lose her eyesight, and she completely lost her vision at 14 years old.
When you watch Burke’s videos, you see a strong and independent young woman, but unfortunately, she wasn’t always like that. When she lost her eyesight, she also lost all of her friends and dealt with bullies and depression. Burke used YouTube as a distraction away from the torment.
Burke has always loved fashion and beauty but was afraid of how she would continue enjoying this passion after losing her vision. It’s not like she can flip through a fashion magazine, but because makeup tutorials and beauty hauls are descriptive, YouTube gave a way to still enjoy her fascination.
Beauty guruses describe the exact shade of eyeshade they are applying, the shape of the brush used and the techniques used to apply to the makeup onto the face. Similarly, fashion vloggers describe the color and material of the article of clothing, and how it could be styled with other items. Creators like Blair Fowler, Bethany Meta and Megan Parken helped Burke learn to love things that are visual in nature.
“By listening to their videos, I would hear them do outfit of the day and fashion hauls, and I would learn what was in style, what was trendy,” Burke told ReFinery29. “I couldn’t look in magazines or store windows, so those became my magazine.”
Burke decided to start her own channel four years ago, and although she films a couple of Q&As about her disability and actively works to destroy stereotypes associated with blindness, not all of Burke’s videos focus on her lack of vision. Instead, she focuses on her great love of fashion and makeup as well as spreading positivity. Burke is such a bright person, and her disability doesn’t make up her entire personality.
“I see [YouTube] as an outlet to educate, break stereotypes, push boundaries,” Burke revealed to Mashable. “To build a community out of the group that is so easily isolated in society.”
By just being her true self, Burke challenges the misconceptions that come with having a disability. She speaks directly to the camera and uses with hand gestures that she attributes to muscle memory. Her eyes can still see shadows and light, so she loves sparkly items because she can see the light bouncing off of it.
But because she doesn’t behave like a stereotypical blind person, a few people assume she’s faking. But they don’t see her searching for a chair before the camera starts or picking up brushes and palettes repeatedly before she films a makeup tutorial so that she can know where everything goes.
“When I was losing my vision in grade-eight, I faced a lot of ‘she’s faking it’ even from a teacher, which was extremely difficult because, for me, I’m going through the most painful thing in my life, and people are taking away from that by claiming its not even happening. “ Burke said.
Because of her disability, Burke has to navigate her life different from able-bodied people but that doesn’t make her, or anyone with a disability, weak. I don’t think Burke is an inspiration because she’s blind; I think she’s an inspiration because of the message she spreads. She sums it up perfectly when she tells Paper, “ I think [my advice would be] to tell people that no matter what challenges you’re going through in your life, whether it’s a disability or any other thing, you might be going through, never give up hope and never give up on yourself. Know that you can achieve whatever you want.”