By Stacy Cervenka
Editor's Introduction: Stacey Cervenka is a student at the University of Minnesota and has been a productive member in the federation for several years. In this article she addresses important issues facing all students, physical appearance and presentation. Stacey also offers several tips and suggestions for keeping up with trends and managing one's appearance. Listen up girls, here is what Stacey has to say!
When blind high school and college students get together, certain topics inevitably come up. "Where can I learn the skills I need in order to succeed as a blind college student and eventually as a member of the workforce?" "What's the best way to go about hiring and maintaining readers?" "How can I get my rehab counselor to buy me that sweet little Braille notetaker that just came out?" "And could someone please tell me how I can get that fine specimen in Archaeology class to look my way?"
These are all excellent topics for discussion and thus numerous articles, speeches, and entire seminars have been devoted to addressing them. However, a few issues that never seem to get addressed are those that relate to appearance. Certainly this can't be due to lack of interest on the part of blind students. How many hours do girls spend at conventions gabbing all night long to their roommates about the latest hairstyles they've learned and the dress they're planning on wearing to Banquet Night? Just like their sighted counterparts, blind high school and college students like to look as good as anybody else.
But blind students can't exactly page through fashion magazines in order to
tell what styles are in this season. Nor can we glance around our classrooms
in order to discern what hairstyles people on our campus are wearing. Furthermore,
as much as we enjoy watching it, we can't exactly pick up on the chic new hairstyles
that grace the screens of prime time TV. So...what's a blind girl to do?
Well, here are a few of the strategies blind students can use to look their best, feel their best, and present a confident, with-it appearance.
A lot of people assume that blind people necessarily aren't interested in fashion and only wear clothing because, well, it's illegal not to. Now, I can only speak for myself here, but I LOVE CLOTHES!!! I've even converted a room in my apartment into a huge walk-in closet! One of my blind friends once joked that when I go on vacation, I'm completely unable to travel independently. Not because I lack good cane skills, but because I can never carry all the huge suitcases I bring!
While I can't exactly offer any advice on the virtues of self-restraint and prudent budget management, here are five strategies anyone can use to get an idea of what styles are out there:
1. Go to the web sites of your favorite clothing stores and check out their new fashions online. Sometimes, their fashion presentations can be rather visual and graphic, but they often do have written descriptions next to them. (And if they don't, send the webmaster a friendly email asking for them.)
2. Check out www.instyle.com - It's extremely useful. You can even sign up for weekly newsletters that discuss the latest trends, what's appearing on the runways, what the stars are wearing, etcetera. Also check out www.dressingwell.com
3. If you STILL haven't found what you're looking for, just go to www.google.com and type in "Winter Evening Wear 2004" or "Ski Fashion 2004" or whatever. (It's helpful to put in the year, so you don't end up looking at back issues of magazines and older web sites.)
4. Check out the web sites of fashion magazines you respect. They often have some of their articles on line.
5. Do like we do out here on the Northern Plains. Use the Land's End catalog. You can call the toll-free number and say, "Hey, I'm looking for a nice winter coat. I'd like something long, semi-formal, and warm. What can you do for me?" Their customer service agents are very friendly and skilled at helping customers find what they're looking for and that's exactly what they're there for. If it was good enough for your grandparents, it's good enough for you!
Okay...so now you've got an idea of what's in style this season and you know what styles you personally like to wear. Now, it's time to actually GO to the store (unless you're using the JC Penney or Land's End Catalog).
When I go into a store, first I just walk around alone and check it all out. Often, I'll find a few things I like and then go up to the counter and ask for assistance. I might say, "I like this sweater. What size is it? Can you help me find a small?" or "I like these pants. Can you help me find a top to go with them?" et cetera.
Many blind people prefer to shop with a friend or relative whose opinions they trust. This is a very efficient alternative technique. Frankly, though, in most cases, I DO like to shop alone...mainly because I don't want to feel like I'm holding anyone up. I like to be able to spend as much time as I want going through racks of clothes without making someone else stand around, bored.
Okay, we now move on to the exciting, but challenging, world of make-up.
One great way to learn to use make-up is to go into an Aveda or Merle Norman store or even the make-up counter at a big department store. When I was a teen-ager, my mother took me to a Merle Norman shop for a makeover. They were able to teach me how to apply everything and they were also able to tell me what colors and shades looked best on me. I returned to this shop several times throughout high school and always learned new things. Most places will give you a makeover for free, as long as you buy something.
Another great way to learn to apply make-up is to attend a Mary Kay or Avon party. During my time as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. The Center had an after-school make-up seminar with a Mary Kay consultant. She taught us basic skin care and then came to visit me personally at my apartment a few weeks later to "do my colors". That is to say, to figure out which colors and shades of lipstick, foundation, blush, and lip-liner match my particular skin tone and skin type. She was also able to give me tons of hints on the best way to apply each product.
Now, it's confession time...The ONE THING that has always scared me about make-up is mascara. I have nystagnus (meaning the muscles in my eyes twitch), so I always just assumed that mascara would be impossible for me. Whenever a Merle Norman or Mary Kay lady would ask me if I wanted to learn mascara, I automatically said no. However, this summer, I met the mascara challenge. After years of not thinking I could apply it by myself, I went into an Aveda store and talked to the lady behind the counter. She took me aside, taught me how to apply the mascara, and that was that. I don't know what I was so afraid of. If anyone out there has nystagnus in their eyes and is concerned that this will hinder their ability to use eye make-up independently, take heart. As it is with just about anything else, your main limitation is your attitude. As we in the Federation well know, you can do most anything if you make up your mind to do it and come up with some good alternative techniques.
I'll admit that, like for many other girls, my hair is a source of endless stress and angst. Bad hair days are a big part of my lifestyle. However, here are a few things you can do to minimize the toil:
1. Choose a good beauty salon that you can afford, but that also does a good job. Like with anything else, you usually get what you pay for. Though I can't exactly page through the books of hairstyles in the waiting room, I let the stylist know what kind of haircut I'm looking for. For example, I usually tell the stylist cutting my hair that I'm looking for something easy to manage and style in a variety of ways. I'm also sure to point out that I'm involved in several sports and it is therefore essential that my hair be long enough to be pulled completely off my face. Not only can the beauticians help you decide what kind of cut you want, but a good stylist will also help you figure out a few ways you can wear your new haircut. Don't be ashamed to admit you don't know how to round brush, for example. It only takes a minute to learn and they're happy to teach you. After all, happy and satisfied customers will come back.
2. Ask your friends what hairstyles people on your campus are wearing. I've had several friends allow me to examine their French braids and just-messy-enough-to-be-cute chignons.
3. If you're still living at home with siblings or you're living with a roommate, take advantage of it! My sisters loved playing around with hair and my first year of college; I had an awesome roommate who taught me a lot. She loved teaching me how to use a curling iron. Since I was deathly afraid of branding myself across the forehead with the scalding iron, she taught me first with the curling iron completely unplugged!
I hope this article has offered some suggestions that will work for you personally. Obviously, it's important to mention that these are just the techniques I use. Thousands of blind college students across the country have developed many strategies I haven't mentioned here and you may very well have a few of your own tips and tricks. The important thing is not HOW you go about it, but that you at least consider how your appearance has an impact on people's perceptions of you as a blind person. It goes without saying that everybody has different tastes and different ideas about what looks nice and what image they wan to project. This article was not meant to tell you where to shop, whether or not to wear make-up, or how to cut your hair. Rather, I hope you've come to understand that, if you so choose, there are many alternative techniques you as a blind person can employ in order to look your best.
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