Am I Beautiful Yet?

I think most people want to look attractive. I am one of those people. As a feminist this is a somewhat problematic feeling for me because women are expected to do so much more than men to maintain their appearance. When I tally all these things in my head—hair color and styling, nail care, hair removal, makeup, skincare—the cost can reach hundreds of dollars a month, not to mention the time cost. Even though I feel conflicted, I still put varying amounts of effort into all of these beauty rituals. I reason that this is OK because I’m not a slave to any routine—mostly because I am too lazy to be one—and men are increasingly wearing makeup (in fact, I think men regularly wearing makeup is what my generation will gripe about when we’re elderly).

There are times when I really enjoy primping. I like coming out of the salon with a sleek blowout or shiny curls. I like having my toenails transformed from bruised and ragged to brightly lacquered. I like achieving reasonable-looking eyeliner or relatively neat red lipstick. But there are also times when I get frustrated. No matter how pleased I may be with my reflection, I realize it’s not the same image everyone else sees. Most people are working with far better vision than I have, and I will never know all the imperfections they can see.

Many people assume that blind people don’t or shouldn’t care about their appearance. A few weeks ago a Reddit user, in a response to a picture of a blind woman holding a 3-D printing of her baby’s sonogram, questioned why a blind woman would be wearing nail polish. Hey, we’re blind, not stupid. We know we live in a visual world where people are constantly judging us on our appearance. I have never met another blind person who didn’t put any sort of effort into his or her looks. For a blind person putting together a good look is about more than just appearing attractive. It is a signifier of competence and attention to detail of which many people assume.

I believe If I can exceed people’s expectations of a blind lady stumbling in wearing an orange floral blazer with purple plaid pants (and I bet somewhere there’s a fashion blogger totally pulling off that look), then perhaps someone will think I can exceed expectations in other ways. I imagine that people judge my appearance in ways they would not judge a sighted woman’s. For example, if a sighted woman didn’t bother to match her sneakers to her shirt, people might think she was carefree or just in a rush. If I don’t bother to match my sneakers to my shirt, I bet some people think, “Oh, that’s sad. She must not know those don’t match.” The standard is at once higher and lower than it is for others.

Matching clothing is one of the things I have a reasonable amount of control over. Most of my wardrobe is black, anyway. What I really worry about is all those things that I don’t know that I don’t know about. Makeup, I feel, can be a minefield of potential embarrassment. What if my foundation has the wrong undertone? What if there is lipstick on my teeth? What if my eyeliner isn’t as straight as it looks to me? What if I put on too much blush? The worst part is most people don’t have the guts to point any of these things out to me, so either I look perfect all the time, or friends and loved ones are letting me go around looking like a seven year-old did my makeup. I know it isn’t the former situation because on one occasion I apparently got a bit heavy-handed with the glitter eye shadow, and a friend asked me, “When did you start dressing like Jem and the Holograms?” I wish that was meant as a compliment, but it was not.

(As you can see, I struggle as much with taking pictures as I do with applying makeup.)

Even if I could get my wonderful hairstylist, Kayle, to come to my apartment and work her hair and makeup magic every day, and then get Harry Potter* to come and work actual magic so my look would stay that way, I would still worry about my appearance. No matter what I do, my eyes betray me. When they’re not squinted almost shut, they’re moving uncontrollably, their pupils constricted (no one takes literature on the appeal of dilated pupils more to heart than I do). I have had people assume I was on drugs or just plain stupid because of the way my eyes look. When I was little, one of the kids in my neighborhood ran off saying I was a “monster” because my eyes were “closed”. And when I was fourteen a girl I was friends with held her face close to mine and laughed as she remarked that my eyes “shake” all the time. At this point I have devolved into whining, but it hurts to know that for every person who makes a dumb comment there are probably ten more just making assumptions and writing me off without question.

Even when people compliment my appearance, I have a hard time believing them. I attended a wedding this past weekend where—and I swear this is not my way of humble-bragging—I was overwhelmed with the number of compliments I received. In public I try to approximate the actions of a normal, well-adjusted person, so of course I smiled and gave my thanks for each kind word. However, I was thinking that at least half of the people who told me how beautiful I looked (and there’s the humble-brag) were, at best, being polite or, at worst, feeling sorry for me. I felt like a kid getting participation awards (yes, they were giving those out in the ‘90s) again: I didn’t think I deserved to feel special, yet there I was pretending to be proud of myself.

I know it’s petty to care about what anyone thinks of my looks, and the fact that I know it’s petty makes me feel even worse for caring. I wish I could say I just go around wearing my messy bun, sparkle sunglasses, and hot pink sneakers and block everyone out. I wish I could make eye contact without feeling self-conscious the whole time. I wish I didn’t want to feel pretty. I don’t even like saying that I want to feel that way: it feels like something I should have given up along with my The Little Mermaid comforter. I suppose I am just a vain person, and—let’s face it—I would still use a Little Mermaid comforter if it came in a queen size.

*Would it not make more sense to have Harry Potter just fix all of my physical problems? Why would I waste his magic on keeping my hair from frizzing and my eyeliner from smudging?