Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Blindness and "Body Positivity"

One thing I've always observed when reading or following the media is that there's always "inspirational" stories about people in wheelchairs, or people with autism, but almost never about the blind or visually-impaired. One of the most exciting things for me whenever I make it into the paper or onto a website is that I feel like I'm finally giving young blind people representation in a way that isn't just for comic relief. It's not about me or my achievements or the way I live, but about trying to get others to understand that we exist, and that we have hobbies and interests, and that we are still a demographic of society no matter how small we may be.

The sad truth about why you never hear about blind body positivity is that we're perceived to not look "different", and that we wouldn't need representation because we can't see anyway, right? Why would we care about style, or how we look, or how we appear to others?

Me with Lord Stanley's Cup, Hockey hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario Canada

There are different kinds of blindness and visual impairments. Not all of us are old. Not all of us use a cane or a seeing eye dog. But it's always felt, to me at least, like the media is only interested if we fit that pre-determined image of how a blind person should look. And when you don't, as I've experienced several times in my life, you're accused of "faking" it, or you have the extent which your disability has, well, disabled you downplayed or belittled. "But you're not TOTALLY blind!" is a phrase I've heard more times than I feel necessary.

It breaks my heart when I browse online forums for blind people and I see posts from people my age and younger saying how they're afraid to go to a nightclub, or how hard it is for them to feel comfortable in clothes, or that they've "given up" on trying to look nice or feel good because they don't feel supported or understood. It hurts me and I don't even know these people. They are clearly uncomfortable and unhappy in their own bodies, even if they look "normal" to you. So why do you, the media and the general public, sit silently and let an entire group of young people feel that way?

Pet Shop Boys at Pori jazz 2014

My confidence, my ability to live independently in spite of my sight, and my love of hockey, cooking, fashion, music, and travel shouldn't be seen as "special" or inspirational. I'm living as how a visually-impaired adult should live. But I can't motivate and encourage my peers and those younger than myself alone. I need help. They need help. They need representation.  It doesn't have to be me. It shouldn't have to be me. But it has to be someone and it has to start somewhere.

Our voices, struggles, fears, and lives matter. It's time we're given a voice and its time we felt included.

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