As a YouTuber, motivational speaker and fashion lover who also happens to be blind, Molly Burke is an advocate for accessibility in the blind community. After being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as a young child and eventually losing all her sight at 14, Burke’s interest in style and beauty only grew. She often explains to people that not being able to see what she wears or the makeup she uses doesn’t change her love of style. Burke enjoys creating fun, colourful looks to match her playful personality.
While her fashion sense remains impeccable, what has changed since Burke lost her sight is how she puts her looks together. For the 25-year-old from Oakville, ON, being blind means working extra hard in a world that is built for abled bodies. That work includes advocacy and using her platform to educate her sighted and non-sighted viewers. With nearly 2 million YouTube subscribers, Burke shares videos on how she uses technology, shops online, gets around with her guide dog and debunks common misconceptions of blindness.
Burke recently released a memoir, It’s Not What It Looks Like on Audible Original, in which she narrates significant moments from her life and reflects on the lessons they have taught her. “I’m a full human,” Burke says in the opening of the audiobook. “And people need to see what that image of disability looks like.”
Burke sees her story as relatable to everyone, not just people living with blindness. In the book, she talks about bullying, suffering from mental health issues, dating and running a business. She hopes that anyone facing challenges can learn something from her experiences and overcome obstacles in their own life.
We asked Burke about style, self-love, accessibility and being an advocate for the blind. What she had to say will truly change your perspective.
How did fashion and beauty influence your journey toward self-love?
That saying, “If you look good, you feel good,” is true. For me, I don’t have to look at the mirror to feel like I look good. It’s about picking an outfit that makes me feel confident in my body. If I know I put effort into an outfit or my makeup, I can feel good because I took the time for self-care. I took that time for myself.
After you fully lost your sight, how did you start relating to colours?
To me, colour evokes emotions. It’s kind of like how it makes me feel. Red makes me feel powerful. Purple has been my favourite colour since I went blind. It’s something that makes me feel calm and peaceful. Pink makes me feel super feminine and girly. I love surrounding myself with pink things. I go with my emotion for what colours I pick. That’s where colour comes from when I do my makeup and pick my clothes.
What are your favourite fashion or beauty trends this season?
I’m loving a lot of long, pleated chiffon skirts. I’m really into that again. It makes me feel really feminine. I love spinning around in them and wearing mules. That style of shoe I’ve been really enjoying.
What is it like facing inaccessibility on a constant basis?
Here’s the thing: I face discrimination every single day. My mom and I, we think it’s so sweet when my manager gets upset when he sees me being discriminated against. When he sees the inaccessibility in the world, he gets so upset. My mom and I don’t, we just forget about it and move on. That’s my life every day. Every day for 25 years, that’s what my family and I have faced. And for us, we can’t get upset about every little thing because that would drive us down. It’s so sweet to see [my manager’s] reaction towards inequality, and how passionate he is about it because it’s new to him to watch me go through this. It’s hard to pinpoint one example because I face them so much that I just let it go. I focus on educating, and I don’t focus on getting angry anymore. I focus on using that purely to educate, talk about these things and break down barriers.
Have you seen the fashion and beauty industry become more accessible?
I think Tommy Hilfiger has an accessible clothing line for different shapes and sizes which is really cool. They make clothes for people in wheelchairs because fashion is very different when you’re sitting your whole life. Things like that, or for people in prosthetics which I think is super cool. And I’d love to see more and more brands branch out to do things like that. In terms of representation, I think we’re still behind.
What are some of your ideas for how accessibility can be improved?
I think having braille on the packaging or on clothing labels. When I’m shopping I can’t pick my own clothes. I’ll go feel the clothing and I’ll find something that I like, but I can’t pick my own size out or choose a colour because I don’t know what they are. I’ll call my mom over and say could you find the colour and size? I think colour, size and print on braille would be really helpful. Or on makeup. One thing that is always tricky with makeup is the way the palettes are laid out. There’s no consistency. I think they should take the time to lay them out in a way that makes sense for eye looks. It’s not only for blind people, but people who are starting out with makeup. For example, you have one row with highlight on the brow bone and on another row you have your lid colour, your outer corner colour, your crease colour. Doing things like that would make sense for eye looks and make beauty more accessible.
Do you have any plans for your own accessible line?
I would love to partner up with a brand. I’m very open to beauty brands reaching out, or fashion brands reaching out. I would love to work with a brand to do that because they have more abilities to push it out and share it than I think I could on my own.
Are any fashion or beauty brands currently doing a better job of being more inclusive to the blind community?
Yes, Two Blind Brothers. They were featured on Ellen and that really helped their clothing line blow up. I highly recommend checking them out.
Why do you think people with disabilities have to lead the change?
I don’t think it has to be people with disabilities. We need allies. I want more allies and that’s what I’m trying to do. I want to convert my sighted viewers to be allies for our community as well. I want them to become passionate about accessibility. I want them to become aware of the issues and discrimination so they can go out and actively educate their communities as well. I don’t think it’s just disabled people who need to able to make a change. I think it’s everybody.
“It’s Not What It Looks Like” is now available exclusively at Audible.ca