“You should always protect your eyes with glasses,” Pamela instructed, standing next to me on busy San Pablo Street, “They keep things from flying into your eyes.”
I blinked a few times, feeling my eyes tear slightly; something that often occurs on windy days. Hearing horns beep next to me, I reluctantly dug out a pair of dark shades from my backpack and slipped them on.
I was not born blind. I lost my sight as a result of a brutal beating that occurred in 2007 in San Francisco. At the age of 26, I found myself learning to walk, read, and use a computer all over again. As I advanced in my rehabilitation process, I soon learned that what most people know about blindness is outdated due to technology, or because it was a rumor crafted by Hollywood. More and more, I found myself teaching others that blind people could be parents, athletes, and even sexy. The latter one, though, seemed to be the toughest to prove. After all, blind people are rarely portrayed in popular media as being beautiful.
“Maybe there would be more blind people on TV if they didn’t have to wear dark glasses,” a man said to me in a bar, sounding a little drunk, “Blind people are always wearing glasses—keeps their faces sort of covered.”
The stranger’s words braced my nerves. Yet, he had a point. Well, at least there was a level of truth to his comment. Listening to the man proclaiming that all blind people should stop wearing sunglasses, I noted in my head the second reason why blind people cover their eyes.
After being sightless for a few months, I soon met people whose eyes were scarred, shrunken or deformed in some way. However, they still had some level of vision — whether it was light or movement perception — and prosthetics would eliminate useful sight. Still, at social settings, they keep their eyes from the public.
Sometimes, I kept my eyes covered initially to keep things from flying into them, but also to look the part. My eyes have no scarring or in any way look different. All of the damage was done to the back of them. I often found people in public telling me that I was faking it. I was not comfortable enough with my blindness to have some witty reply, and, at that time, it was easier to conform.
A few years after losing my sight, I started to write, and I slowly accrued a list of publishing credits. I began to write for bigger news websites and magazines and editors started to ask for a photo to accompany my articles.
“We’re in the age of image and content,” an editor bellowed into the phone, encouraging me to get some nice photos done.
After a few phone calls and emails, I caved and set up a photo-shoot with a noted San Francisco photographer. I bought a new pair of slacks, shirt and tie, and a cool pair of Prada shades. I showed my mom the outfit and she said, “These are nice. But remember, the most important thing is to be you. People can tell when you are not being authentic.”
I nodded and hurried to the shoot, shaking off my mom’s words.
The photographer was very nice and explained his ideas for the pictures. Hearing snapping and feeling the intense light on my face, my ears began to hurt. The glasses were a bit too snug and were becoming irritating behind my ear. A few minutes into the shoot, the photographer asked, “Are you ok? You look uncomfortable.”
I bit my lower lip, shook my head and removed the dark glasses. Thinking back on my mother’s words, I decided I would no longer hide.
“Let’s do the rest of the pictures without the glasses,” I instructed, removing the tie, “This look isn’t me.”
“Sure,” he replied, ““You look better without them.”
As I heard the snapping and hot lights on my skin, I realized that there are many ways to be a blind person. I would still need to wear glasses on certain occasions, but I did not have to wear them for pictures. I was tired of hiding and was ready to start flaunting my blind eyes.
Belo Cipriani is the Writer-in-Residence at Holy Names University, a spokesperson for Guide Dogs for the Blind, the “Get to Work” columnist for SFGate.com, and the author of Blind: A Memoir. Learn more at BeloCipriani.com. You are also invited to connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube. Photo by Sierra Fish, Guide Dogs for the Blind.