Body Image and Blindness: A Connection

I’ve wanted to talk about my body image struggles and my blindness in a correlating way for sometime now. Many people don’t realize that just because I can’t see well, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with what I do see or feel. I don’t blame my blindness for my past eating disorder, but it has played a role in my body challenges.

Quietly, I battled an eating disorder for close to a decade. I have discussed my fight with bulimia a lot on this blog, my book, and in my Instagram posts. I am also legally blind and have been since I was a teenager, and I also write about it often. Both of these are reasons I have started to blog and write books for inspiration and awareness.

I was born with Retinitis Pigmentosa and had poor vision even before my declared blindness. Growing up, I knew everything I could about my eyes. I also grew up without labeling my body. Others labeled me “thick,” but I didn’t start to look at my body and it’s shape until junior high.

I wasn’t officially declared legally blind until a year or so after I began my struggle with bulimia, but I have gotten a repeat comment and message, that sort of inspired this.

If you can’t see, how did you hate your body enough to have an eating disorder?

That question and other versions of that question, usually negative, are always popping up. People wonder that if I can’t really see what I look like, then why did I have an issue with my body. To me, that is one of the most asinine questions, but at the same time, I guess I can understand what they are getting at.

Not a Cause, But a Role

If you sat down with the therapist that I saw after my treatment, she’d probably be able to give you a laundry list of reasons or situations that led to my eating disorder. There was name calling by friends and family. I was in toxic relationships. My OCD and anxiety took over, and I felt the need to find a way to have constant control. I mean, I could go on, but I’ve never discussed or brought up the role that my visual impairment has played on my body image or self-esteem.

I want to take my turn to ask a few questions, because these are the initial thoughts that run through my mind when someone asks how I could have an eating disorder if I “can’t even see.”

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to not know what you look like? To not know the exact color of your hair or eyes? To not know the shape of your body other than through touch? Do you have any idea how challenging it can be to try and look in the mirror when you know you can’t see a full reflection? Do you understand how challenging it is to constantly have to take pictures and zoom or use special aides to see yourself and others around you?

I can’t tell you what shade my eyes are right now, and I can’t tell you if my old hair dye is faded or grown out yet. I can’t tell you if the sunburn that I got this weekend has turned to tan. What I can tell you is that I spent years feeling a certain way about my body. Those years were spent thinking I was overweight and that it wasn’t okay. I spent years chasing a body image that was never skinny enough. Honestly, I can’t say that my blindness caused my bulimia, but it played a major role in how I hated myself.

Turn to the Side

In junior high and high school, I would get dressed and then, turn to the side. I would try to look in the mirror at my stomach and shape. I would touch and pinch at myself. Struggling, I did everything I could to try and see what I looked like, but I usually just gave up and went off of the numbers.

Numbers and I have had an excruciatingly long and tumultuous relationship. I can honestly say that I’m happy to not own a scale. Too many years were spent years hurting myself over arbitrary numbers. I obsessed over trying to reach my suggested BMI, and I did everything I could to not go over the weight I set for myself as “too much.” Constantly, I was comparing my weight and pants size with every woman around me.

I could hear myself saying my weight and jeans size, but I didn’t know what that looked like the same as others who could see well. The challenge was that I couldn’t see myself the way I saw others, literally and figuratively.

Continuous Battle

There are still moments where I catch myself saying I want to look like that or her or so and so, and my husband will be surprised. He tries his best to explain what I look like, and I’m so grateful for him. But it’s not the same.

I can’t see it, so sometimes, it doesn’t feel real. He may think I’m beautiful, but I can’t see the whole image. It’s hard to always have to rely on descriptions rather than see it for myself. I am lucky to not have such negative thinking anymore. I still have bad moments, but most of the time, I love and accept my body.

Describing my vision is like looking through a straw. I have a tiny field of vision and no peripheral vision left. I see a small hole with a little bit of light, some colors, and what looks like broken glass or floating hairs. At the end of that tunnel, is skewed and messy vision. Somedays, it’s doubled. However, somedays, it’s a little clearer. Somedays, my colors are bright, and other days I can’t really tell them apart at all. Then again, somedays, I barely have any light perception.

I have good eye days and bad eye days, but even on the good days, I’m still legally blind. I’ve accepted my blindness and all of the challenges that come with it, but I couldn’t always accept my body or not seeing what it looked like. It took many years before getting to this point.

Hating a Feeling, Not an Image

I take a lot of pictures of everything. In attempts to see images, I zoom and highlight. I know my husband is handsome, and I know my daughter looks like me and my son looks like my husband. Also, I use touch and see with my hands. My other senses have heightened, but it’s still hard to not just be able to walk into my bathroom for a quick moment and check my makeup. I have to have a process.

I have a lot of magnification tools, including a very strong magnifying mirror. It helps me do my makeup and look at details I wouldn’t be able to see otherwise, but they don’t make something like that for my body. I tried relying on pictures and the word of others growing up, but I hated what I felt. Honestly, I felt too many negative things when it came to my appearance.

Getting that false image of what I felt out of my head was one of the hardest things to go through. Moments of doubt crash in every so often. I do my best to stay positive and love myself though.

Change In Attitude, Not Vision

My vision is a big reason that I started my body acceptance attitude. Once I was able to let go of some of those negative feelings, self-love grew. I might not be able to see myself in this moment, but I am beautiful. It took years to not only say that but believe it as well.

I genuinely want to share my tips and what I’ve learned to help others who struggle with body image. We might not have vision similarities, but I understand low self-esteem. I just want to help others feel inspired to love themselves, because once I found that love and happiness, my life changed for the better.

Unfortunately, I have gotten and still get negative comments about being blind and supporting a body acceptance message. I’ve even complimented people and their response is, “thanks but your blind.” I may be blind, but I have my abilities to know if you’re a beautiful person or not. We all adapt and find our own ways around hurdles, so don’t discredit my opinion about visual matters. Besides, comments like that show that you’re an ugly person deep down.

Not Alone

I used to feel terribly alone during the worst times of my bulimia. Being blind and having an eating disorder don’t seem like they go hand-in-hand or are very common. I felt incredibly alone, but I met someone in college who changed that.

There was a girl named Angela, who I went to college with. She was also blind, and we met at a few disability panels where we both spoke at. I love public speaking, and we would often be on awareness panels together. We also helped form a disability awareness group. After getting to know her a bit more, she revealed that she had suffered from anorexia in the past. I wasn’t happy that this lovely woman suffered from an eating disorder, but I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only blind woman with body struggles.

I went into treatment the summer after college graduation. Even though I never saw that girl again, she played a role in me wanting to get help. Finally, I knew I wasn’t alone, and that made self-love seem possible. That also helped me during some of my darkest moments.

I am giving credit to my new found self-love to the inspirational people in my life like my kids and my family, but I also wanted to get healthy and be better for me. This time around, I wanted to give myself and others like me hope. I am blind, and I want to say I am blind, AND I am beautiful just the way I am.

Not in the Book

I didn’t discuss my blindness in my book, Eat the Damn Muffin, but don’t count my blindness out when it comes to more of the books I will write. Honestly, I’m not quite sure yet about writing a book about my vision loss, but it was time to share the correlation between my vision and my past body image issues.

I’m sure I will keep hearing comments about how my idea of beauty “doesn’t count” because I can’t see the way others do, but counting me out will no longer hurt me. I know who I am, and while I’m growing my self-love and confidence everyday, it’s high enough today to tell those people to fuck off.

If we haven’t connected through my blog or social platforms, I’d love to get to know more of you. I’m also always open to questions. I hope you have a good weekend, and remember, you’re gorgeous just the way you are.

-With Love,

Jenni

13 thoughts on “Body Image and Blindness: A Connection”

    1. It is, but pushing through and showing them they don’t affect others is a good way to fight back.

  1. People never cease to amaze me but this was close. I was stuck on how you can have an eating disorder when you can’t see for a while and then you said how people discredited your opinion on their beauty bc you are blind. UGH! But enough of that silliness. You are beautiful and have a lot of offer to the world with all you have been through and endure. Strength is beautiful. Kindness is beautiful. Compassion is beautiful. Mindfulness is beautiful. Beauty comes from the inside out. You, my friend, are beautiful!

    1. That means the world to me! Thanks for reading and getting where I come from. You’re too kind!

  2. Wow…this was a really emotional read. I can’t believe anyone would be so ignorant to deny your compliment because you’re blind. That’s ridiculous and really shows what kind of person they are. You have overcome so much and I am so inspired by you. You are so eloquent in your words and so positive in your message and the more I learn about you, the more thankful I am to call you a friend! I love you and your beautiful self!

    1. Thank you a million times! I may be legally blind, but I still have sight. My sight is just vastly different than everyone else’s. I still see beauty, and that’s why this journey is important! Thank you again. 😊

  3. Hi Jenni: You truly are gorgeous in every way. Thanks so much for sharing your story and the struggles you have gone through. My name is Debra Beauchamp. I’m a occupational therapist who has worked with many patients with visual deficits. I’m just starting a new blog and a new company. I’m working on a ladies line of clothing for blind or visually impaired ladies as well as ladies who struggle with tactile sensitivity. I look forward to future blogs from you. Thanks, Debra Beauchamp

    1. Thank you for reading, and thank you for working on something so special. Let me know if you ever want to collaborate in the future. I love when others want to help the blind community, especially when it involves breaking barriers like beauty and style. Have a wonderful day.

      1. Thank you so much. I’m a therapist working on this project based on my past experiences with my patients. I have a limited understanding of what blind people live through each day. I would love to collaborate with you to learn more about your frustrations with getting dressed and picking out clothing.

      2. I’d love to help anyway possible. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa and Macular Degeneration. I lost the majority of my sight in my teens, and I have about a 10% visual field. I’m legally blind, so I can see some. Clothing and colors have been a challenge. Feel free to email me at jenniferdunlap16@gmail.com

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