Monthly Archives: August 2015

Take Charge of your hair

This is the first post in my small Take Charge series.

Everyone wants to have and have opinions on how a lady should look. All you need to do is flick open magazines to be met with stick thin models that have photo shopped faces, and perfect hair. If you have little or no vision, you may have a few people around you who tell you how you should look. And although I’m sure my blind female readers out there have strong minds and their own idea of what they want to look like, I dare say most of us have been over ruled by our sighted sisters at some point in our lives. And while a little guidance is ok, sighted women need to realize that we too need to experiment.

I think I was about fourteen when I was starting to get sick of me being a product of what my mum liked paired with what I ought to look like to be accepted. Mum’s taste wasn’t so bad though, but I wanted to be a product of my own choosing and not hers. And seeing as I was bullied at school, I didn’t wish to blend in with the posh girl look which was the costume around the upper east side of Oslo where I grew up.

But to start creating my own style from head to toe, I had to begin with an area that didn’t need any visual guidance where I had full control. So I started with my hair.

I am a curly girl. So was my mum and so are a few women on my father’s side of the family. Mum spent a lot of time straightening both hers and my hair. I think I’ve tried everything when it comes to hair straightening. Ironing, blow-drying, platting, you name it. And when it rained and my hair resembled cotton candy, I got it straightened as soon as I got home.

One day, I decided to stop all straightening. And it made me feel very liberated. Mum wasn’t exactly opposed to the style, although she often came with subtle hints that I might want my hair to look a little more manageable. But everyone else complimented me for my decision to go natural. Said it complimented my face and made me look fresher.

As for manageability, it was a lot easier for me to manage in its curly state and a lot less time consuming. Sure, curly hair requires a lot of extensive treatment, but most of this is treatment you can wash in or out, leave-in treatment and something so simple to leave it alone while it’s drying naturally. That leaves me to do things I enjoy, such as writing or cooking rather than stuck to the hairdryer and straightening iron.

I also chose to get my hair cut in a style I wanted because I liked how it felt.

There are so many websites and blogs devoted to hair, especially hair that isn’t naturally silky straight, to claim that hair is a big part of the identity. And because hair is such a tactile thing, blind chicks can start taking charge by identifying what they like the feel of on their own heads. You may like it straight and short, curly and long, wavy and cut in layers, or dyed purple. It doesn’t matter as long as your hair is something chosen by you and not because some sighted well-meaning idiot (excuse my strong ish language) decide what might be best for you.

The next post in my Taking Charge series is going to deal with clothes and choosing your own wardrobe.

Workout time!

Exercise is healthy and important for everybody, both for overall health and for more specific reasons. Nothing new. For blind and visually impaired people exercise is important because it can strengthen spacial awareness, movement coordination and because it also gives you increased physical energy, it gives you increased mental energy.

A lot of mental energy is especially important when you can’t see, because that tends to be what we use to complete tasks such as orientation. For example, you may not have a physical issue with going to your corner shop and get that pint of milk you forgot to get earlier, but mentally even a short trip like that can be extremely exhausting. People in the street giving you unwanted attention, shop workers not seeing you and if you have a bad day, finding that bloody counter so that they will see you.

I find that the better my physical shape is, the less issues I have with other daily tasks. Investing in a personal trainer and really getting to know my local gym is the biggest favour I’ve done for myself.

If there is one thing blind people should get subsidized support for, personal trainer should be it. Because it is such a life changing experience. In Norway, blind people can get physio therapy, but unless you have some kind of physical damage you need to constantly work on, or rehabilitate, then physio won’t do that much for you. So in a country like Norway, physio or personal trainer should both be offered as alternatives and not just for the blind, but all disabled people. At least for a certain number of sessions.

But of course, not every country in the world is a welfare state, so in those cases, other options need to be looked into.

I can’t stress enough though that any kind of exercise really will transform your life, whether it is working out alone in a gym, or attend dance classes. You may be like how I was and have a bike at home which you work out on because the gym is just a little too daunting. Nothing wrong with that. I still have my bike and use it. But exercising in other environments is so refreshing and confidence boosting.

The best place to start is to find something that interests you and contact the local gym, dance teacher etc. who organises whatever it is. Explain that you’re blind and may need a little extra help to get into the swing of things. My experience is that although you can meet patronizing people anywhere, personal trainers, yoga teacher, dance teacher etc., are just delighted that you want to take up something they care about. And so they have a can do attitude to make things enjoyable and doable for you. The same goes for other people you may take a class or go to the gym with.

And another great thing is that once you feel comfortable with one thing, you can try new things. I do numerous classes at my gym now as well as working out alone. Variation is key.

Finally, and of course I have to say this, the fact that exercise makes you look good helps too. Doesn’t it?

New York Fever

Yup, I’ve got the new York fever now. It’s not long till I head for the big apple and the Nigerian Entertainment awards (NEA) show. The first week of September to be exact.

I’m travelling all alone from Europe, but I will have some company there for three days. However, coming all the way from Oslo, I think three days in NYC is just that bit short and I think I’d like to stay for five or six days.

That’s why I’m going to use this blog for something I’ve never used it for, namely to ask YOUR advice. Who are YOU? You are a blind or visually impaired person who lives in NYC or is familiar with the place. Or perhaps you’ve got friends there.

What I need to know is, how accessible is NYC? I can easily go to comedy clubs, musicals and talkshows, because it’s sitting down and it’s easy. But what I’d like to know is how helpful are people in New York when you’re a lone blind person? In restaurants, shops, theatres and on the subway?

And are there other things I can do that are doable if you’re alone and blind?

How easy is moving around the city?

To tell you guys the truth, I am a bit scared of this trip. And I’d feel so much more relief if I had someone there with me all the time. But, my friends in Europe are all working and as for getting visas to the US when you’re from outside the Wester nations….. well, let me not talk about that.
So I basically have three options.
1. I can go for the three days I have company.
2. I can go for five days and feel miserable when I don’t have company
3. I can go for five, even six days, try to make the most out of it and write an interesting travel report on what it’s like travelling to NYC with no sight and not knowing a soul there. Which could be a good article.
But to do the latter, I just need all the pointers, advice and help I can possibly get.

Blind people have done more challenging things than this before. Like hiking in the Back Country, Kayaking down Grand Cannion and traveled alone in Africa. So I’m really just being a whimp for worrying.

I hope that some of you will comment on this. I’ll see your email address in the moderation queue, so if you don’t want me to publish your comment, just put “E-mail back” as the headline.

Or e-mail lionessbookings@gmail.com

Thanks in advance. I really want to make this a success.

Be careful with the criticism

Following on from my previous post about having to look good as a professional singer, I am going to talk about looking good in photos, videos and TV appearances.

When you can’t see, that is the most challenging. Especially photos, because they show one moment in time, yet they are still so the moment is captured. And if you’re not looking your best, everybody can have a go at you for not looking your best.

This doesn’t of course only apply to blind people. Take your favourite celebrity for instance and I can guarantee you that there are some unfortunate snaps of them out there.

Honestly, I could care less what strangers think of my photos. If I have a bad day, or moment that’s been photographed and they think I’m ugly, so be it.

The worst is to get criticism from friends. Especially accompanied by “But you didn’t have visual control”. Implying consciously or subconsciously that if you could see, you’d never let anyone take a picture of you like that, even if you were in control.

The annoying thing, bitchy as it may sound, is how this is a one way criticism lane.

If they put out unfortunate looking photos of themselves, I can’t really comment back.
a) Because I may never know about them
b) Because if somebody tells me about the bad photo, that person will know I and someone else have been slagging them off to each other. And that’s not nice and grown-up.
c) And it may give the person I criticise the feeling that I’ve spent time looking for bad things to say about their photos.

It’s a hard one. It’s not as if someone can’t advise me about photos. But it’s all about how it’s done and how frequently. No, I don’t have visual control, but if you recognize that I’m trying my best, it doesn’t help me when you say “You are doing your best; it’s the people around you that mess it up.”

One type of criticism that works and is constructive, is for example “That photo looks good, but next time, keep this or that in mind. whatever it may be.” It sounds similar, but makes a huge difference to how I see it.

And as mentioned, a photo is a frozen moment in time. And you may not always know the story or situation behind that moment. Just remember that.

When it comes to videos and TV appearances it’s slightly easier, because you have a little bit more control. But constructive criticism is the key here too.

I got out right mad when one of my friends told me I looked like a sack of flour during an interview, “although you spoke well”.

However, when she broke it down and told me subtle things I could change, like sitting slightly differently, turning more directly to the people interviewing me etc, it made a huge difference. Instead of being the stupid blindy who looked like a bag of flour, I was just a regular girl who could adjust a few things.

I may be extra sensitive to words. But I think, especially when talking about very visual things with someone who can’t see, the words you use make so much difference. Ad maybe sometimes, if it’s clearly the people around me that has’t managed to capture me perfectly, don’t say so. It’s not always necessary.

Trust yourself

When you’re a professional singer, you find that you’ve managed to land a couple of other bi-jobs as well.

The two most important jobs I have when I’m out there representing is talk good and look good.

Talking has never really been an issue for me. I’m a trained journalist after all. And I also have a big mouth. My dad has said many times that if I’m out of career options, I’d probably get rich selling sand in Sahara.

Looking good is harder. Not looking good as in keeping fit, clean, smell good and make sure you wear the kind of clothes and makeup that best brings out your natural beauty.

Finding those clothes and that makeup however is a little bit harder when you can’t see, but you learn.

Now, I can easily feel what kind of clothes I can wear, and what makes me look cheap, fat or like a blind person who has no clue what she’s put on.

With makeup too, I’m starting to get a pretty good idea. I know that although my skin overtone is fair, my undertone is brown. So pink makeup doesn’t make sense while cold reds and browns do.

The difficult part comes when I’m going out to select those clothes and makeup. Most blind chicks will tell you that they have one main trusted person or maybe two or three, who they can buy clothes and makeup with. That trusted person will make sure the colours are right and that they complement you rather than nonplement you.

There’s nothing wrong in shopping alone. However, unless the sales person knows you well, she or he can get things wrong even if they don’t mean too. I can’t count the number of sales people who have tried to sell me pink blushers!

For this reason, I also hate working with new makeup artists. But that’s a topic for another post.

The danger of having one trusted person is that they will, to a certain extent dictate how you look. Within your own style of course.

That in turn leads you to question anything you buy with a slightly less trusted person. And in my case, I’ve found that if my main trusted person don’t like what I bought, I tend to let it hang in my wardrobe for a couple of years before I give it to charity.

I’m not the only blind chick who does this. And I’ve had conversations where either I or a friend is completely down because “that dress was amazing but so and so said the colour is wrong”.

A question that also goes through a blind chick’s mind at that time is: Who is lying? Your main trusted person, or the one you bought the dress with?

It’s of course not that black and white. Because people have different tastes and different opinions on everything.

After a particularly upsetting episode where my before main trusted person said something about a clothing item I really liked, I decided that although it’s good to have one, two or three trusted people, they should never be allowed to dictate what you wear.

If somebody has told me I look good in something, and that is someone I trust, even if it’s not my number one go to for clothes shopping, I will wear it if I like it.

And. I’ve also learned that it’s cool to change your style even if you can’t see.

A couple of years ago, singlets and cardigans took up a huge space in my wardrobe. You’d be hard pressed to find me dressed like that now. And you know what? It was me who changed my style because I felt like a change. Not someone else.

Take charge of your looks today. Have your trusted person(s) but ultimately go with your gut instinct and use them as a guide only.

7 awesome perks to being blind or visually impaired

I think it was the first time I traveled to London on my own. The assistance guy who met me at Heathrow to take me from the plane to the people I was going to meet was going on about how awful my life must be because I couldn’t see. And poor him. He was losing his sight too. I told him that at least that meant he’d get a freedom pass, allowing him to travel for free in London, taxi card and cheaper train fair. He got really pissed off and told me he’d rather have his sight.

He might not have seen any perks to being visually impaired. But I think there are a few and that it is important to address them. Especially on those days you just want to trade in your blind eyes for a working pair.

1. We have addressed this issue already. Free or cheaper transport. I can never quite join in when my friends are complaining about how much money transport cost. I am just grateful I can spend that money on shopping instead.
2. Still on the subject of travel, I’ve found that flying alone is often much more efficient than flying with a sighted person. When I fly alone, I am usually taken to the business class check-In, to the front of the economy check-in and I usually can skip long security queues and I get to board with the important people. Win win all the way. Also, when travelling on British trains, it’s usually easier for staff to put you in the first class carriage, so voila! You just got yourself a first class train journey for normal class money. Hurray, shopping!
3. Certain countries, some of which I have been to, wants you to pay a fee in immigration. Although there can be a genuine fee, such as paying for a visa on entry, a bribe fee is sometimes added if you’re unlucky. However, I’ve never had to pay that bribe money. Yet. Hurray, more shopping!
4. Blind people just get away with stuff. One of my best friends was pushing drugs back in her teens and not even when she got lost one time and got helped by a police officer was she even suspected. A reliable source who’s born and bred in Jamaica has also told me that quite a few blind people turn to drug dealing because it’s an easy way to get money and because the sighted people don’t suspect them.
5. Tourist attractions are also cheaper. I recently went to the London Dungeons and I paid 25 pounds instead of the full price which was 40. I also got a huge price reduction on a boat trip on the Thames. The cool thing about this is that the sighty you’re with will get a discount too and sometimes get in for free. Though I and my friends share the price between us if the latter is the case. Just remember, though the sighty is your child, your boyfriend or just a friend, tell the ticket people it’s your carer if they ask. Hurray, more shopping money!
6. You can get up close and personal. If you’re blind, museums will allow you to touch more things, at least replicas of old things in some cases. Zoos will let you come close to the animals that are not dangerous, with a minder of course, and I got to touch Queen Elizabeth’s throne in Winsor Castle. I wasn’t allowed to sit down, but it was pretty awesome. Tip: Call museums, zoos etc. in advance and ask what extra stuff they can offer you as a blind person. It’s worth it.
7. You have more shopping money because you save money on other stuff. So treat yourself. Sexy underwear, a new book, a perfume, running shoes, makeup, PlayStation, whatever you’re into. Because you deserve it.
So the next time you have one of those days where your visual impairment sucks, just remember that you can travel cheaper in style, not pay bribe fees, enjoy attractions for a lesser price and that you have more shopping money. And if you need more shopping money, you can deal drugs without getting discovered. Although boring people like me thinks that’s both risky and unethical and so I personally don’t recommend it.

If you can think of any more perks to being blind, feel free to leave your comments below. Surely there’s got to be more.

Why I would never do what Rachel Dolezal did

A few days ago, I did the pencil test, just because I didn’t have anything else to do. And ok, I was a little curious to know what the result would be.

In case you don’t know what the pencil test is, it’s a method used in apartheid South Africa to determine your race and in turn, where you would live, who you would marry etc. The pencil test wrongfully divided families and saw them living in different parts of town.

The pencil test is easy. You just stick a pencil into your hair. If it stays there, you’re supposedly either black or coloured/mixed race. If the pencil drops, then lucky you. You get clean water, a good education and streetlights at night. I think. I don’t know exactly how it was in south Africa back then.

So here’s a question. I have fair skin, blond hair and blue eyes. However, the pencil stayed in my hair.
Where does that leave me on the race scale? And what is race? Is it biological? Or is it a social construct?

I realize I am posing enough questions here to write a fat academic book that not many would be likely to read. And I also realize that the nature of these questions are extremely tense for some.

But what inspired me to write this blog post, was the Rachel Dolazel scandal back in June. If you need a little reminder of the scandal read
here

I was embarrassed more than anything when the story came out and I read facebook statuses, instagram posts, blog posts, tweets and articles written by indignant black people who claimed that what Rachel did was racist.

And although I don’t condone what she did,
this interview with MSNBC

Where she speaks out for the first time, telling her own side of the story made me see the whole thing a little differently. Though I still think what she did was wrong.

Hearing Rachel speak, I realized that we have one thing in common. We both feel a little culturally misplaced. She talks about always being fascinated with black culture and feeling more at home among black people. And I feel the same way. I prefer the music, my hair care regime is closer to that of black girls and, perhaps from being a minority in a society though I’m blind and not black, I understand and have experienced discrimination first hand.

However, there is a crucial point where we are different. Whereas she wants to blend in and tries to play the part of someone she isn’t, I try to fit in by being who I am.

And this is what I find so sad about Rachel Dolezal. There’s nothing wrong in wearing your hair in braids and twists, be all engaged with equal rights for black and white people and in Rachel’s case even teach African American studies, although she may have taken it slightly to far with a couple of her lectures. Or in my case, be a singer in Africa.

But it is still possible to do these things and be white. In fact, not denying who we are and still living for the things we care about is going to earn us far more respect than pretending to be someone else. As many of the comments and posts regarding Rachel Dolazel stated, the celebration of the culture is very welcome. But it is passing off as a good example of someone you’re not and being glorified as someone you’re not that is so wrong.

Had a leader of the local blind organization for instance turned out no more visually impaired than needing reading glasses, yet received degrees, doctorates etc and then hailed as extraordinary among blind people, I would be pretty mad. So I get all the people who didn’t take well to what Rachel did.

I get it anyway without the blind comparison. And that, along with the fact that I don’t need to be ashamed of who I am, is the reason why I’d never do a dolezal.

So what is race exactly? Most people would define race as a biological thing based purely on yur physical looks. I tend to agree with that. Look at dogs for example. Even if a Labrador behaves like a Spaniel, it doesn’t make it a Spaniel. And just as a Labrador and a Spaniel are equal despite differences in appearance, so are humans.

It can be both easy and tempting for some to see race as a social construct. And it is to a certain degree. For example, oppression of other races by, mainly the white race, have caused different living standards and opportunities in some cases which have determined people’s lives. But that social construct is both forced and negative and something we all need to work towards getting rid of.

Things like food, music and other everyday culture are things that have flourished within certain communities and therefore indirectly within certain races is an argument for race as a social construct. But indi rock doesn’t belong to white people, reggae to black people and the Japanese don’t have monopoly on enjoying manga.

And in our global age where everybody moves around, we’re ultimately going to addopt practices from cultures that may be far away from the one we’re born into if we like them, or feel more comfortable with them. And isn’t that just a good thing?

Therefore, I think it’s sad to uphold something as being “a white thing” while something else is “a black thing” though we can always appreciate the origin of where things come from. Because the truth is, that in our society today, we’re going to do a little bit of everything.

Finally, let’s return to the pencil test and the question where on the whole race thing am I?

If we look at race as a social construct, I am mixed race. I can feel at ease in both the typical black and typical white setting, whatever clichés they’re based on. Though perhaps, I’m a little more on the black side. (I can’t name a single Indi rock band and I love rice and beans for Sunday dinner.) Yes, I am over simplifying a lot here. But I was just trying to avoid writing that book. So please forgive me.

If we treat race as a biological thing which the majority does, I’m a white girl with a pencil stuck in my hair. And that’s cool. In the end, I’m just me.