Molly Burke has always loved fashion and makeup.
“I had a whole collage of photos I would cut out from magazines of all my favourite singers and my favourite outfits,” theYouTube beauty vlogger and and motivational speaker says. Since her grandmother was a wedding dress designer, Burke, who grew up in Oakville, Ont., was drawn to traditional silhouettes and as a teen, she idolized stars like classic ’90s icons like Hilary Duff and Avril Lavigne. A decade later, the 24-year-old has traded ties and tank tops for chic form-fitting dresses—and her style isn’t the only thing that has changed.
For one thing, Burke is now blind. But when she lost her sight at age 14 due to a degenerative disease known as retinitis pigmentosa, she didn’t lose her sense of style.
“When I could no longer look in magazines and store windows, I turned to YouTube,” says Burke, especially vloggers like Bethany Mota, Blair Fowler and Megan Parken. “I would watch their fashion hauls, outfit of the days, makeup tutorials and their videos on the ‘must-have products in your makeup bag,’ all that kind of stuff that was really starting to grow on YouTube’s beauty community. They were my guides to figuring out beauty and fashion [after] I couldn’t actually see it.”
Burke paired binging YouTube tutorials with her own research on body shape, fashion styles and makeup tips. Whenever she gets her makeup professionally done for photoshoots or events, she asks about what colours were being used on her and why, so she can understand what looks good without having to actually see it.
“I’ve learned about what colours suit my skin tone, so when I go shopping, I’m feeling the different shapes of how the clothing is cut, I’m feeling textures of the fabrics, and then picking pieces out and having somebody kind of be my mirror,” she explains. “When I put something on, I can feel [if] it’s laying right, it’s comfortable on my body, and then I’ll ask them [like a sales person], ‘Does it look like it’s too baggy here?’ or ‘Do you think this looks good on me?’ and they’ll kind of be my final deciding factor.”
While Burke can’t see her makeup or her OOTD, focusing how she feels in the looks she creates allows her to think about beauty in a completely different—and frankly refreshing—way.
“There’s a misconception that beauty and fashion are visual, that you have to see it to enjoy it or experience it. But there really is so much more that goes into it for all of us. It’s not just what it looks like, it is how it feels and how it makes us feel,” she says. For instance, when Burke wears a bright red lipstick, throws her hair in a top knot and puts on a pair of heels, she doesn’t need to be able to check herself out in the mirror to know she looks fab.
On her YouTube channel, which has more than 414,000 subscribers, Burke demonstrates her beauty regime, and simultaneously combats the idea that beauty products are only for the sighted. She notes that though big beauty brands are starting to create products for a diverse range of consumers, differently abled people are still not included in the conversation. When Burke purchases makeup, she has to add her own braille labels to her products. It’s a small step that few companies take, but brands that do, like L’Occitane, make beauty that much more accessible for consumers like Burke. One of her goals with her videos is to combat misconceptions that being blind excludes her from caring about beauty.
“I grew up loving makeup and fashion. So, it’s not like just because now I can’t see it I’m going to stop loving it,” she says. “Who I am didn’t change when I went blind, how I do things changed.”
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