Meet Emily Davison, The Blogger Challenging Disability Representation Across Beauty & Fashion

Today, there are great strides being made in the fashion and beauty industries towards inclusion for all body types, genders, and skin shades. But the movement towards diversity and acceptance is lacking in one particular area, and blogger Emily Davison is working to change that.

Emily is almost completely blind due to multiple conditions that impact her sight. Throughout her life she has experienced bullying, stigma, and has been the target of countless misconceptions. In 2012, Emily decided that it was time to shut down these misconceptions around her disability and started her blog, Fashioneyesta. It’s became not only an outlet for her creativity, but a way to change the perception of people with disabilities in the fashion and beauty industries.

Creating content about her disability allows Emily to spark conversation and help people truly understand the prevalence of disabilities in our world today. While the disabled community makes up almost 15 percent of the population, the representation for the community in mainstream fashion and beauty is significantly lacking. With her blog, Emily is breaking down the barrier between the disabled and non-disabled communities and shattering the stigma that surrounds disability. She is proving to the world that her disability does not define her, and proves time and again that  her merit as a fashion and beauty blogger is in no way hindered by her visual impairment.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Emily to discuss her inspiration for starting Fashioneyesta, why representation of people with disabilities is so necessary today, and what she hopes the future of fashion and beauty will look like. 

HC: Your goal is to “challenge people’s perceptions of sight loss through fashion, beauty and style.” So can you start by talking a bit about your visual impairment, what it is and how it affects your day to day life?

Emily Davison: I have a condition called Septo Optic Dysplasia, which amongst a number of things also impacts my eyesight. I have Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, which means that my optic nerves are severely damaged. I am completely blind in one eye and have restricted vision in the other. I also have Nystagmus which means my eyes cannot focus and they rapidly move involuntarily…not ideal when you’re half way through winged eyeliner.

My sight impacts my ability to see far distance objects like train times or bus numbers. Because I have no peripheral vision I can’t see things either side of me or above or below me, I can only see what’s bolt on in front of me. This is one of the reasons why I have my little guide dog Unity, she helps me to be able to get around independently and navigate difficult situations like stairs, curbs and any pavement obstacles that may get in my way.

There are some tasks where I need visual aids or specialized apps to help me like reading print, planning journeys and writing. But, generally my sight doesn’t hold me back from doing a lot of things accept driving, but lets hope one day a self-driving car is invented!

HC: You went through so much, from bullying to body image issues that even further affected your physical and mental health, but your persevere and received a scholarship to study at Goldsmiths University of London. Can you tell us about your experience in college and your journey to get there?

ED:  When I attended college (or sixth form as it is also known in the UK) I was at a very difficult point in my life. I have just overcome a major 2-year battle with an eating disorder and I had faced some very tough challenges being bullied and getting out of toxic friendships. So, I was very introverted, I had always been a bookish girl, preferring the company of a book to people. But this was a time where I really harnessed all my time and energy into my studies and my self-development. I didn’t want to put any more energy into seeking people's’ approval and equally I didn’t want to spiral back into depression and anorexia. So, I decided to work hard at my A Levels because I knew University was on the horizon if I applied myself.

There was a lot of work and planning, being a disabled student I needed to ensure I had all the right support and resources. I had to apply for something called Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) which entitles disabled students to funding for things like books, course materials, specialist equipment and non-medical help. There was a lot of meetings and paperwork. But, finally in September 2012 I was about to start my new life as a student. After graduating with my Degree I applied to study an MA in Children’s Literature which I graduated from last year.

University was some of the best years of my life. I was surrounded in a bubble of happiness and prosperity. It was like a fairy tale I got accepted to study English Literature at University, got a scholarship, I got my first job and I also got matched with my guide dog Unity. I found an amazing group of friends who respected and appreciated me for who I was. I got everything I hoped for.

HC: How did your visual impairment make you experience different/more challenging? And how did you face those challenges?

ED: Sight loss definitely taught me to think outside the box. From little things like being able to do my eyeliner to more major things like the prospect of studying at University. I had to look for resources to help me, I had to try different ways of doing things. For example something as simple as going to a library and borrowing a book wasn’t the case for me. I had to get books in accessible formats either online or in audiobooks, if they weren’t available this way I had my books transcribed. For a non-disabled person traveling in London it may take you 10 minutes getting on a tube. But when you have a disability you tend to have to double or even triple this, because not all stations are accessible and you often have to request assistance. Everyday things when you have a disability often take that little longer and that little more effort. I often say having a disability isn’t the problem, it’s that society hasn’t risen to meet the needs of my disability that is.

HC: What inspired you to start your blog and YouTube channel? What was the process like?

ED: It was a variety of reasons, I loved to write and I’ve always been a creative person. But, equally I was rather fed up with people having all these misconceptions towards me because of my disability. So I wanted to put my skills to good sue and start up blog to get them out in the open.

People would often say to me “Wow! You don’t look blind” in a really incredulous manner. As if I’m supposed to look horrendous just because I can’t see. But then I would also get a lot of questions from friends with visual impairments on how to do makeup when you can’t see. My mother was a makeup artist and it was something I loved to do, so I was often their go-to person to ask. One day a friend of mine said to me that with all my knowledge and experience I should start a blog and share it with the world. I thought about the idea and decided I would give it a try.

There was a lot of trial and error in the early days, there still is in fact. I’m self-taught and I enlisted the help of my mother to take pictures and help me with the visual side of things. There was a lot of laughs and groans of frustration along the way, but it was all in the fun! I couldn’t be more grateful to my mother for the countless hours she spent helping me to get to where I am now.

HC: What is your favorite kind of content to create? And what parts of your role as a blogger/influencer do you find the most enjoyable?

ED: Whatever inspires me at any given time. The world is changing constantly and there’s always something new to be discovered. I love to write blogs first and foremost, I started with my blog and writing is where my passion lies.  

Although I love fashion and beauty posts I also do love talking about living with a disability, especially when I can throw humor into the mix. I love creating disability content because it always sparks really interesting conversations between me and my audience. People tell me their stories, share their experiences and discuss topics with other followers both disabled and non-disabled. I love to think that my content helps people to open up and gets the conversation started surrounding disability. In my own way I’m helping to break down barriers between the disability community and the non-disabled community by giving my disabled followers a space to talk about their experiences.

HC: You’ve found so much success and worked with so many brands, most recently beauty brand Being by Sanctuary. There is a serious lack of representation and diversity in the beauty and fashion industries, but you’re working to reverse that. Why is it so important that there is more representation and awareness in the beauty industry?

ED: The beauty industry is huge and has a lot of influence over many people, it’s something many people love and find a common ground in. So to see someone with a disability working with a brand has great significance when it comes to helping people truly understand disability. The disability community makes up around 15% of the world’s population and when you think about how many people there are in the world that’s a lot of people. We equally deserve to be represented as a strong and diverse community. Disability impacts a lot of people and its important to see others who also live with the disability so that people understand that disability doesn’t have to prevent you from having a quality of life. So often disabled people don’t have control or censorship of how they are portrayed in the media or when we are portrayed the representation is very askew. So to actually have disabled people work with brands and share their story in their own words has to potential to shatter the stigmas that surround disability.

HC: In the early days of your blog you received a lot of push-back and skepticism about your ability to create a fashion/beauty blog, and I’m sure that skepticism hasn’t disappeared (if not grown). How do you deal with that?

ED: I will say things certainly have improved form when I first started blogging, with so many more style conscious disabled influencers on the rise like Molly Burke, Jordan Bone and Jessica Kellgren-Fozard. People are now actually starting to see disabled people in a positive light and understand how we actually go about our daily lives. Disabled influencers have such a unique opportunity to alter perceptions of disability because they make the content, the words and their own and they portray themselves as they want people to see them. So because of this the skepticism is slowly starting to retract, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally out of the picture.

In life, you will face people. who are always going to have their opinion and nothing you say will ever alter that. There are lots of people I’ve interacted with on social media who are genuinely just curious about how I make videos, respond to comments and apply makeup as someone with a severe visual impairment. So as a disabled influencer I see it as my duty to the disabled community to reply and facilitate that person’s understanding of disability. I have no issue with talking to people and answering their questions, even if they may come across as skeptical of my abilities.

But of course there are some who are convinced I’m lying about having a disability because according to them I “shouldn’t” be able to do what I do whilst having a visual impairment. In those situations I choose to distance myself from that negative energy.

But then the other major positive about all this skepticism is that is gives me content! I literally need to buy a t-shirt that says something like “careful or I’ll put you in my next blog post.” When people say weird things about my disability I don’t get deflated anymore, instead the cogs in my brain start turning and I think, “This is great! I can make a story out of this for my YouTube channel.”

HC: As the industry is adapting and, even if slowly, becoming more inclusive, what are some of the “do’s and don’ts” of how to treat disabled people in the beauty and fashion community?

ED:

  1. Represent us: we are a huge and thriving community.
  2. Listen to us: if we are telling you that you need to make your brand more inclusive and how take that advice on board.
  3. Don’t tokenize us: Don’t use a disabled person for a campaign or collaboration one time and go back to never showcasing disability again.

HC; In an ideal world, what does the landscape of the fashion and beauty industries look like - in terms of inclusion and reducing stigma? How do you hope people’s perceptions change?

ED: I would love to see further and consistent representation of disabled people being used by brands in campaigns and advertisements. If we see more disabled people in the fashion and beauty scene then people like me wouldn’t have to keep facing the backlash of being told, “oh wow! You’re so well dressed for a blind person!”

HC: What’s coming in the future for you? What do you hope to do - expanding Fashioneyesta, starting something new, etc?

ED: I would love to continue to grow my audience of my blog and YouTube channel and continue to create more content. I want to do more creative projects on my channel and get into filmmaking and making the content on my disability that I have always dreamed of making now I have more time at my disposal.

I would love the opportunity to collaborate with more brands, its been really fun over the last two years as my blog has grown to be able to represent the disability community when I work with brands on campaigns. So I hope I get the opportunity to do that.

I would love to return to academics at some point in the future, the ultimate goal being to return to study for my PHD.

But of course my biggest dream is to write a book, it always has been. I am brimming with ideas and becoming an author is still the big dream for me. I’m currently working on a young adult novella that is a retelling of classic fairy tales through social media. You can never have too many dreams, I mean look at the BFG he has a whole room of them!

Makena is an Editorial Intern, the Style Section Editor and a National Feature Writer for Her Campus. She is a sophomore at Marist College majoring in Communication with a concentration in Journalism and an Interactive Media minor. Loving everything that has to do with fashion, she hopes to one day put her writing skills to work at a major fashion publication.

 

She is an obsessive reader and almond butter enthusiast. Follow her on Instagram @makenagera.

You Might Also Enjoy