Meet The Faces of Bold Blind Beautiful & Accomplished Women
Representation Matters! Bold Blind Beauty believes that “Real Beauty Transcends Barriers.” Today’s Cover Model, Gabby Mendonca, is a beautiful 21-year-old blind YouTuber. Not unlike many young women, Gabby has struggled with accepting herself and is sharing lessons on how she’s learning how to embrace her beauty. To learn more about Gabby visit her social media platforms and stay tuned for her story to be featured here in Women On The Move.
Following is personal and empowering insight from Gabby.
Beyond Sight Magazine Cover – Gabby is posed standing outside on a lawn in bright sunshine. Her long dark hair cascades over both her shoulders in soft curls. She’s wearing a black outfit (leggings and long sweater/jacket with light-colored flats. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text to the left of Gabby’s photo that says “Crushing Digital Media In College.” In the bottom right corner is a yellow circle with an illustration of Abby looking at a reflection of herself in a standing mirror. She has on a teal dress and a white hat with a black band. In her right hand is her white cane. And of course, she’s sporting her signature explosive hairstyle (peeping from under her hat in the back), and “Monthly Beauties” is yellow text under the circle.
I met Sylvia Stinson-Perez at an event in New Jersey earlier in the year and was immediately drawn to her. As I grew to learn more about her it was her authentic beauty that was so magnetic to me. When I first read Sylvia’s Women On The Move article I was deeply moved as her words resonated with me very much. After an extremely difficult past week on reading her story again this morning, parts of it felt like my own and I was reminded of my personal value. We can be so caught up in trying to be like everyone else we can fail to see our unique beauty which is considerably more than our exterior.It gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Sylvia Stinson-Perez.
Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful
As a teenager in the 1980’s, I watched the soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. I wanted to be considered bold and beautiful. Like any young woman, I struggled with seeing myself as beautiful. Now, add the fact that I was also visually impaired. I had been ostracized and bullied in school because of being considered different, which resulted in me being extremely shy. In addition, like many with low vision, I spent many years trying to pretend I was sighted. Today, as a 50-year-old woman, with many experiences, challenges, and opportunities, I now understand what it really means to be a bold, blind beauty… and I count myself as someone who is still auditioning, but closer every day to getting a leading role.
Blindis a term many are uncomfortable with, and that includes people who are severely visually impaired. I was born legally blind. It was challenging, but I had an amazingly supportive and loving family. My parents pushed me to not let my vision impairment stop me from being a “regular kid and teen”.
Success Found In Unexpected Changes
For many years it was expected that my vision would not change and I would have the benefit of being able to navigate without a cane or guide dog, read regular print-even if really close, and be able to use my vision for almost all tasks but driving. However, in my mid-20’s, shortly after getting married to my husband of almost 27 years, I started noticing declines in my vision. Test results revealed I had Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), which I knew meant eventual blindness. I was devastated… for a few months. But then I realized I had a whole life in front of me and that my visual impairment had not stopped me up to that point despite all of the challenges, so why would it let it now.
It took time, in fact, several years, but eventually, I became a proud blind person. Today I have very limited vision, not much more than light perception. And, I can honestly say, I have not let my declining vision ever stop me. I am a wife, a mother of a 20-year-old daughter, and I’ve had a great career in the blindness field.
Positive Gains In Vision Loss
I came to understand and advocate that people who are blind are required to be more innovative, better problem-solvers, and smarter overall. We are not less because we cannot physically see. We have to learn to own blindness as a part of our characteristics, and one that makes us special and unique. I thought this is a persona I can certainly own. Yes, there are times when I feel pity, like when I have not been able to see my daughter, the beauty of nature, and even my own face anymore. But, a pity-party can only last for 15 minutes and it is back to life. Blindness has given me opportunities and strengths I am certain I would have never had as a sighted person.
Bold to me represents being authentic and confident. As I said, I like many, experienced bullying as a young person in a public school setting where there were very few with disabilities. However, when it was time to go to college, I made a decision that I needed to be more outgoing or bold. I can admit that often I was pretending to be confident. I once heard a quote that has stuck with me:
Most who know me think I am an outgoing and confident woman, but the reality is that there are still moments when I just say a prayer and hope for the best. I have worked hard to ensure that I have good “blindness” skills, including orientation and mobility, technology, and social skills. These skills give me confidence in my ability to work, network, socialize, and live life to the fullest. Admittedly, I spent many years pretending to be more confident than I am, but in the past few years, I have come to understand that being authentic, with my strengths and challenges, makes me more human and real to others. I have also realized that I am much bolder as myself than as a pretend persona.
Famous Last Words
Helen Keller said, “The most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched, but are felt with the heart.” Beauty is a term that women who are blind often struggle with, especially if we cannot see ourselves. We all want to be beautiful, and coming to the realization that beauty is way more than the outside appearance is critical.
Yes, I believe looking our best is important, and you will not likely find too many who love to get all dressed up, made up and glammed up more than me. But, I have learned that beauty is more often found in my attitude and how I treat others. I still want to be seen as beautiful, but the older I get the more I realize I want to be recognized for a beautiful person who is kind, compassionate, and wise. One of my life goals has become helping others find their beauty.
Being bold, blind and beautiful is found in being our best selves!
Beyond Sight Magazine Cover (Photo Credit: J. David Wright). The cover image is a headshot of Sylvia all glammed up at a formal event. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text that say “Auditioning for Bold, Blind, and Beautiful.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle, and “Women On The Move” is yellow text under the circle.
Sylvia in front of a building shows her walking with her white cane in front of the building where she works at MSU
When I first met Michael Moran at an event in New Jersey earlier in the year, I was mesmerized by his voice and quickly fell in love with his sense of humor. While he is very funny Michael is also extremely kind, giving, and diligent. Today, Nasreen Bhutta talks with Michael about his life’s journey. Enjoy! ~Steph
For the most part, I think that humor and learning to forgive myself for my imperfections and in doing that I’m more accepting of other people. I fail daily. I’m gonna fail every day, I’m human and that’s okay too.
Nasreen: Welcome to Bold Blind Beauty and Beyond Sight Magazine an online community where Real Beauty Transcends Barriers. Bold Blind Beauty’s 2020 A Year Of Vision Campaign also celebrates blind and visually impaired men. I’m your host Nasreen and for our main segment of our Men In Motion feature, our featured guest is Mr. Marvelous himself, Michael Moran. Mike is involved in podcasting, voiceovers, inspirational speaking, and is also a business owner and so much more! So let’s all give a warm welcome to Mr. Mike Moran. Welcome, Mike!
Michael: Well thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here. I didn’t know it was magnificent or marvelous or whatever you said but I’ll take it!
Nasreen: We’re so proud of you to be here as part of Bold Blind Beauty’s community as well. And just for everybody out there listening Bold Blind Beauty, we met up with Mike Moran in an event in Chicago, sorry, New Jersey. Sorry, wrong city Mike. [laughs] And since then Mike has joined our team and we’re really, really happy. So we wanted to really feature him on our Men In Motion segment. Mike, I want you to let me know how it feels to be on the other side of the hot seat? Usually, you’re on this side.
Michael: Yes, I know, this is quite a switch. And I feel like I don’t know where I am. I’m just in such shock I could be in Chicago, I could be in New Jersey now I’m really confused but go right ahead I’ll figure it out.
Nasreen: Mike, let’s start off with a little bit about your background. Can you share your journey of little Mikey with us to the present Michael?
Michael: Let me see if I can condense this. I was born with congenital glaucoma. I only had vision for light and color. I was very fortunate that my mother really had good instincts. She didn’t know very much about the formal aspects of rehabilitation, she went on instinct, and she was very good. She taught me things, she let me go out and get hurt. If I got hurt she put a bandaid on me and sent me out again and she did not hold me back. She wanted me to experience everything. I just love her for that, she was such a wonderful part of my life. She allowed me to be courageous.
Nasreen: That’s fantastic, a lot of parents, they try to shelter folks and kind of reform them into something that they should be bookshelved or delicate. It’s fantastic that she let you out there to experience sort of life as it is and say hey there, there if you take a fall you take a fall. If you achieve the goal you achieve the goal. That is keeping you in the norm and keeping it sort of centralized so you grow up understanding the whole environment around you. So hats off and kudos to her.
Michael: I want to say in defense of those parents who are unable to do that, I believe they have good intentions but sometimes they are afraid and they become overprotective without meaning to be. This is a new experience, let’s face it not every group of parents has a child with a disability. It’s a learning experience. I was fortunate that my mother just followed her instincts. I did attend a mainstream school. At first, I went to a residential school for blind children in Jersey City. It was run by the good sisters of perpetual revenge.
Michael: And they, you know my mother thought she was doing the right thing by sending me there and in retrospect, I have to say “ah, wrong move ma” but, it’s okay. [laughs] It toughened me up. In those days it was a different time so whatever the nuns said or the priest said or the elders said oh they must be right and the kid’s wrong. That was the philosophy in those days. We get through these things. I mean, nobody gets an easy ride in this world and some of us have a little tougher rides than others but it’s how we come out the other side that really counts.
When I graduated I was the first blind student to go to a Catholic High School from my house. All the other students went to Catholic High School from the residential school for blind children. So I was the first child, I guess to be, as the name changes, mainstreamed or included or whatever it’s called. I didn’t follow the formula and I think I gave the nuns something other than what they were thinking they were getting. I think they thought they were going to get a blind child who stayed home, read braille books, and said the rosary. When I found out where the bad boys were that’s where I went. I was not a good student. I wouldn’t recommend other students who are blind do it the way I did it. But I hung out on the corners, I got in trouble, I got suspended from school, I got in all kinds of trouble. I have to tell you this [laughs] it was fun! I mean, we didn’t do anything to hurt anybody, you know what I mean? We weren’t some rough gang that was out there mugging people, it was all fun. You know we had a doo-wop group, we’d sing on the corner, sing for the girls. You know in high school it’s what can you do to make you stand out, you’re respected by your peers if you can do something. Well, I was one of the bigger kids and I could lift more weights than anybody, that was my thing. And the kids I was hanging out with, they must have had some kind of degree in rehabilitation because all they would do is, we’d be playing football and all they would do is hand me the ball and tell me to go up the middle and or whatever they were doing. Whatever we did we got in trouble together. If we were running I’d hold on to somebody and we’d take off. It was just a great experience and I think it really toughened me up. And in those days I also went to a camp for children who were blind. They weren’t worried about all the litigation that you have today. You know we had counselors who would wrestle with us and you know throw us out of a rowboat and make us swim back to the dock. And it was fun, it was great fun! And it really taught us if you were afraid, keep going, you won’t be afraid once you keep doing it.
Nasreen: That’s a great sort of mantra to share with everybody, you know, toughen up, keep doing it so shatter your fears. It looks like from your childhood and all the wonderful things and fantastic stuff you’ve done broke the barriers on a lot of areas where parents are really stereotypical when it comes to raising their children, not letting them venture out experience new things like things where you got suspended and played football and wrestle and all of that. Those are quote-unquote the norm things that every kid should experience growing up. I commend your mom for that, hats off to her. I don’t know how she kind of put up with all that sort of…
Michael: I don’t know either. But you know, I have to say we can get children into society by making them aware of life not by shielding them from everything.
Nasreen: I also want to ask you what’s the most ambitious thing you’ve done to date?
Michael: I don’t know, it’s hard to pick out because I’ve done some pretty crazy things. But I have to say I loved cross country skiing. I thought that was really terrific and I learned and I got a medal. I was so thrilled and I slept with the medal. As an adult man, I got this medal and I slept with it, I had to. I don’t know I traveled all over the country in my work. I’ve met so many different people. I’ve thrown out the first pitch at a baseball game. I don’t know, it’s hard to say what that is. When the book comes out we’ll try to figure it out.
Nasreen: Oh, so you’re writing a memoir? Fantastic. [laughs]
Michael: I wasn’t until today but I’m just gonna ask you how are you with writing?
Michael: You may be my co-author. I’m signing you up right on the air.
Nasreen: Alright [laughs] we got a deal. Also, Mike, you have also done a lot of voiceovers and you’ve also done a lot of podcasting interviews so I have to you and I’m sure alot of people ask you this same question, but with all the tons of interviews you have done, national and state leaders…
Nasreen: To sports celebrities who was your most challenging interview and why?
Michael: They’re all challenging because the first couple of seconds, I call the joining process, and that’s really a key. I find that once I get started and connected with the person then it’s fine. So many wonderful people you know and everybody’s got, most people have positive things. I’ve never really interviewed controversial people.
Nasreen: I guess Trump won’t make your cut anytime soon huh?
Michael: I actually met him in an elevator.
Nasreen: Did you? Oh wow.
Michael: I was coming out of a basketball tournament in Madison Square Garden back in the 90s and he was on the elevator and I was on the elevator and I heard him talking. And I said to him are you, Donald Trump? And he said, “yeah, can I pet your dog?” And I said sure. And he shook my hand and he gave my dog a pet and that was that. And I said to him “you know what? You’re gonna be president one-day young man.” No, I didn’t, I’m only kidding.
Michael: It’s funny because for a guy who says he doesn’t like to shake hands, I had no problem, he shook my hand.
Nasreen: Yeah, wow. I guess that’s something you’ll remember and cherish but I’m surprised you didn’t say…
Michael: I hope he remembers it, you know. If I ever meet him I’ll say “remember the elevator ride?” And he’ll, of course, have no idea what I’m talking about.
Nasreen: Of course, Mike you’re also part of the actor’s guild can you share with us how that journey came to be?
Michael: They’re combined now, it’s called SAG AFTRA which is Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. I was always fascinated by the guys who did voiceovers and those are the guys that did the prerecorded commercials. The guys at the end of the commercials or that read the whole commercial say, for example, Time Magazine or Ovaltine or something like that. In those days what you would do is you would go to an ad agency, audition for the spot along with god knows how many other people, and then you’d get a call if you’re lucky and you’d go and record the commercials and get residuals. The worst thing happened to me that could have happened to a new artist. The first commercial I auditioned for I got and it was a national spot. It was two baseball players, Tommy Lasorda and Steve Garvey from the Los Angeles Dodgers; it was for Swanson Hungryman Dinners and Entrees. All I had to say was “Swanson Hungryman Dinners and Entrees the second helping of meat is already in.” The mailman came every Monday and I’m thinking oh man, this is great. The residual checks kept coming in
Michael: And I thought man, this is gonna be a cakewalk. Well, you know, come to find out it isn’t that way. So, Ed Macmahon did not move over and make room for me. I had to keep struggling [laughs] like everyone else.
Nasreen: Can I ask, how you did that? Were you using a screen reader? Which technology devices did you use at the time
Michael: No I just, in those days it was just braille. We punched out the dots either with a stylus or we did it with a braille writer.
Nasreen: How was that received?
Michael: Once you get past the audition you’re in. They don’t care what you do because they know you’re going to get it done. That’s why you were selected. Sometimes it was hard to get auditions. This was a whole new thing: What do you mean the guy’s blind? How are we going to get the script to him? Budda bing. And some of these people they had you’d think the script was The Valachi Papers or something, they’d hold onto things like: “Oh I don’t know if we want to release the script that early and ahead of time.” What? What is this a secret document?
Michael: So, there were obstacles to overcome. Now it’s a different ballgame. I mean, people sit at their computers and they wait for the scripts to come down and read them into the computers.
Michael: As a blind person, I’m not that quick that I can just read them as they come down and send them in.
Nasreen: So you’ve been in a lot of things Ovaltine or like Swansons, Ore Ida, things I watched growing up or many other people watched growing up. So my goodness Mike, wow, that is fantastic. You should be so proud. We’re honored to know that part of you cause…
Michael: Well, thank you.
Nasreen: We always hear you asking us “hey how you doing?” “What’s your most ambitious thing?”
Micheal: Somebody said to me last week “you know, you don’t even know what you’ve done.” I said, you know, you’re right I have no idea. No idea until somebody starts asking me questions.
Nasreen: You definitely need to put that into a memoir book. [laughs] We’ll help you do that.
Michael: I hope so.
Nasreen: So if you had to define yourself in one word Mike what would that be and why?
Michael: Caring. It’s hard to come up with one word because I like to combine two things: that’s love and humor. I think that we can’t have one without the other. I mean you can have humor that can be damaging to other people and not beneficial and doesn’t fill people with happiness and joy. For the most part, I think that humor and learning to forgive myself for my imperfections and in doing that I’m more accepting of other people. I fail daily. I’m gonna fail every day, I’m human and that’s okay too. I just wanted to say I learned a very important lesson from a friend of mine, dear friend of mine, years ago who said to me: “Be serious about what you do but try not to take yourself too seriously.” And there is the challenge because we all tend to take ourselves too seriously. So you have to use that big three-letter word ‘TRY’ not to take yourself too seriously and in doing that I think it gives me a freedom because I realize I don’t have to carry so much weight on my shoulders.
Nasreen: You know I think those are great inspiring words that can help, good for anybody because we all tend to be a little hard on ourselves, too serious, carry the burden or weight and the of the world or our imperfections. We want to change things so that we’re are quote-unquote perfect. I think you summed it up very well that way. We love your humor, that’s one of those things that we’ve come to know here at Bold Blind Beauty that your humor you are definitely a caring person and we experienced that when we were on the trip to New Jersey. And your humorous side is fantastic and I think that’s what sets you apart from many other people. Kudos to you for all that.
Michael: Well thank you. I have to say that we do all learn from each other. I’m not unique, I’ve had role models and maybe I’m a role model to somebody I don’t know, but I hope that we all inspire each other or influence each other in a positive way.
Michael: What I’m trying to do is set up a podcasting service for people who can’t podcast or want to podcast but can’t do it themselves or needs some help. I’m willing to work with people at all levels so I can monitor and host the podcast for them or they can do it themselves and I can edit it and get it up on the platform. I can help them put it together, format the podcast, whatever it takes, that’s exciting to me. I was sitting around wondering what am I going to do? I wasn’t doing much I didn’t know what I was going to do next and I’m listening to podcasts and I said “oh I can do that.” And in addition, I really would like to give workshops and seminars for people who are blind or visually impaired. I think it’s important that we explore certain topics like work readiness, grooming for success, how to adjust to the work environment, and many other things that I think are important and sometimes don’t get talked about such as non-verbal communications for people who are blind or visually impaired. So there’s so many places we can go with these workshops and I think they’re much needed and I think what’s wonderful though is that a lot of the young people today are receptive the world has opened up to them…
Michael: through technology and they want to learn more.
Nasreen: Mike how can the general public reach you if they’re interested?
Michael: I’m going to give you my website which is clearvisionnetwork.com. So it’s two n’s C L E A R V I S I O N N E T W O R K.COM and my phone number is 201-906-8524.
Nasreen: Thanks so much Mike.
Michael: Well thank you for having me it’s been a pleasure really.
Nasreen: Thanks Mike, for sharing your journey with us and being our Man In Motion for May 2020. You can find Beyond Sight Magazine at www.boldblindbeauty.com. Thanks for listening.
Special Thanks To:
Michael Moran, Our featured Man In Motion and BBB Advisory Board Member
Nasreen Bhutta, Interviewer and BBB Advisory Board Member
Daniel Lubiner, Graphic Designer and BBB Advisory Board Member
Featured image is the Beyond Sight Magazine cover. Michael’s photo is on the cover, he is dressed professionally in a jacket and tie while standing next to his guide dog Carson (a German shepherd). The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text that say “Mike Moran The Voice Like Velvet.” In the bottom left corner is a teal circle with an illustration of a blind man in motion with his white cane and “Men In Motion” is in yellow text under the circle.
As we continue practicing physical distancing, I hope you and your loved ones are well. I couldn’t quite sum up how I’ve beenfeeling lately until I saw the word “melancholy” earlier today. What’s been helping me deal with the pandemic, is being present and truly appreciating each moment as it happens. My life has been so much more than I ever anticipated and I embrace it all; the ups, downs, mistakes, heartbreaks, everything. Who knows how different my life would be had I not endured my experiences? I’ll never know the answer to this question and it’s alright because today I choose to be better than I was yesterday.
Even during a pandemic life presses onward and we can always learn new lessons to enrich our lives. In today’s post, you’ll hear from Catherine Harrison about accepting help no matter how far we’ve come. I’m also happy to announce that Catherine will be an ongoing contributor to Bold Blind Beauty. ~Steph
Stopping Traffic…With My Pride
I’ll bet many women have imagined looking so fabulous in an outfit that heads turn and traffic stops just to watch them walk past. So, I guess it counts that in downtown Austin, Texas I brought traffic to a dead standstill at the intersection of 6th Street and North Lamar. Unfortunately, it was not because I was wearing a fabulous Oscar de La Renta dress or looked particularly on point…it was because of my white cane and my location.
With the progressive loss of my eyesight, due to RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa), I attended a school for blind adults in Austin, Tx to get the skills I needed to navigate life visually impaired. One of the daily classes I attended was mobility training. Blindfolded for 8 hours a day I learned to travel about totally independent using only my wits, a cell phone, my four other senses, and my white cane.
Near the end of my 4 months of training, I was sent downtown on an errand. Feeling very confident in my skillset I navigated public transportation like it was my job, maintained my sense of direction like a Navy SEAL, and even stood in line at the bank to complete the task. On my return, I had to cross the intersection of 6th street and North Lamar.
I listened for the flow of traffic then set off walking confidently behind my cane to what I thought was the opposite corner. After walking a bit, I stopped and waited, listening for the traffic pattern to confirm I had reached the other side.
Nothing…all around me I heard nothing. No roar of cars speeding past me, only the sound of idling engines. Several minutes passed and I heard a car door close, then a woman touched my arm and asked me if I needed help. “No, I said…I am doing great thanks”. Well clearly, I was not doing great but I was the last one to figure that out. The cars were not moving because I was standing smack dab in the middle of this busy intersection. No one was honking or yelling at me…they were just waiting as if holding their breath and cheering me on.
Yes, I did eventually make my way out of the intersection and I could almost hear the collective clapping from those who wanted me to succeed. I learned a big lesson that day, not to let my pride get in the way of accepting help from others. I also discovered that when I let others see me fail it encourages them to know that if I can rise strong and navigate the hard times then so can they!
The header image of the Beyond Sight Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number are in the upper right corner in black ink. Catherine’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. With short blonde hair, Catherine is on the cover wearing a white shirt. She’s sitting with her arm on a sofa and her eyes are downcast.“Beyond Sight” is in large black text and a teal-colored circle on the lower left corner of the photo has yellow text that says “Catherine Harrison.”
In this image of Catherine relaxed in a chair we can see her full outfit; white shirt with blue jeans and gold jewelry.