The third episode of the American Foundation for the Blind’s (AFB) Inform & Connect podcast focuses on Bold Blind Beauty Founder Steph McCoy and Nasreen Bhutta, the magazine’s Chief Communications Officer. Audiences will learn of the mission of Bold Blind Beauty, the “2020 A Year Of Vision” campaign, and the voice of “Abby,” the magazine’s fashion icon extraordinaire.
Melody Goodspeed: Welcome to The American Foundation for the Blind's third episode on Inform & Connect. This series was created to foster camaraderie between the blind community through informal storytelling.
We're so excited to have the creator of Bold, Blind, Beauty Steph McCoy and Nasreen.
To do your story in 20 minutes, it's going to be difficult. So we're going to hit it and leave people wanting some more here, because you're just amazing. But I want to start off with, let's talk about Bold Blind Beauty and how it was born. And I want to go back to, when did you decide that you wanted to leave your lucrative career at a major consulting firm to become a blogger?
Steph McCoy: Actually, it was a combination of a couple of different things, but the main thing was my sight loss journey. I was working at one of the big four accounting firms before starting Bold Blind Beauty when I began losing my sight. And it was over a four year period, I believe, it's sort of fuzzy now. Happened overnight, but it was just so unreal to me to go through that process. And when I finally found out after my last eye surgery that I was legally blind and there was no more that could be done for me medically, I thought that was it. And the problem there was that I had big plans prior to losing my sight. I had just gotten a promotion at work. I had bought my first home. I had recently married. I was a mom of three almost grown sons at that time. And I had everything in order. And being a major control freak, to know that I was losing my sight was something that was really devastating to me.
Steph McCoy: And I didn't know how I was going to go on. However, once I connected with the blind community, because it was a process. When you begin losing your sight, yeah, it's not like, okay, today I can see, the next day I can't and it's okay. It's not like that. It's a process. And I still have days where I feel insecure and scared and whatever, but once I got involved with the blind community, I knew that I could get through this because I was introduced to some amazing people who are doing amazing things. And I thought, these people and the things that they're doing are who I want to be.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, I really enjoy how you kind of hit on that. But one thing in particular is vulnerability. And you are such a strong believer. We share the same, that vulnerability is actually power. And so for being for there, can we talk a little bit about that? Because I think that's important for anybody who's dealing with any type of struggle.
Steph McCoy: It is. As you know, I am a follower of Brene Brown. As a matter of fact, quiet as it's kept, don't anybody saying anything, but her and I are like this. We are bosom buddies. I love Brene Brown because she has helped me to understand that vulnerability isn't a weakness. In our country, we are sort of forced to believe that things that are weaknesses really aren't weaknesses. Vulnerability is one. And as I got older, I realized that being who I am, allowing myself to truly be me, to be vulnerable, I actually identified myself the other day as a recovering people pleaser. So I'm a recovering people pleaser. I'm an introvert and I'm not ashamed to admit that. These are all qualities that belong to me. And it's part of my story. So yeah, vulnerability is huge. I think it's one of the main messages that comes through on Bold Blind Beauty. And I think it's one of the reasons that people are able to connect with us because our voices are so real.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. And I would definitely say that from the following that you have gotten through your messaging of being real and connecting it and building people to a place of power from the place that that can be very dark. So let's move into... 2020, I mean, has been fantastic for you. You have made so many changes to your vision of 2020. And I just want to, we can talk on that and just to see where you're going, where you've been and how you're moving forward with it.
Steph McCoy: Honestly, I don't know where we're going. It seems like the sky's the limit. And I believe that because I am a believer of possibilities. I would not be here today if I wasn't. Based on my background, I shouldn't be here today, but I am. So I'm a great believer in possibilities. In January of this year, I connected with some amazing people in New Jersey. But prior to that, last summer I received a phone call from out of the blue, from India of all places and this woman, my right arm, Nasreen Bhutta, she calls me and she says, Steph, I love your mission. I love what you're doing. I want to be part of it. How can I help you? And I was not expecting that. Who does that?
Melody Goodspeed: Nasreen.
Steph McCoy: And I'm like, Oh my God, I so need some help. Because prior to Nasreen making this call, one of my good friends had passed away earlier in the year. She had helped me to restructure the site to where it was last year. But since then, since Nasreen has come on board, she has really helped to take us from, I don't know, I can't even think of a good analogy, but all I know is that the sky is the limit and we're going to go places that we never imagined. And I'm just so thrilled for her to be part of this journey with me.
Melody Goodspeed: Nasreen, yes, tell us about your call from India [inaudible 00:06:36] to what you two have been able to accomplish.
Nasreen Bhutta: Oh, first of all, thanks Melody for letting me come on to this amazing platform. Absolutely. I was just kind of hanging out in India because I had some time and I was doing some work, a workation as I call it. Steph and I have known each other for a couple of years and we had connected a few years ago through another platform. I've always liked Steph. I always admired what she was doing and the woman that she is. A very powerful dynamic, strong willed woman and professional. And so I just, it was, I call it kismet. I just decided I'll give her a call and see how she's doing, what she's up to. And the conversation led from just, hey, hi, how are you? I'm in India. How are you doing? To where we are today.
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah. And you know where we are today and what I've loved, because was one of those people when we were all in New Jersey together is your guys' view on inclusion. Can we talk about that, in you 2020 vision?
Nasreen Bhutta: Yeah, absolutely. So our platform originally was about transcending beauty, breaking barriers, sort of looking skin deep to find that beauty is skin deep. It's not just on the surface. And the platform actually catered to a lot of women before with our women on the move segment. So what we designed in 2020 was a new campaign where we wanted to reach out to the other halves of some of us, the significant others, if you will. And that's to kind of pay homage and respect and highlight men, because men in the blindness community, they don't get a fair say sometimes about what accomplishments they've done. And sometimes they're too shy to talk about their journeys or inspire some of their insightfulness.
Nasreen Bhutta: And so we wanted to really capture that and bring that out in the essence of our campaign of 2020. And we designed a campaign platform called Men in Motion. And through Men in Motion we're able to tell and share stories and journeys of incredible men out there who are doing some wonderful, wonderful stuff in the community. And acting as influential pillars of the community. So that is what we were kind of capitalizing on and wanting to kind of showcase. And if you visit our website now, our website is boldblindbeauty.com. And we have put all of our features, some of the old features that some of you might be familiar with like Cane EnAbled, Women on the Move and now Men in Motion, our other feature, Beauty Buzz and Monthly Beauties are now all sort of nicely tucked away into a wonderful magazine that we call Beyond Sight magazine.
Nasreen Bhutta: And so that is kind of what we have taken the platform from where it was and kind of brought it to where it is today. And also, through Men in Motion, we're also breaking down stereotypes, we're providing inclusivity and we're allowing men and their stories and their journeys to shine and be inspirational and breaking down those barriers. So that's what we're doing with this year. And we had some wonderful men that we showcased already.
Nasreen Bhutta: If you go and listen to, if you go to the boldblindbeauty.com website and go into Men in Motion, if you click there, you'll see some wonderful interviews that we have done in the last couple of months. Our segments are usually, depending on the individual, they can be videos, an interview style, or they can also be blog articles with pictures as well up there. So there's a bunch of different formats. But if we do do video, we do just transcribe that as well, too, for everybody out there. And we have a marvelous interview up there right now of a great podcaster who's part of our board. And Melody, Kirk Adams was part of our feature back in Men in Motion in February.
Melody Goodspeed: Our very own CEO. Dr. Kirk Adams. Yes.
Nasreen Bhutta: Yeah. Hi Kirk.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, he is.
Nasreen Bhutta: So it's fabulous. And actually I must state that next month is going to be, June is in many, many places pride month and we have a wonderful person, a wonderful gentlemen, who's going to be kind of highlighting, we're going to be highlighting him for pride month for June. So stay tuned for that. And we are going to kind of have these wonderful men segments all the way until the end of December. And then we'll kind of see if we want to kind of continue our campaign at that point.
Melody Goodspeed: Nice. So when you guys talk about Bold Blind Beauty and how you bring inclusion, I really love how you're bringing the sighted and unsighted together. Because at the end of the day, we're all people, whether you can see physically or not. Can you kind of tell me what that means to you to see that happening in your community?
Steph McCoy: Sorry, can you repeat the question again, Melody?
Melody Goodspeed: Sure. What does it mean to you with the Bold Blind Beauty, because one of the reasons why I really enjoy Bold Blind Beauty so much is there's been so much of a growth with the sighted community and the unsighted community. Because at the end of the day, we're just people. So what does that mean for you to see that growth happen? Because I know that's part of your mission statement.
Steph McCoy: Right. Well, the mission statement is improving humanity by changing the way we perceive one another. It's a really broad mission statement and it's meant to be broad. It's intentional because we do see people as people. So we want to look at the whole person. And that's everybody, regardless of disability or non-disability, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, whatever that might be. At the end of the day, all of us are people. And I think it begins with acceptance, understanding, getting to know people's stories. Trying to limit the amount of preconceived notions that we already have by being curious and open minded and learning about who people are before we come to a judgment.
Melody Goodspeed: Yeah. I agree with you. And just to mirror that, because we always like to do this here with being here at the American Foundation for the Blind, also your things, and one of the things you and I talked about too, that really got to me. Well, the three of us have talked about, is the day that when a cane represents innovation and determination and doesn't represent fear. And we had a big, long discussion and a small interview about that. But that's one of the things that I find that you do that I strive for that is so amazing and completely powerful.
Steph McCoy: Yes, it is because we have to change the way we look at disabilities as a whole. Specifically when it's related to blindness and visual impairment, what I noticed, and it was one of the reasons why I started Bold Blind Beauty was people didn't understand the reason why I use the cane because I look like I'm sighted. And I felt like I had to prove that I couldn't see, almost like I had to do tricks or something, which is incredibly ridiculous. But we do that with a lot of different people in a lot of different areas because of our preconceived notions. And I wanted to change that.
Nasreen Bhutta: And also I think it is people don't understand the different levels of visual acuity. They think, oh, a blind person, they're all the same at the same level. Or a low vision person has the same acuity as all of them. So they bucket us in the same sort of place. And that's not the case. Everyone's different.
Melody Goodspeed: Everyone is different. And actually the three of us are different, as we're talking. Different sights. So, you segue beautifully ladies into what we need to do before, we're already coming to the Q and A section, but we've talked about so many things. You've talked about women and power, and we've talked about inner beauty and all different types of acuities and every levels and the whole person. And so, Steph, you had the icon of your beautiful and wonderful platform, can you tell us about Abby, how she was born.
Steph McCoy: Abby. Abigail was sort of a figment of my imagination. I saw her in my mind, but I didn't have the skills to bring her to light. I connected with the artist, who I never met in person. She drew three different images. And the one I picked is the one that is on the site today. Abby is gorgeous. She's confident, she's adventurous. Abby is everything that I've aspired to be and more. And she also represents, I think, the unique qualities of all of us as blind and visually impaired women. And actually I could even take that further and say blind, visually impaired women, men, children. Abby could be anybody. We didn't want to pigeonhole her. That's why she doesn't have an age or any of those things.
Nasreen Bhutta: But she has a phenomenal story and you can read it there under boldblindbeauty.com/abbys-corner. And like Steph says, she embodies every woman, every man. Abby is inside each and every one of us if you look deep enough in all the accomplishments that each individual has done is kind of what centers around the focus of Abby. And Melody, you're doing a lot of wonderful, great things in the community. You're here hosting Inform and Connect. You're a mother, you're a wife and you also wear another hat, just in case people out there are not familiar with that. You are our voice of Abby, correct?
Melody Goodspeed: Yes, yes, I am. I do transform. And I have to say, when we decided to bring Abby to life, it was super exciting for me because I have always just wanted to be a cartoon character, first. But I do have to admit, because I really try, I think, with Abby, when we do talk about her and get her personality moving and going, is that there's so much power there. And I want to mimic what Nasreen said, we all have a little bit of Abby in us, whoever you are.
Melody Goodspeed: And I think pulling her out and finding, and I get this from also one of our friends, Catherine Harrison, is finding your power, no matter what it is in your life. Finding your power and moving forward to that. Which could be Abby, it could be anything you want it to be. It could be her stilettos, which I love. It can be her sense of style. It can be her determination, her vulnerability, just everything that we have in us, no matter. Because at the end of the day, we all are people and we all are in this together. And ladies, do you have anything else you'd like to add before we go to our Q and A?
Steph McCoy: Just one more thing that I forgot to mention about Abby, her cane. That's a huge piece of it. The cane for me initially symbolized fear. Symbolized, I felt like a victim. I felt like I had a target on my back. But now I look at that cane as a symbol of power. And it's empowering and I love it. I don't go anywhere without it, except for when I walk my dog. But the cane helps me to navigate my world safely. And that's how I look at it. And that's how I'm hoping we can get the rest of the world to look at it.
Melody Goodspeed: Well, thank you so much. Nasreen, do you have anything?
Nasreen Bhutta: I was just going to say to all the listeners out there that if you want to know more or be part of our community, just go to boldblindbeauty.com and look at all the different segments we have. We're always evolving and changing to keep up with trends, with hot button topics. And we're just out there to pass through messages, share messages and stories from all kinds of people out there. We're an inclusive community. So come do join us and take part.
Melody Goodspeed: Yes. And also guys, you led me into that. Is there any other way they could get, if they wanted to be a part of your community, on Facebook, where they can find you on Instagram?
Steph McCoy: Boldblindbeauty.com is the website, Instagram, boldblindbeauty.com, Twitter, and Facebook, Bold Blind Beauty. On LinkedIn, it's under my name, Stephanae McCoy.
Melody Goodspeed: Thank you so much for being with us today Steph and Nasreen. You guys have brought so much to the table in thinking about advocacy, and what you're doing at Bold, Blind, Beauty.
And we thank you so much for joining us today. If you want to learn more about the American Foundation for the Blind and our programs, please visit afb.org. Thank you, guys. Have a great rest of your day.