Blind YouTube star Molly Burke wants to help young disabled people navigate wellness

Molly Burke is set on making wellness more accessible. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Molly Burke is set on making wellness more accessible. (Photo: Getty Images; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

Molly Burke has been on YouTube for six years, sharing her life as a young blind woman to nearly two million people on a regular basis — including daily routines, unique challenge videos and anecdotes about losing her sight as a result of an eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. With her recent partnership with Schick, however, the 27-year-old aims to do more than to share her life experiences on her platform, but also to use it to make wellness more accessible.

"I'm used to having to do most things in my life differently to able-bodied people. But there's simple changes that a lot of companies could make in their designs that make it so much easier for me and other people like me to do those things," Burke tells Yahoo Life. "The way Schick designed their two-in-one razor eliminates the need for shaving cream and shaving cream. For me personally, was the thing that made shaving quite difficult simply because I shave by feel."

Teaming up with the brand was a no-brainer for Burke, who admits that self-care brands have a long way to go when it comes to catering to the disability community. "By sharing publicly some of the more challenging elements of day-to-day tasks, I can hopefully inspire more companies to think about designs and how they can tweak them slightly to make it more accessible," she says. "And the reality is when we do make things more accessible to disabled people, it often becomes more accessible and easier for everybody to use, which is why it's important to think of these things as being inclusive, not just accessible."

In conversation with Yahoo Life, the motivational speaker and author of Audible original audiobook It's Not What It Looks Like, shared more about her relationship with wellness and how she indulges in self-care.

There's such a lack of representation when it comes to disability in the self-care space. What kind of impact do you think that had on you while growing up?

As millennials, we always talk about how we had awkward phases. Gen Z never has awkward phases now. They just go straight from kid to like hot-looking adults. They never have that, like dorky, nerdy, prepubescent phase it seems. And I think that's because unlike our generation who didn't have access to things like YouTube, they have access to so much information and content to teach them how to do their makeup flawlessly, so they don't have to go through that awkward learning phase that we all went through. And so just like for able-bodied people, having access to these things has improved their skills and how they do things and knowing what products not to waste their money on. The same would have been true for me having access to those things. If I had had access to somebody teaching me how to do my makeup as a blind person, or at least giving me some tips, I wouldn't have had to go through the trial and error of doing it myself and having mascara running down my face. I'm grateful that I can be hopefully somebody to help do that for other young blind people.

You were diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at 4 years old, but lost the majority of your sight at 14. Were there routines that you had to relearn at that point?

It's definitely rediscovery and re-imagining my whole life, not just that one self-care element. I've always been obsessed with makeup and fashion and skin care and hair care. That's always been who I am. So I started using an in-depth skin care routine morning and night when I was 11 years. And so for me, I was actually already into makeup and into skin care when I lost the majority of my vision, though I'd been legally blind from birth. So even just getting into it, to begin with, I was facing that barrier. But it definitely changed once I lost more of my vision. I had to rethink, OK, how am I going to do this? And kind of come up with my own unique little hacks and tricks to help myself and now I get to hopefully help other people by sharing them.

How did you carve out your own unique space on YouTube as one of the platform’s first disabled creators?

I grew up with the OG beauty lifestyle girls when everything was flawless and perfect and nobody made mistakes and it was all aesthetic B-roll and voiceovers. They all kind of portrayed the perfect lifestyle. That's the YouTube I grew up watching when I was in my teen years. And I knew that when I started my channel, as much as I loved those girls and still do love a lot of those channels, I wanted to portray a realistic lifestyle. Because I knew that I could enjoy the highlight reels of what they were sharing, but I also had the lows. And so to me, it was important to show all the fun, glamorous aspects of my life, but it was also important to show the really challenging struggles of my life. Not only do I believe that by sharing struggles, we bridge gaps, but I also believe that by sharing struggles, we bond more and we can connect on a deeper level. And that was important to build a community that felt like a safe space for everyone, regardless of what their life looks like.

You've shared some thoughts on Twitter about what the wellness industry can do to become more accessible. Can you tell me a bit more about what those ideas are and how far we are from that being a reality?

It's incredible to see just over the last few years how many brands have added braille to their packaging. And then, of course, brands adding universal symbols is a little bit [slower]. I think that the idea of universal design is a little bit further behind in most people's minds than accessible design. But I think we are moving in the direction. My personal goal would be to see the brand's name in braille on the package and then have the same universal symbol on the actual product inside. So when I'm shopping, if I want a night cream, I know the symbol —a crescent moon that represents a night cream for instance — and then I'm feeling the brand name in braille on the outside to make sure I'm grabbing the right one. If it's the same symbol inside, I'm not memorizing a new symbol system each time.

What does self-care look like to you when you step away from the camera?

It's something that I have been working on figuring out to be honest. I used to kind of share it all and I realized, over the last year of my life in particular, that I needed to find a way to have some sort of privacy or personal life in some capacity. It is difficult to find that line when your career and your life are kind of one in the same. So I've been working on that myself and I think it's been a big part of my own mental health this year.

When I'm in my downtime, I am obsessed with sleeping. Anybody will tell you. I always root hard for people investing a lot of money in their sleep life. I feel like we should all have high-quality mattresses, pillows, blankets, sheets, pajamas. We should have the most high-quality stuff because we spend a lot of our most important time in bed resting to live our best lives. So I do a lot of sleeping, lots of bubble baths. I love yoga. I do my foam rolling and my yoga stretching every single night. Those are the things I'm obviously not blasting on the internet when I do them. And they're just nice things for me.

What's a piece of advice that you've taken with you throughout your personal and professional life?

One that I think of often is something that one of my mentors told me when I was in high school and that was, 'Live, learn, pass it on.' You know, if you can live your life, learn from your experiences, your mistakes and pass that on to others to make a difference, then none of your mistakes, none of the hardships you've had will ever go wasted. And I think that that's exactly what I've carried on to do in my career.