I Have To Stare At Your Nails And Lips, So Make Them Look Good: A Deaf Perspective On Beauty

Ever wonder how to say "vain" in sign language?

I’ve written about this over on xoJane here and here, but I don’t know how many xoVain readers know this about me: I’m almost completely deaf. I wasn’t born this way; I was diagnosed after my kindergarten teacher couldn’t get my attention. We don’t know the cause of my hearing loss, and it only gets worse as the years go by.

I’m the only deaf person in my circle of family and friends, which is the reason why I describe myself using the term "hard of hearing” or the lower-case “deaf”--never the upper-case “Deaf,” which refers to an entire culture. Although I love to learn about the Deaf community, I have never been a part of it. I went to school with hearing kids, and have spent my entire life trying to keep up with people in the hearing world.

My biggest coping strategy is lip reading. I’ve been reading lips since I was in second grade.

Your lips are the first thing I notice about you, and the main thing that I focus on when we’re talking. That might creep some people out if they don’t know why I’m doing it, and I definitely had some teachers (who KNEW I have to read lips) mention my poor eye contact to my parents.

On the other end of the spectrum, I had one teacher, Mr. K., who was so concerned about me being able to read his lips that he trimmed his insanely bushy mustache at the beginning of the year.

In that spirit, let’s talk beauty tips for those of you who might know someone with a hearing loss, or those of you who just like to be prepared.

Keeping in mind that I’m speaking from my own experience only (I couldn’t possibly speak for every Deaf/hard-of-hearing person), there are definitely a few pet peeves that I have concerning other people’s lips and nails. Most pet peeves can be a little petty, but I feel justified in having a few when something’s standing in the way of me being able to communicate.

Lip reading is not an exact science. It’s difficult, unreliable, and very tiring. I can catch up to 70% of what is said with the help of lipreading; the rest is filled in with context clues and guesswork. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than the 20% that I can hear without it. (Phone conversations with me are a nightmare.)

So with so much riding on my ability to read your lips, let’s make it easier for me, OK?

Exfoliate & Moisturize

I can’t even look at lips that are all chapped to pieces, and that kind of gets in the way of the whole lip reading thing. As someone who also has dry lips and a tendency to wear too many drying lipsticks, I sympathize. If my lips are peeling and gross, I have a solid battle plan that I rely on.

First, gently exfoliate all the dead skin using a clean, dry toothbrush. Next, apply a mixture of brown sugar and olive oil (or coconut oil or whatever). Resist licking it all off.

Next, protect and nourish lips with your balm of choice. I know the whole Internet swears by Rosebud Salve, which I wish I owned if only because the tin is so pretty. I usually just stick with my original blue Chapstick, which smells nice and has SPF 15 to protect your lips.

Apply Your Lipstick Properly

As for lipstick, I can’t say that it bothers me or distracts me very much at all, unless it’s horribly applied. I absolutely cannot focus enough on the words your mouth is making if you have lipstick on your teeth or it’s bleeding around your lips.

I don’t personally like to use lip liners because they dry my lips out so badly. I have found it helpful to use a flesh-toned concealer pencil to line the outside of my lips to keep dark lipstick from bleeding, making sure to blend well. So as long as it’s not messy, go ahead and wear your bright purple lipstick!

Trim Your Crazy Mustache

This one’s for the dudes lurking on a beauty site. Take a page out of Mr. K’s book and be a gentleman.

Get Your Nails Ready For Signing

I love sign language, so it makes me a little sad that I don’t know many people who can sign. I had one friend in high school who knew ASL. We used to joke that we could sign answers to each other during tests, but never actually did it because we were such straight-laced students.

Not only did I pass up the perfect opportunity to cheat, I also went through high school without ever touching a beauty product. I know, I was possibly the lamest high school student ever. I was completely against nail polish, having decided that it looked “weird” on me. In retrospect, that was probably true if only because I painted my nails with the dexterity of a drunken sailor.

So during the period of my life that I signed the most, I never gave much thought to all the fun you could have with your nails when signing. I SAID I WAS LAME, OK? Now that I somehow own dozens of nail polishes, I’ve given some more thought to the possibilities.

I really liked Marci’s idea about two-toned nails so that different colors show during different signs. I picked two Wet ‘n’ Wild polishes: Spoiled in Plastic Flamingo for the base coat and Wild Shine in French White Creme for detailing.

I also think that bright, colorful nails and pretty nail art can make for a fun visual when being signed to--like a flock of tropical birds fluttering in the air. You can also make them say things, although that might be too much multitasking for my brain to handle if I’m on the receiving end.

Of course, there’s a limit. If you have Lady Gaga nails, I’ll probably be too distracted to be able to focus on what your fingers are doing. I’ll also be afraid that you’ll stab yourself in the eye. Just avoid super long nails and 3D nail art and we should be good.

If you’re going to be signing frequently or professionally, that’s different. Besides keeping your nails relatively short, I would also try avoid any flashy colors or designs. My aunt is an ASL interpreter and she told me that it’s important to always keep her nails free of color. She does, however, wear bright lipstick to draw focus to her mouth.

Lastly, to reward you for reading this far, here’s a short video I made in which I demonstrate the top ten signs that you absolutely need to know. I stuck to a theme:

For an extra challenge, try watching the video with the sound off and see how much of it you can understand by lip reading. Not that easy, right? Welcome to my life.

Now paint your nails, learn a sign (if you don’t already know some), and leave a picture of it in the comments!