Molly Burke is a typical 23 year-old woman. She loves music, make-up and YouTube. She loves to travel and has a dog named Gallop. She loves fashion, has a unique retro style, her YouTube vlog has more than 200,000 subscribers and she is building an Instagram following with 15,000 + followers to date. Molly was awarded a silver button by YouTube, is a motivational speaker, the face of Dove’s international ad campaign, and is one of thirty women worldwide to represent Special K’s partnership with the UN’s Girl Up to help develop the inner strength of women. Molly Burke is also blind.
It may be part of what she is, but it’s certainly not who she is. She is a powerhouse who has turned her experiences with cruel teens into a march across the globe to prove what fortitude can do to shine one’s inner light to the world. Molly has fought bullying of the cruelest kind since high school, and stereotyping, and haters on YouTube, but Molly Burke is not a victim, she is the victor. One glimpse of her YouTube videos and you know, this is a joyous woman who can inspire the world.
Molly’s confidence has been hard won. In high school bullies walked into the forest with her and then left her there alone to find her way out. They threw food wrappers at her in the hallways and tried to trip her. Her friends and family all told her that it wasn’t her fault, that something inside the bullies was broken, but like many other teenagers who are bullied, she didn’t believe them. However, surrounded by tenacious support, Molly found her way away from the bullies, both literally and figuratively speaking, and now teaches others how to cope with bullying. Her YouTube video in which she forgives her bullies is perhaps one of her most compelling.
“I get to use what you did to me as a life lesson for others,” she says in her video, “to show people they are not alone and that it is possible to overcome a challenge. If someone had shown you forgiveness, perhaps you wouldn’t have bullied me.”
“I absolutely did not believe that it was the bullies fault. I thought it must be me. But I know better now,” says Molly. “The most important thing I do is talk to teenagers and relate my experience. I share the real, raw, vulnerable truth about being bullied. I look their age and when I speak to them it resonates. I’m showing them living proof that it does get better.”
Molly still deals with online bullies who troll her YouTube videos and accuse her of not truly being blind. But this mighty young woman knows herself and their attacks no longer phase her. She has spent many years healing and learning to “love and believe” in herself. She worked with a psychologist, a nutritionist, a naturopath, and discovered Yoga to become connected with her own body. She found a creative outlet in music and purpose in sharing her story with others. “All of that contributed to me becoming a happy, whole and confident person. I hit my midlife crisis at the age of 14,” says Molly. “It forced me to grow up and I don’t’ regret it. It prepared me for the rest of my life.“
Molly says being blind is just one more word that describes her, just like “girly-girl”, “bubble bath lover”, “dog owner” and “make-up collector”. She has done videos showing how she applies her own make-up, chooses clothing for her very cool, very personal retro fashion style, and travels with a guide dog. One of her latest videos is done in collaboration with supermodel Karlie Kloss who she teaches to use a brailler. After she introduces Karlie to the Braille alphabet, they type braille labels and update Karlie’s office so both the sighted and the blind can easily find their way around. It’s one more example of how Molly documents living life her own way, doing everything she wants to do.
“I believe you are defined by what you let define you. Being blind is part of me that I can’t change, so I accept it and move on with my life,” says Molly. “Sitting back and resenting the fact that I am blind isn’t living. It’s just existing. I want to live.”
And live she does. Molly is moving from Toronto to Los Angeles to expand her career as a motivational speaker, YouTuber and spokesperson. She has already shared the stage with notables like Demi Lovato, Macklemore, Martin Sheen and Magic Johnson. She has collaborated with activists like Martin Luther King III and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Molly won the title of Miss Teen Canada International 2010 and was selected to attend Canada’s first Youth Accessibility Forum in Ottawa, talking with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. She has worked with YouTube blockbuster star Casey Neistat who she says is “…one of the most genuinely nice people I know and someone I call my friend.” It’s fair to say that the world is her oyster and everyone, sighted or blind can take inspiration from her.
“If I had sight I would still have problems. Being sighted doesn’t take away problems, it just changes the ones you have,” says Molly. “People who aren’t disabled face discrimination, have trouble getting a job, and are denied access for a number of reasons. It’s easy to focus on the negative but being blind has blessed me in a number of ways and I focus on those.”
For those who live with low vision and blindness, Molly has well-lived advice. “Stop looking for acceptance and approval from society; learn to love and accept who you are, that you are low vision or blind, and move on. It’s ok to be angry, accept and mourn what you don’t have, but you can’t live with regrets. In order to move forward to find happiness, love, and success you need to accept yourself first. That is the number one priority in your life.”
“Vision doesn’t mean that much to me,” says Molly. “All I can do is believe I’m making a difference. I’m living an authentic life and doing the best that I can. I’m taking something that many would view as negative and making the best of it.” We think she’s doing much more than that. Molly is a visionary and in short order she will change the world.
You can also follow Molly throughout her journey.