By Arielle Schacter
I faced the bathroom mirror, trying to recreate a look that I had seen online. I dabbed lip-gloss on and attempted unsuccessfully to create the perfect cat-eyes. I tugged my hair, trying to decide what to do with it. Up or down? Hearing aids visible or invisible?
I couldn’t decide. I didn’t want to be the girl with noticeable hearing aids, but I wanted to look just like Kristen Stewart. Frustrated, I begged the looking glass to help me, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Should I let my long hair fall (and hide my hearing aids)?”
I have a love-hate relationship with my hearing aids. I love them because they help me hear. If I didn’t have hearing aids, I would be unable to hold a conversation, talk on the phone, or listen to music. They let me be a part of the hearing world. At the same time, though, they represent the ultimate divide between the hearing world and me. They are the physical symbol illustrating my difference: I cannot hear.
Just like most teenagers, I have no desire to be the odd one out. When everyone is wearing skinny jeans, I don’t want to be the one in ‘70s flair. Similarly, I don’t want to be the only one wearing hearing aids when everyone else isn’t.
Unfortunately, I’m the only student at my K-12 school who does wear a pair of hearing aids. So, at the age of 13, I was thrilled when I was fitted with a pair of ITE (in-the-ear) hearing aids. Deep in my ears, they were the perfect compromise. I could hear, but nobody had to know that I was wearing hearing aids. Freed from my old, bulky BTE (behind-the-ear) aids, my hearing loss became my dark, little secret that was mine to disclose.
When I spoke to people, while wearing my new hearing aids, it was me—Arielle—speaking. It wasn’t “Girl with the Aids” speaking. This “compromise” worked brilliantly until I lost even more hearing last year. I began saying, “What?” and, “Huh” so often that my mom began to suspect something was wrong.
I was in denial, so I argued with her that she was wrong. Unfortunately, moms are always right. As a result, this summer, she and I traveled to Starkey Laboratories in Eden Prairie, MN, to get me fitted with a new pair.
THE HARD ROAD TO ACCEPTANCE
I walked into the workshop, half expecting them to say, “What are you doing here? Your hearing is fine! Your mom is just being melodramatic. The audiologist made a mistake.” Instead, they told me that my perfect, ITE hearing aids no longer had enough power to sustain me. I had to go back to BTE. I am not proud to admit this for fear of sounding vain, but I cried when I heard the news.
Since switching from BTE to ITE, I had become used to people not noticing my hearing aids. I loved that they saw me as a normal person, never having to know that anything was different about me. Changing back meant that my hearing loss could no longer be my secret until I was ready to divulge it. My fantasy of living without people knowing about my hearing loss was blowing up. Everyone was going to see my new BTE hearing aids. I felt as if they were going to become my “scarlet letter,” disfiguring me in the eyes of society.
But, when I put my new hearing aids on my ears, I couldn’t see them. The shell got lost among my crazy hair, matching its color. The tube was so thin, that it was impossible to see. I was happy until I realized that they were invisible only as long as I didn’t put my hair up. When I wore a ponytail, my hearing aids were longer camouflaged by my hair. Instead, their chrome color stood in stark contrast against my skin.
I fingered my hair, pushing it away from my face. Longingly, I looked back to the picture of Kristen Stewart on my computer. I wanted to look exactly like her. Then I decided, that’s it! I wasn’t going to let my hearing aids get in the way of me being who I wanted to be. So, I pulled up my hair and went out.
Ultimately, I realized that most teenagers do not like their hearing aids because they are so “un-cool,” and they want adults to recognize the challenge it takes for us to wear them. It’s not any easier for a teenager to like his/her hearing aids than for an adult, though I’ve found that many grownups disagreed.
Some thought that the switch between my two hearing aids was no big deal; they did not understand why I was upset. But, teenagers (and tweens) are just as vain as adults–or even more so. We may not associate hearing loss with advanced age; however, we want to look good, our hearing aids are an obstacle to that goal.
In the end, though, there is nothing you can do to change it: We all need to hear! So, rather than complain, both adults and teenagers should just accept it. Otherwise, we’ll spend an insanely long time in front of the bathroom mirror!
Arielle Schacter is an 17-year-old high school student in New York City who has reached millions of people with her writing. She has a popular blog/web site, bf4life-hearing.weebly.com, for teenagers with hearing loss, and has written on the Huffington Post. She is also an active supporter of the Hearing Access Program, which aims to make the world more accessible for people with hearing loss. Recently, she received an Oticon Focus on People Award in the student category.