Dear disabled girls
Dear disabled girls,
Hey, you. I think there are a few things you need to know. I’m not here to preach or be a know-it-all, just to share a few things I definitely needed to hear when I was younger but never did.
First of all, no one gets to decide how to feel about your disability except you.
You can love it, hate it, be proud of it, be indifferent. You can choose to accept it as part of your identity or refuse to be defined by it. It’s your life and your body.
That being said, no matter how frustrated with it you may or may not feel, I need you to believe what I’m about to say.
You never for one second need to feel ashamed of your disability or your disabled body.
Here’s something no one ever likes to admit: disability is a natural, normal part of life and no matter how many rich wannabe do-gooders fund research, it always will be. I think that this scares a lot of abled people. Making them think about the fact that one day the tables could turn and they could be one of us. Like it’s a threat or a punishment, rather than a simple fact of life. Disability is feared and spun into a sob story shared for clicks and likes online. The sad truth is that acceptance almost always comes only from within the disability community itself. I don’t see that changing any time soon, either.
But even if you wish you were abled, never feel guilty for the fact that you are not. There is absolutely nothing to apologize for, even though sometimes we’re made to feel like we should.
I also want you to know that It’s okay to say you can’t do something.
We have a lot of pressure to say yes to everything. If we don’t, we’re branded as negative, stubborn, lying, looking for pity, lazy, and a million other things. Being eager to please won’t suddenly give me the ability to climb a flight of stairs or pick up a bag of sugar by myself. It will only lead to me hurting myself while trying. If your need for help or accessibility makes anyone uncomfortable, that burden is on them – not you.
You aren’t beautiful despite your disability – you’re just beautiful. Period.
I still have days where I hate the way my curved spine makes my tummy stick out or the way the muscle contractions in my arms make me look like a T-Rex. It’s just that now, I have a lot more days where I realize I only feel that way because I’m comparing myself to my friends. It’s not a competition.
You don’t need to look like the girls you see on tv or online. Their beauty doesn’t negate yours. I know that me saying that won’t change the way you look at yourself. I can’t just flip a switch on your self esteem, though I wish it were that easy.
You aren’t alone in feeling bad about your disabled body. We look outwards to find acceptance within, but that’s not so easy for girls like us.
Representation for anyone that isn’t thin, white, and cisgendered is already lacking in so many ways. Representation for anyone who is disabled, and not portrayed by someone abled, is nearly impossible to find.
It’s hard to feel lovable when you can’t check all those boxes. When you don’t fit the mold of what society/media tells us is desirable, acceptable, lovable. It feels like no one wants to see someone like you, or like you should hide because you’re just too different. It’s lonely and it’s isolating.
When you combine the lack of representation with the brutally honest commentary on disability – and by that I mean stories sympathizing and excusing the parents who murder their disabled children, articles discussing which disabilities abled people think are worse than death, and the constant stream of pity, disgust, or avoidance we meet when we go out in public – it can be pretty damn hard not to feel shitty about yourself.
You don’t have to accept any of that. Fight it.
Remind yourself every day of your value when you feel like you’re forgetting. Find other disabled people to connect to. Change the way you talk about yourself, things like wheelchair user vs wheelchair bound.
For so long, I didn’t even know what ableism was. I never bothered to consider all the gross things I’d heard, and even said myself, about people like me. Like us.
Take some time to learn about things like the ugly laws, how long it took for something like the ADA to exist and how easily it continues to be violated. Things like police brutality and racism within the medical community. How disabled people still don’t have marriage equality.
Once you learn that it’s not just uncomfortable staring from strangers, it’s real, systematic oppression… it gets a lot easier for you to shift your way of thinking to see where the problem really lies. And it’s not with you.
I know that talking about this stuff isn’t exactly a feel-good conversation, but it’s important to know. It’s important to know that you’re more than this. You’re more than the ableist narrative that you see in movies like Me Before You.
It’s okay to be angry and to speak out about unfair circumstances.
About things that need to change within our society. It might make people uncomfortable because yeah, it can be a bummer of a conversation. That doesn’t make you a bummer, though. I used to hate to bring anything up because I felt guilty for “bringing everyone down”. Like the time I had to sit alone on the school bus for hours while everyone else had a fun, totally inaccessible, field trip in Gettysburg.
And it’s okay to not want to deal with any of this.
It’s not your job to tackle these problems yourself. It’s not your job to educate anyone if you don’t want to or to do anything but just live your life.
I guess I just hope that you know how incredible you are and that you can one day embrace your disability. I hope you know that your life isn’t less than an abled person’s life. And it certainly isn’t a sob story just because your body or mind works a little differently.
You are beautiful, talented, funny, charismatic, and most importantly:
Another disabled girl.