How my disability is teaching me to be more body positive
Feeling good, like genuinely good and not just a ‘hey I took a good selfie’ good, about your body is freaking hard. Especially with social media.
Everywhere you look, you’re bombarded with beautiful people and we’re always our own worst critics, so we compare. If you know me, you know that comparing myself to other people is preeetty much always my downfall.
I know I’m not the only one, though. We look in the mirror a little too long, we scoff at our tummies, and we feel uncomfortable when someone we perceive as more attractive than us comes into the room or posts a photo on our feeds.
What also sucks is that for whatever reason, the standard of beauty seems to be super thin, tan, abled, white girls. Not that this is news, but I’m still bitter about it.
The good thing is that we’re getting better! We’re far behind where we should be, but society is starting to catch on and slowly we’re seeing different body types celebrated. Except for disabled bodies.
Obviously, seeing a few body positive ads isn’t going to miraculously fix any negative feelings you have about your appearance, but it’s a start. You can tell yourself you’re beautiful all you want, and you can even truly mean it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll stop stinging when you can’t find a single person who looks like you on tv, in magazines or in a beauty campaign, or where you work.
Disabled bodies aren’t considered sexy in mainstream media. They’re plot devices to make you sad. They push main characters to realize they shouldn’t waste their full potential. Disability is, almost exclusively, portrayed as a tragedy, and who’s attracted to tragedy?
On the rare occasion that it’s not tragic, it’s still not realistic because it’s played by an abled actor. Apparently, they can write about people like you, but they still won’t show anyone that looks like you.
It’s hard not to notice the effort the world seems to take to avoid/exclude disabled people (especially POC/LGBT+ disabled people) in basically any form of mainstream media, and that can really mess with the way you see yourself. Everyone can (and probably does) look in the mirror and point out the things they don’t like. For me, though, most of my ‘flaws’ are because of my disability.
I’ve got a curve in my spine that makes my stomach stick out. Even if I could exercise, which I can’t really, I’d still have a round tummy. It’s just how my body is built. I’ll always be on the soft side. I can’t work out to get into better shape, I can just be careful about what I eat and hope that I don’t put on too much weight.
My arms and legs don’t straighten, and because of my curved spine, I can’t sit up straight either. Just picture a crooked little dumpling with T-Rex arms and that’s basically me.
Sometimes I wonder if I’d struggle with the same parts of me if there were girls with Muscular Dystrophy on red carpets and on the cover of magazines. If girls like me were flirted with instead of pitied when we go out with friends.
The thing is, even though it shouldn’t matter what the media or passing strangers think, it does. It’s natural to want to be accepted and represented. We want to feel attractive and be complimented. Is it shallow? Maybe. But it’s normal, too.
So, in the last few years, I decided to do something hard. I decided that if no one else is going to celebrate my body, I will.
I wear sandals that show off my feet, even though they’re puffy because of my poor circulation. Some of my favorite dresses show off my huge scar that goes down my back from my surgery. I stopped picking my clothes by looking for whatever would ‘hide’ my stomach best, which is good because nothing really did anyway.
Not that long ago, I got into makeup. I did it for no one else but me. Makeup lets me feel cute and feminine, and I can’t believe I was afraid of it for so long. And yeah, I take a lot of selfies and I put them up online because it gives me, if only for a few minutes, a burst of confidence.
It’s not like I could look to anyone on tv for inspiration. No matter what I did, I’d never look like any of the girls I see. I couldn’t say ‘well, _____ looks kind of like me, and lots of people think she’s gorgeous!’ There’s no one to look to, or not that I’ve ever seen.
My options were either hate looking in the mirror or start to be kinder to myself when I do look in the mirror. To change my mindset. There was/is no alternative. No backup plan.
It’s funny when you think about it. My disability gave me the majority of what I consider to be my ‘flaws’, but it’s also the reason I’ve worked so hard to learn to be more body positive. Without my disability, I don’t know that I would have gotten to this point.
I mean, I definitely have a long way to go. I still have plenty (aka too many) days where I feel ugly and gross. But looking back at who I was in middle/high school reminds me just how far I’ve come.
I like the person that I am (well, most days), and I wouldn’t be who I am without my disability. So it only makes sense that I have to love my disabled body, too, right? It’d be great if it were that simple, but I’m trying! It’s a long, long process and I know I’ve still got so much work left to do, but I’m proud of the progress I’ve made so far.