What if we viewed lived experience as an asset? As an asset of professional, economic,…
I am disabled. I am covered in tubes, bags and scars. I am perfectly imperfect, not what society defines as beautiful. I don’t feel beautiful. However, I am comfortable with myself and my body. I do not resent the way my body looks, nor am I ashamed. I am not disgusted or repulsed if I were to look in a mirror, nor do I feel the need to hide myself away. I am who I am. Love me or hate me, beautiful or ugly. I am just me. My tubes, bags and scars tell the story of my daily battle for life. Why should I be ashamed of that? They show I have survived, and continue to survive. So no, I am not beautiful by society’s standards, nor would I describe myself or see myself as beautiful; but I am who I am, and I refuse to feel ashamed of the body I have. I’m not bothered about people seeing my body, my tubes and bags and scars, I am not bothered that you can see my Hickman line coming out of my chest or if my stoma bags hang out from underneath my top. I don’t feel the need for society to consider me beautiful, nor do I need to consider myself beautiful, I just accept my body for what it is, celebrate my survival and refuse to hide or feel ashamed of what I have, and who I am. We’re all different, unique in different ways – it’s time we started accepting and celebrating diversity, in society, and especially in the mainstream media.
It’s hard to feel beautiful in today’s society when “beautiful” is shoved in your face all the time, thousands upon thousands of images we see every day in the media and in our lives generally and we are told and shown what beautiful is. If we don’t conform to that definition, style or ‘look’ of beauty, then we are not beautiful and thus we are made to feel insecure about our looks, our bodies, what we wear, what we do – every part of our lives get judged against what the media portrays as perfect. Disability is considered a burden, an inherently unattractive feature of a person, we are considered broken. And the media causes much damage by branding us benefit cheats and scroungers. We will only be beautiful if our disability can be fixed. Why should beauty only represent skinny framed or hourglass figures, nice skin, nice hair, tanned complexion, nice eyes – you have to win the genetic lottery to be considered beautiful in today’s day and age. And it’s no wonder why so many people turn to cosmetic surgery to change their features to society today’s definition of beauty. The problem is, our definition of beauty changes year on year, decade on decade. What was considered beautiful in the late 1990s and early 2000s is completely different to today’s definition of beauty. So how can we strive to be beautiful, when the definition of beauty constantly changes? Beauty is like the season’s trends of fashion, different looks are the “in thing” at different times and then they fizzle out and a new look becomes the new “in thing”. It’s so difficult and we are constantly told what’s pretty and that if we don’t look, dress, act, live like that then we’re basically ugly people. The goal posts are continuously moving and we are constantly bombarded with images making us feel ugly and inadequate. You’re either society’s definition of beauty or you’re ugly – no middle ground. We’re under pressure all the time to look good; it’s so difficult to have self confidence when we base our opinions of ourselves on photoshopped images, stick-thin women and the media’s bombardment of us about what’s pretty – and what isn’t. You literally need to be a chameleon to be society’s definition of beauty, to be able to change your body to continually morph from look to look, features to features, body to body depending on what the media and society dictates is beautiful at that given moment. It’s scary.
Disability is automatically a non-starter in the beauty department (except for devotees, but I’m not going anywhere near that subject). There is the perception that disabled people are – by default – ugly people. How many times I’ve heard disabled people say they’ve been told they’re too pretty to be disabled or too pretty to be in a wheelchair. Where’s the logic in that!? Disability and beauty aren’t mutually exclusive, but are seen as so. Disability seems to automatically make you ugly, different, broken, flawed and to many in society, wholly undesirable. We’re seen as asexual, helpless, inconvenient and unsuitable and people see us as burdens simply due to our label of disabled – even without finding out why we may be disabled. So many disabled people using online dating sites are too scared to reveal their disability in fear of putting people off. And heaven forbid we have a partner or get married, they’re seen as being kind and doing a good deed and public service by being involved with a disabled person, looked on as a heroic act, and they can’t possibly be truly in love and have a physical, intimate and sexual relationship. That just doesn’t happen to disabled people! How do people think that makes us feel? Many disabled people’s partners were people who saw the person, not the disability, and the disability may impact upon their relationship but it isn’t a factor in the relationship. They can’t possibly be truly in love and together, having intimacy and and a physical relationship, let alone have children (major taboo alert). Disabled people can’t be pretty and gain romantic partners in the normal way, the partner simply feels sorry for them and is doing a great deed for the disabled person, and they get congratulated for being kind for being with the disabled person. Err, hello, we can have romantic relationships, meet people, have sex and some of us have families! We’re still sexual beings, you know! Once again, we are ugly, broken, undesirable. We can’t be beautiful, let alone sexy. Why? Because we are disabled. You can’t be beautiful, attractive or sexy when you have a disability. End of.
However there is a quiet revolution going on. Disabled people are redefining beauty, showing that disabled people can be beautiful and, (shock, horror) sexy. I don’t know why this is such a hard thing for people to wrap their minds around. Disabled people aren’t the same, we are as unique as every able bodied person. Our disability doesn’t stop us being people, people who need to be loved, accepted, complimented and wanted like the next person. It doesn’t stop us wanting intimacy, relationships, marriage, children and spending the rest of your life with that special someone. We still have wants, needs, feelings and desires, we’re not an asexual subhuman species – we’re just normal people! Slowly but surely, disability is feeding into the media – with much debate about “good” exposure and “bad” exposure, but exposure and inclusion nonetheless – though it is seriously lacking and disabled people severely underrepresented in the mainstream media. Also, with able bodied actors being hired to play disabled people, this just makes the situation worse. We need more positive disabled role models, disabled news and TV presenters, more disabled characters played by genuinely disabled actors – we need disabled people more visible and represented and included in the media, including as mainstream TV and film, and doing so by sending out positive messages, working towards full inclusion and communities who see that the disabled person isn’t at fault, that society and our attitudes towards disability are what disable us. There are more and more disabled people, one at a time, breaking into modelling and the fashion world, more inclusive advertising but when it comes generally from high street to high end fashion and mainstream shows, disabled people are overlooked and barely represented, if at all. It needs to change, in order that the incorrect perception and judgement be corrected and the biased view of beauty and disability be removed. Diversity should be celebrated; but we shouldn’t only use disability under the heading of diversity. It should be wholly mainstream, and nowhere used to meet a target or fill a quota. Disability is not ugly, our imperfections are perfect, our beauty is not defined by our disability. We are beautiful people – beautiful people who happen to have a disability.
I love the quote “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”. I love the fact that I am different, I love the fact that we’re all different. I love getting to know people, hearing their stories, learning about them. I don’t judge people based on looks, yes sure we may make micro-judgements but I don’t base my perceptions of a person on their looks, I judge people on their personality, their humour, their goals and hobbies, their outlook on life and the lives they lead. We need to not see our disabilities as defining us as broken people, that disability cannot be beautiful or sexy. We are beautiful both in spite of and thanks to our disabilities. We need to not place so much emphasis in our looks or on others’ opinions; beauty needs to come from within, people need to accept and feel beautiful in themselves, and to have self confidence to wear whatever you like, to feel beautiful, to feel sexy, and to accept yourself.
We need a world full of people who smile, not because a camera is focusing on them, but because they are happy and want to share this happiness with others; smiles are infectious, and a smile is the most beautiful thing anyone can wear (and it’s free!).
So, be confident in yourself and your appearance. Accept yourself, not other people’s perceptions of you. Feel confident that disability does not mean you cannot be beautiful or sexy, and wear your confidence with pride. I don’t consider myself beautiful, but I’m comfortable in my own skin, I don’t feel the need to change for others and I want people to know who I am as a person, not just judge me on my looks from a distance. Stop comparing yourself to society’s bombardment of what beauty is; define your own beauty. Take pride in your natural appearance, and never feel ashamed or ugly. I’m covered in tubes, I am fed through a line directly into my heart, a tube drains my stomach, I have most people’s worst nightmares, two stoma bags, meaning I poop and pee into two bags on my abdomen, I’m covered in scars, hooked up to intravenous drips almost 24 hours a day and I’m in a wheelchair and can’t do anything independently bar speak and use my laptop, but I’m comfortable with who I am and refuse to hide myself away. I don’t place my self worth in the hands of other people. I accept who I am, scars, bags, tubes and all; there’s no way I am going to let someone tell me I am ugly. Much as I don’t see myself as beautiful, I refuse to be defined as ugly. Have confidence in yourself and your appearance, and celebrate diversity. We’re all different and unique in our own ways; let’s celebrate our differences, not try and conform to the unattainable beauty that the media tells us is we should look like in order to be beautiful.