Disability ≠ Less Attractive (Part 1)
Read Part 2 here.
When I attend formal events like weddings, at some point, someone will say to me, “You look great. Can I take a picture of you? Just put your cane away–it ruins your dress.” Or sometimes I hear, “Your cane will ruin the picture.” Telling people with disabilities they look great except for the signs of their disability is almost like that ignorant expression, “He’s good-looking for a black guy.” I’m embarrassed to admit that I recently heard a relative use that expression in reference to Denzel Washington. It’s like: Are you kidding me? Denzel Washington is good-looking for any guy. By any standard (or at least mine, Salt ‘N Pepa’s, and many people’s). The implication in both of these situations is that any deviation from the norm (being able-bodied or being light-skinned) makes one less attractive. That is patently absurd.
The Last Thing We Need
I carry a cane for Myasthenia Gravis, a neuromuscular autoimmune disease, I was diagnosed with six years ago. Every aspect of my life is affected by Myasthenia. People with disabilities, or PWD, go through a lot everyday. We go to the grocery store and find that their disability accessible entrance is not working (again!). We have to endure heavy doors at movie theaters and restaurants; I remember seeing Jersey Boys over the summer with two friends who have muscular dystrophy and are both in wheelchairs. Thankfully, one of my friend’s spouses attended. He is able-bodied. Without him, I’m not sure how we would have made it through the day. Having a disability or chronic illness (invisible or visible) affects our everyday lives–school, work, relationships. The last thing we need is to be told we looked better before we got sick or that we would look better if we didn’t use canes, wheelchairs, or other kinds of walking assistance.
Why Aids Can’t Be Set Aside
A disability is not something we can set aside. I can decide to carry my purple purse or my red one. But I have no control over whether my antibodies will attack my immune system, which results in signals to different parts of my body (example: legs) not getting there. Because those signals are intercepted, sometimes I fall down. Day to day, I don’t know how my body is going to act. PWD cannot set aside their wheelchairs or other aids because it makes the person taking the picture uncomfortable. Furthermore, why must every picture be “perfect”? So it can go on Facebook and everyone can see how totally awesome our lives are? As my friend Dawn (of Spoonie Chat with Dawn M. Gibson) reminded me, why is perfection the ideal? She said, “Being a fighter is an excellent ideal.”
What is Beauty?
Beauty doesn’t end where disability begins. Illness and beauty are not mutually exclusive. In Part 2, I’ll be blogging about a great organization called Models of Diversity that is challenging the norm and expanding people’s definition of beauty. Until then, I’ll see you on Facebook.
–Your Stylist, Jessica Gimeno
Don’t Fight Alone!
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2 thoughts on “Disability ≠ Less Attractive (Part 1)”
This is so very, very important.
In August, I went back to the city where I was raised to be a bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding. It’s the first time any of my family had seen me since I’d started using the cane, aside from the occasional photo on Facebook where it showed. (Some of this family spent years trying to convince me I wasn’t sick and was just playing it up for attention, so my apprehension was warranted.)
I got some judgmental comments–not so much about my appearance, but more along the lines of, “Come on, do you really need that?” and “Well, you don’t look sick to me.” When it came time for wedding photos, I was pretty self-conscious. I kept trying to hide my cane until I literally fell over. That didn’t magically cure my self-confidence, but it was enough of a jolt to make me realize that my well-being was more important than a constructed beauty ideal that says I’ll ruin the pictures if my cane is showing. I think it would’ve ruined the wedding and the photos a lot more if I’d collapsed and not been able to get up.
Kind of late but I wanted to say thank you for sharing. when I wrote this, I didn’t realize just how many women were in the same boat. it’s strange because before i had a disability, i wouldn’t have been bothered by someone’s cane being in a picture–with or without me in that picture. i think there is a certain wisdom and profound empathy that comes with being sick for people like us. that is one good thing to come out of this–i think we’re more cognizant and sensitive to other people’s feelings.