Before I became a wheelchair user, back in the days where I could still hide my disability, I was always working to fit into society's narrow version of what it means to be attractive. I thought I had to fit into these societal beauty standards to be an acceptable person. That meant never getting my feet out with their amputated toes and certainly never wearing clothes that showed the large lump on my lower back that I've had since birth. Oh, and obviously it meant maintaining a certain size too. Whenever I would gain weight, creep up above a UK size 10, I’d make myself miserable trying to shrink myself back down again.
I don’t want my inner voice to echo what society already thinks.
I got pregnant with my fourth child nearly four years ago and at the same time had an accident that saw me weaken my already weak legs. I was in bed for the entire pregnancy and naturally gained a lot of weight. Weight that at the time I thought I would lose after the baby was born and once I’d got my legs strong again. Or so I thought.
My legs never did get strong again and after some reluctance, on my part, I became a pretty much full-time wheelchair user. It’s quite a shock to the systems when you realise that nothing catapults you out of the societal box labelled “What’s deemed attractive” faster than being a visibly disabled person.
I found this strange at first, the feeling of both being incredibly invisible but also completely visible. Strangers wouldn’t meet my eye anymore; they’d give off some big awkward “I’ve seen you but I’m going to pretend I haven’t” energy. Or they would only talk to the person I was with, not me, or even better talk to me like I was a toddler. I could have looked like a supermodel with the body to match but attach a mobility aid to someone and they become broken and sexless faster than you can say "only perverts fancy Disabled people."
So, I was out of the party with no way of getting back in. Even if I lost weight, I’d still be a wheelchair user. Even if I wasn’t a wheelchair user I could still only sneak into the party as long as no one knew about my scars, lumps, and bumps.
LAWS OF BEAUTY
Be slim and youthful with no scars, lumps, and bumps. Don’t be too small, don’t be too tall. And definitely don’t be disabled.
Isn’t it all just exhausting?
Isn’t it all just so bloody boring?
So when I found myself suddenly very visibly disabled and a size considered a "small fat," (large enough that some shops no longer went up to my size but not large enough that I am actively discriminated against because of my weight) I was well and truly out of the running for the hottest woman of 2017. I knew I could make a choice to spend the rest of my life trying to make myself small and make myself miserable in the processor I could see how feeling neutral about my body felt? Maybe even learn to love my unique body and all its jiggly bits. Start defining what beauty means for me.
After all, who gets to say what’s attractive and what’s not? Who made up the rules anyway? The ancient Greeks have a lot to answer for with their ideas that a perfect body and face can be calculated using a mathematical equation. We can look to capitalism now and historically, to see how much money is made from women who constantly feel they have to change themselves to be perfect. There’s no money to be made in self-acceptance after all. Western beauty standards that have always dominated tell us, whiteness, a small nose, big boobs, long legs, tiny flat stomachs, small waist but large hips (often signifying fertility), and youth, this is where the perfect body lies.
I get to decide what’s attractive; I get to decide what I think is beautiful...
Perfect. Perfection. The perfect body. Throughout history, that's what we’re striving for, the perfect body and face. Disability has never fitted into this standard. Isn’t disability seen as the very opposite of perfection? No amount of cellulite cream or plastic surgery is ever going to erase my disability. Disability and beauty have never been considered as something that goes together. Even now as we look at adverts on the telly or in magazines, telling women to buy this thing or do that thing to achieve perfection, disability is still excluded. So little is thought of us that we’re not even seen as worth being advertised to.
Part of me feels utter rage about this, how dare the beauty of disability not be seen and recognised but the other part of me is relieved. Relieved I no longer have to exhaust myself trying to fit into a party that was never designed for someone like me. There’s defo no ramps or any decent cake.
A NEW CHAPTER
As I enter into my 40th year on this planet I have a newfound respect and gratitude for this body of mine. We’ve been through a lot together and I wish I hadn’t spent nearly all of my life trying to change her or hide her away. I take pictures now with my feet and back on show. I wear clothes that you can quite clearly see my brilliant belly rolls under.
I don’t want to hide or make myself small anymore. I don’t want my inner voice to echo what society already thinks. To add to the noise that says fat is wrong. Scars are wrong. Disability is wrong. Wasting hours hating on myself. I don’t want my internalised ableism to bring me to think that any part of my body is gross or broken.
I get to decide what’s attractive; I get to decide what I think is beautiful and I think fat bodies are glorious. As are thin bodies. Small boobs, big boobs, pert ones, and saggy ones. Gimme all the bingo wings and jiggly thighs. Oh, the stories contained within the slither of a silver scar. The majesty of stretch marks and don’t even get me started on my cute dimply thighs. Gimme the warmth of a jiggly belly and all the love to all the fabulous flat pancake bottoms in the world. As for disabled bodies with all their individuality– Absolute poetry, absolute hot sauce.
I have a body and it’s a good body. And it’s a good body because I’ve decided it’s a good body. Screw societal beauty standards. I’m happy in this chubby disabled body of mine and what a delicious rebellion that is.
All bodies are good bodies and that includes yours.