TW Eating Disorder, Abuse, Ableism
Society is a high maintenance significant other, it’s not shy about placing impossible expectations on disabled people when it comes to how we should feel about our bodies. However, it is possible to defy these preconceived notions and build your own body confidence from the ground up. Today, I would like to share my personal journey of overcoming the distinct challenges that accompany living with a disability, all while striving for body neutrality and positivity. Additionally, I proudly identify as queer and non-binary, to add a bit of extra spice to the mix. I will also provide tips and resources for you, dear reader, if you’re looking to do the same, so that you can begin to reclaim your self worth and be truly confident in your own skin.
The Before: A Portrait of Misplace Worth
Let me start from the beginning. Before my disability, my worth seemed tied to unhealthy measures. How I looked mattered more than it should have, but given my history of traumatic rejection and a life full of drama, it’s not surprising. I controlled my outward appearance because I couldn’t control my pain. The only thing I seemed to have control over was what I ate, or rather, what I didn’t. And it worked, to some extent. I stumbled through life in a blind haze, just trying to survive without many skills beyond that. I pretended everything was fine, until it wasn’t. When I became disabled, the inability to exercise and a slew of medications quickly changed my physical appearance. This was not ideal for someone who believed they had to look a certain way to be worthy of love. And so, I tried to ignore this uncomfortable new reality, plastering on smiles whenever someone asked, “how are you?”
The Turning Point: When Old Coping Strategies Fail
Then came the day when all my control tactics failed and my coping strategies went out the window. I was left completely helpless. Let’s summarise this section of my life as the “dark and twisty time” aptly named by Meredith Grey. I found myself an empty shell, curled on the floor in the shadows of my bedroom. All the ways to find my self-worth vanished with my mobility, replaced by ableist views and a body that refused to look recognisable in the mirror.
Emerging into Light: Choosing A Path of Self-Love
Eventually, there came a time, an end to that darkness. At the fork in the road, I chose to fill the void with things that shaped my self-worth from a foundation of love and belief in myself. I realised I deserved to be happy and would be okay, just as I am, without the need for change or approval from others. I discovered the disabled community and started connecting with people who shared similar experiences. It was a revelation to realise that I wasn’t the issue; it was the world around me. What an incredible day, dear reader!
Uncharted Territory: Embracing the New Disabled Me
Society expects disabled individuals to conform, but I realised I didn’t fit that mould. I wanted to be bold, proud, and shiny! I didn’t want to fade into the background. And the best part? There were no “society police” to hold me back. It felt like discovering the power to fly! The joy and freedom were exhilarating. It was time to embrace the fun!
A Critical Eye: Society’s Obsession with “Self-improvement”
Over the last 5 years as a full-time wheelchair user, I’ve had fun times and faced struggles. But it can be hard to embrace a changed body when society tells us to “fix” what we don’t like. What if we don’t want to, what if we can’t? Why are we always judged? The critical eye surrounds us, from screens to magazines. I say, it’s time to change our mindset, not our bodies.
The Struggle for Independence: A Lesson in Acceptance
Losing mobility or health can result in a loss of independence, which was personally one of the toughest challenges for me to overcome. I used to hate asking for help. I saw it as a sign of weakness but I’ve grown a lot in the last 5 years. Now I see accepting help as what it is, a simple division of labour. They help me, I’ll do something else another time. Maybe. Maybe I won’t but it doesn’t really matter, it evens out in the end. Coming to terms with this can be difficult, there may be ways to regain independence or maybe not. Take a moment, reflect on what truly matters. It could be a transformative time of self-discovery and growth. Remember that empty shell? Perhaps this is an opportunity to build something from the ground up, a chance to turn towards
Beyond Media Stereotypes of Disability: The Beautiful Truth
While there has been improvement, the portrayal of disabled bodies in the media still falls short. We come in all shapes and sizes, beautifully unique. If all anyone sees is a watered-down version, it can be challenging to see your own beauty.
Battling Bias: Rising Above Society’s Views
But it’s a harmful lie. Our magnificent variations make us all beautiful. The curve of a body, our movement or stillness, our quiet – all so very beautiful. If all mountain ranges looked the same, why would we travel? If all trees had the same shape, who would meditate in a forest? Nature creates everything uniquely, fostering diversity and making the world more beautiful. My heart aches for those who feel unworthy or unloved. Anger fuels my ongoing fight against an unaccepting society, and I’m far from finished.
Helpful Hints: Building Connection with Your True Self
Discovering your true self and embracing your disabled body can be challenging in a society that ignores our needs. Here are some tips to help you connect, accept and respect your body.
- Find your people! When I joined the disability community online it was an absolute turning point. You need people who’ll support you without the need for explanation. Those are your people. Nurture those friendships and get a good network of professionals while you’re at it, a good doctor is a wondrous thing!
- Be kind to yourself. How often have you spoken harsh words to your reflection? Your brain hears and believes you! Instead be compassionate and gentle. It matters.
- If you want to set goals, make them realistic. Move towards your goal with kindness, rather than with judgment. Look for guidance in line with your new beliefs. Strive for self-neutrality when self-love feels inadequate, as it could lead you to your ultimate destination.
- Remember, as an incredible disabled person, you are more than just that. Your personality has many facets, and you possess lots of skills and abilities unrelated to your disability. These aspects will provide perspective, especially if you feel overwhelmed by your new disabled body.
The Danger of Looking Back: Avoiding the Nostalgia Trap
Don’t spend all your time looking backwards. It’s not just bad for your neck, but also harmful to your mental health! Focusing only on what was and no longer is prevents you from being all you can be and appreciating beauty in the now. While it’s fine to reminisce, remember that we often sugar coat the past. The key to happiness really starts with accepting our reality.
Body Confidence: A Journey, Not a Destination
Building a new relationship with your body takes time, effort, and dedication. Just like any other relationship, it requires respect and love. It becomes even more challenging when dealing with disability or chronic illness. So, be kind to yourself if you find this aspect of your life difficult. Progress may not always be linear, but we’ve all been thrown back to square one and will be again. When we quite literally don’t fit into society – in marketing, in governmental decisions, literally in buildings, it’s no wonder we find it hard to feel confident and stand up for ourselves. We are being told we don’t matter every single day – from when we are trying to buy a pint of milk through to who’s last in line for life saving medical services.
Your Toolkit: Strategies for Building Body Confidence
But the fact is we do matter, our bodies are beautifully valid just as much as the next person’s – disabled or not.
Some ways you can look to build your arsenal of strength towards your body confidence journey are:
- Curate your social media feeds. You’re in charge here. Remove accounts that make you feel bad and keep those that make you feel good. Surround yourself with accounts that inspire and align with the life you’ve chosen. This is a powerful tool at your disposal, and you’re in control!
- Look for support through therapy. It acts as a gym for your heart, mind, and soul, requiring regular workouts to keep healthy.
- Don’t underestimate the power of a good group of friends. Talk to them!
- Look up support from organisations such as www.spokzpeople.org.uk, www.scope.org.uk, and of course there’s all the community and resources available at the Undressing Disability Hub.
The Final Word: We Matter
Here’s the bottom line, dear reader, each of our bodies is beautifully unique and wonderfully diverse, not confined to the limitations of a cookie-cutter shape, and society might have a bit of a problem with that, but we don’t. Because our bodies carry us through life, they endure, they persevere. They’re a testament to our strength and resilience – we might not have wanted it but that’s what we got. We ARE strong and resilient, we ARE spectacularly diverse and that’s worth more than fitting into some cookie-cutter mould. So next time you hear yourself speak sharply to your reflection, or find you spend too much time reminiscing and end up feeling resentful of your present situation, pause. Take a deep breath. And remind yourself that you matter, your body matters, and it’s long overdue for the world to recognise that.
And maybe, just maybe you’re one to help change things – one small act of self love at a time.
Sandie Roberts, Disability Advocate, Content Creator, Writer & PT Model