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Society is beginning to see that there is not one way to have a body. Diverse bodies are coming more and more to society’s attention. Transgender rights, fat acceptance groups, and disability awareness are all gaining traction. But what is it like to have a body that is perceived by society to be unattractive?
My partner, Lucy, is a femme, queer, disabled woman. She was born at only 29 weeks gestation, and suffered brain damage after birth. This brain damage caused Lucy to develop a form of cerebral palsy known as spastic diplegia. She has limited mobility and contends with constant pain. As well as this, she has undergone many surgeries to allow her to walk. One of her legs is weaker than the other, causing her to limp and only be able to walk short distances, and she suffers muscle spasms. There is a constant struggle for people like Lucy who are impaired in ways that are not always obvious. When sitting down, she does not look impaired to the untrained eye. She has been told by bus drivers that she does not “look disabled” and has been accosted by elderly women who have told her the disabled seats on buses are for the elderly. She walks a fine line between embracing her identity as a disabled woman while wanting her body to be seen as normal and beautiful. Lucy explains, “I want to change the way that people with disabilities are seen—we are just as diverse and beautiful as the non-disabled population.”
This is further hampered by the way that the media treats disabled people. Disabled bodies are seldom shown in the media outside of representations that are medical, derogatory, or “inspiration porn”. Further, even when disabled people are portrayed on television or the big screen, the characters are predominantly played by able-bodied actors. “I feel like it would so liberating to have more disabled role models. I feel like we can’t be what we can’t see, and it would be incredibly empowering for a lot of people in the disabled community.”
There are many ways that disabled people are starting to take back their bodies and embrace their diversity. Disabled people are able to reclaim their bodies through the use of body projects. Body projects reflect the idea that bodies are constantly changing and evolving through one’s life—as people we are able to create our bodies with things such as make up, piercings and tattoos. Lucy explains the impact of being able to take back her body has on her feelings towards her body—“I love to do my hair and makeup, and put together different outfits that I like. I want to take back ownership of my body and present myself in ways that I think are beautiful.”
Disabled people do not want to be defined by their disabilities. They want to be seen as beautiful, but they need people to help lessen the effects of their impairment. They do not need pity—they need representation.