Disability and Body Image
One facet of disability that seems to be extremely hard and difficult to get your head around is body image. When I wake up in the morning and when I get out of my wheelchair in the evening, the reality of the frailties of my body become clearer.
It’s difficult to see myself in a mirror most days, because I know that in my head when I was born, I never would have fathomed how much of a struggle my life would be, and the implications a disability would have on my existence. Instantly, you are hit with a feeling of not being good enough and being slightly lesser, whether that is a conscious feeling or not.
In terms of looking inwards, self-deprecation already occurs in my mind, because of what my body comes to represent to me. The saying “your body is a temple” always rings in my ears, because when I see myself, I don’t feel like that at all. To me, my body is like a corner-shop that fell upon hard economic times and went out of business, leading to it becoming a derelict shell of what it used to be.
Physically, it’s so hard watching your very own body, without your knowledge, slowly degenerate over time, it truly is. It messes your brain up; it makes you feel helpless and useless, because no matter what you do, you can’t do anything to prevent any physical changes you will go through as a result of said health issue.
Your self-image slowly starts to turn bitter and twisted, like a bramble bush, because you have nothing else to really take your anger and your rage out on. I can’t take on Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, because that is a spectral force you can’t tame, so I take my anger out on my self-worth, and start to value my body as lesser.
Ultimately, my body image changed as my health quickly worsened and I became bound to my wheelchair, which led to huge increase of weight gain and then I started to get stretch marks. Moreover, I began to develop breast tissue to the point where I wasn’t able to where tight T-Shirts, because I was embarrassed due to suffering from a huge amount of bullying post-diagnosis.
I just felt so abhorred by what I would see in the mirror, and I would physically bruise and hurt myself, because I couldn’t cope with my body changing, because it came to embody all that my disability represented to me and to others.
It was the loss of something I never imagined I would lose, I was a failure for not being able to show up for the fight when it mattered, and it was everything I hated. My body was my enemy, it took my joy away, like Darth Maul killing Qui-Gon Jinn in the Phantom Menace, I was left like Obi-Wan to pick up the pieces and make the most of a situation that was a huge mess.
I hated myself and certainly couldn’t look at myself, because after one glimpse through the looking glass, I couldn’t stand what I saw.
Another thing that truly added to the increasing self-loathing I had for my own body was the media. For me and many other people, our confidence was and is increasingly damaged by how media portrays beauty and self-image. Body image and beauty is often presented as an exclusive, VIP club that only a few are allowed in to. If you don’t fit how the media sees beauty, then you can really struggle with feeling of failure and of lesser value.
I know I still really struggle because of how society demonises disability as being ‘ugly’ and being ‘monster-like’. People still laugh at the disabled, disability is still seen as being weird and the antithesis of normal, and in terms of beauty standards, disability is overlooked.
I hope I don’t sound vein and vacuous, but this was a huge part of my body-image problem and still a very huge problem still. I didn’t say it made any sense, but there isn’t any sense in disability and the effects of a disability can really throw your mind into disarray.
I hope one day to find a partner, male or female, who I can feel comfortable with (in a physical sense) and it’s still really a work-in-progress. I don’t think I’ll truly be alright having other people see my body, because I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable in my own skin.
I think it’s one of many huge hurdles that come as a result of being diagnosed with such a horrible condition, especially when that condition leads to huge muscular and physical degeneration.
I want to start an open dialogue about all the issues that come with disability, and I hope through this to make the process of getting used to my disability, after 20 years, easier.