Esther Vergeer

Changing stereotypes…with nakedness

Maybe it’s a trend, or maybe it’s pure coincidence, but the occurrence of naked people in wheelchairs in the mainstream media seems to be on the rise. Maybe the public has wanted to know what we look like naked all along, or maybe it’s a cheap ploy for ratings, but whatever the case, having naked people with disabilities in the media is a very good thing (for us), and here’s why.

It humanizes us. It can be a tricky business changing the way the world perceives people with disabilities – who they really are, what they’re capable of, what their true lives are like. And all it sometimes takes it a profound image, queue in the nakedness, to drive the message home that we are as “normal” as anyone else.

ESPN Magazine’s 2010 Body Issue, their annual issue featuring 40 naked athletes, features Dutch wheelchair tennis star Esther Vergeer, 29, one of the most decorated wheelchair tennis athletes in history.

Vergeer is first woman with a disability to grace it’s pages and if you aren’t feeling the wave of OMG yet, this is a monumental thing. Her photo has even the most average Joe thinking about disability and sexuality (a topic I can guarantee most people haven’t thought of before). Vergeer had final say on which image they used, which was the tipping point for her agreeing to do the shoot.

And the UK-based (Channel 4) TV show, How to Look Good Naked, is also not afraid to put some sexy PWD in their programming. In 2009 they premiered a special edition of their show, How to Look Good Naked…with a Difference, which helped three women with disabilities learn how to use undergarments to better accentuate their bodies. When was the last time you saw a near naked woman in a wheelchair rolling around in a bustier on national TV? Apparently in England, this isn’t that big of a deal.

A test: Have you ever looked at yourself fully naked in your wheelchair before? People with disabilities are notorious for shunning their bodies; sometimes out of shame, sometimes out of fear of what people may think. But it’s time to resist. I’m not saying we should become nudists and plaster our nudie pics all over the net, but what I AM saying is that it’s of paramount importance to embrace your body, imperfections and all.

And with the exciting strides being made by ESPN and Channel 4, their glossy imagery with the disability front and center, they are sure to help us on our quest.

Read about Vergeer’s experience posing for ESPN on CNN

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