Every single time someone called me “pretty” growing up, I cringed. As an adult, it’s taken some time and an acknowledgement of ugly days, but I can accept the compliment. I can feel pretty, and that, as a woman and as a woman with a disability is quite the achievement. I already tapped into the acceptance of my body and the celebration in owning said body, but it’s been a long hard road. Let me paint you a picture of an awkward, lanky redheaded girl with glasses far too big for her face. Now, I know that growing up is hard for women in general. You swoon over your crush who sits a couple seats ahead of you in homeroom, you shyly write your name with theirs. We’ve all been there, but when you bring disability into the equation, it was adding insult to adolescent injury. Your hair’s too frizzy? Perfect. There’s a product for that! But there’s nothing to allow you to walk in the heels that you see your peers clanking around in. There’s nothing that’s going to fix the fact that you know he asked for your number as a joke, but in order to play along with your peers, you gave it to him anyway and nothing is going to fix the heartbreak that came along with waking up from your first surgery in first grade thinking you’re now able to walk, You’re now able to be like everyone else, and the crushing realization that that’s not the reality. Everyone goes through a phase where they’re growing into their noses, their ears, their shoes. I had to grow into ownership of my disability and how it coexists with my womanhood.
I had to not only deal with how I approached myself in my language and owning the societal definition of disability, but also address the hurt that was brought on to me by peers and my family members. I’m having to grieve a loss that I’ve never had in the first place. I’ve had to include “ableism” in my vocabulary and I’ve had to come to know that I am pretty. That despite society telling me that I either exist to inspire, or I don’t exist at all, I can simply be unremarkable and that is okay. That when people say that I’m confined to my wheelchair, they fail to see that my chair is my freedom. It is how I navigate through hallways, how I get to hang out with my friends. My wheelchair is my freedom. It is not something I’m confined to. I’ve had to wash away the shame and use terms that made me feel comfortable, and understand that I am not someone that owes it to society to teach. I’ve had to learn my worth because I was shown and reminded of it so little. I’ve had to rewrite the book of my worth and realize that I am not a burden. That the notion of a woman being a caregiver can be redefined and even overruled.
I’ve come to realize that being “pretty for a woman in a wheelchair” or being told that “I bet if you weren’t in that thing, you’d make a great wife.” aren’t compliments. They instead feed into the toxicity that deem my body and my worth into the notion that disability means complete inability. That disability means discounted. That’s not true, My needs aren’t “special” because if they were special, they’d be viewed as important enough to be met. My needs are exactly that. Mine.
I’ve come to realize that I am not the problem, that my femininity and worth as a partner is defined in my smile as opposed to the use of my legs. I’m disabled, because if I were differently abled, I’d be able to do whatever it is an abled bodied person can do, and I can’t. I’ve found peace in my cannots, and my language reflects this. This is why I subscribe to the societal perception of “disability”. My needs are different, my body is different, and in my opinion, the language that we use in our day to day lives carries weight. I’m not pretty in spite of. Pretty because of. Confined to, or any sort of “…but.” as though my disability is something that I fight against every day in my definition and worth as a woman.
My battle is not against my body anymore.
It is against the ableism that I encounter in my day to day life, both internally and otherwise, but I am learning that I have bigger fish to fry, and to infer that my physical disability is my biggest challenge denotes my strength as a person.
My body is not broken.
I am not broken.
I am pretty and I’m also pretty awesome.
I am disabled and I am not ashamed.
My body is imperfectly, perfectly mine.