My Disabled Body | Muscular Dystrophy

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m incredibly self-conscious of my disabled body.

I’m much more of a behind-the-scenes presence, and I hate being photographed!

My insecurities have deepened over the years, as my condition (Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy) has progressed.

My spine is curved significantly in a ‘S’ shape, shortening my torso and causing asymmetry. I am underweight with muscle degeneration, and contractures in all of my joints.

Oh, and I am a ghostly shade of pale!

Being so very slight of stature and a non-ambulatory powered wheelchair-user, clothes are ill-fitting, often uncomfortable and don’t drape well. Most of the time I feel like a bag of crap.

As a kid, though aware of the physical differences between myself and my peers, I really didn’t care. I was generally happy with a good group of friends.

Me, wearing school uniform, aged 4
Me (right) with a primary school friend (left)
Aged 8, sat in my manual wheelchair at school
Me (second from left), aged 9, with primary school friends
Me, aged 9, with primary school friends
On holiday, in my manual wheelchair. Aged approx 12

But, of course, kids (and adults) can be blunt and sometimes cruel with their words and observations. And, as time went on, I was subjected more and more to stares, pointing, judgement and exclusion.

I became a full-time wheelchair-user at the age of 10. Back then, it was very much a case of ‘suck it up and get on with it, these are the cards you’ve been dealt’. Looking back, I guess it affected me more than I realised.

My teens were hard – I became increasingly withdrawn, conscious of what I consider my flaws, and constantly compared myself to other girls, wishing I looked like them.

Me, aged approx 15
Me, aged approx 17, trying to avoid the camera

Then came the dating years…

Comments such as, “you’re no one’s type” and “no one’s going to want you” massively impacted my self-perception and relationships.

Somewhere along the way, I lost myself and my sense of identity.

Now aged 33, I appear more child-like than womanly. I can honestly say, I’ve never felt sexy, or even attractive, in my entire life!

I’m not body-confident, and I don’t think I ever will be. I still compare myself to others and shy away from people, places and opportunities.

But, I am really trying to accept the fact that there is nothing I can do about my body. It is what it is – unique. I need to make the best of what I do have.

If others don’t like it, that’s absolutely fine, but they can kindly fuck off!

In an attempt to push myself out of hermit mode, I recently ‘dressed up’, took some sour-faced selfies, and posted them on Instagram…

…Excuse the Listerine!

The response was positive, complimentary and sincere. It gave me the confidence to write this post and ‘put myself out there’.

Why? Because I am what I am. I’m not “normal”. But what is “normal”, anyway?

February | Love & Kindness

This month, we’ve embraced/endured Valentine’s Day, and celebrated Random Acts of Kindness Day.

Screenshot from @MDBloggersCrew Twitter feed, from Random Acts of Kindness Day.

All of this has made me think about relationships and what they really mean.

Valentine’s Day Selfies

Funny Valentine's meme

We’ve all seen couples posting impossibly idealistic, airbrushed selfies on social media, making us believe their lives together are perfect and they couldn’t want for any more in a partner.

Ha! Who are you trying to kid? (Call me cynical).

But the truth is, when you live with someone, whether it be family, friends or a partner, you will inevitably, at times, rub each other up the wrong way and fall out. To think otherwise is, frankly, naive.

They may be senseless, petty disagreements or more serious conflicts. The important thing to consider is how you react and resolve such issues.

As the saying goes, never sleep on an argument. It may seem daft, but it’s true. An unresolved argument will just fester away.

It’s Good to Talk

Some people, somewhat understandably, choose to avoid any sort of conflict and refuse to acknowledge tension within their relationships; sweeping it under the carpet. This isn’t a healthy approach.

If you have a grievance, talk about it calmly and reasonably. Share your worries and concerns with friends, family and loved ones. Don’t bottle things up. Again, it will just fester away resulting in bitterness and resentment.

It’s Really Okay to Disagree!

We can’t all be the same. If we were, life would be very boring. You don’t have to like all the same things or agree with everything those around you think and feel in order to love them. I repeat; to think otherwise is, frankly, naive.

#BeKind

Kindness isn’t agreeing when you don’t, or avoiding potentially difficult conversations just to keep the peace. Kindness isn’t pretending to enjoy things you don’t simply to please others. Kindness isn’t inflating another person’s ego to make them feel good.

Kindness within relationships is about respecting each other’s views, differences, individuality and needs. It’s accepting that we are all flawed and forgiving sincere mistakes. Kindness is about caring enough to keep each other safe, supported and grounded.

Body Image & Disability

I was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, affecting my body and physicality. I have a severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) which, for various reasons, is not surgically corrected. This causes asymmetry and a shortened torso. Joint contractures mean I am unable to stretch out my arms or legs. Furthermore, the muscle wasting nature of my condition results in extremely thin limbs.

Illustration by Jess Oddi @TheDisabledLife

Now 31, I look very different from other women my age. My pixie-sized stature is emphasised by the scoliosis. In place of womanly curves, are unwanted and abnormally crooked humps and bumps. This visible contrast negatively impacts my sense of self and makes me feel odd, weird, and self-conscious.

I love fashion but fashion doesn’t love me

Over the years, I have desperately sought to hide my body with shapeless, baggy clothes. Anything resembling a potato sack is a winner. I live in leggings because jeans are a no-go and frankly, they are the next best thing to pyjamas!

Clothing manufacturers don’t cater for my body since it doesn’t meet standard criteria. Shopping is not an enjoyable experience. It is a frustrating and disappointing struggle to find anything at all to fit, let alone look flattering. Most of the clothes I buy have to be returned which makes me wonder why I bother at all – well, simply because I can’t roll about naked!

Accepting my unique body

Do I love, embrace and celebrate my unique body shape? Hell, no! BUT – I have slowly and gradually learnt to accept it. After all, there’s absolutely nothing I can do to change it. So why stress myself out over something I cannot control.

Exercise isn’t an option for me. I can’t go to the gym and buff-up. And why should I resort to cosmetic surgery? Why put myself through pain, trauma and financial strain simply to conform to societies high and unrealistic standards of beauty? Okay, it might make me feel more confident to look a little more like the average woman. Then again, it might not…

Societal standards of body beautiful

Our perception of body image and beauty is arguably increasingly influenced by social media, particularly Instagram. Heavily airbrushed, edited and filtered selfies are everywhere to be seen. With a smartphone, we can all look like a celeb from a magazine spread!

But this is misleading, unrealistic and unattainable. I can’t relate to the pouty, posers of Instagram. Honestly, can anyone?!

Diverse bodies are sadly under-represented in the media. This is starting to improve but there is still a long way to go before the presence of disabled bodies on our screens becomes mainstream.