How Growing Up in a Wheelchair Affected My Body Image
I should probably start by introducing myself.
My name is Abby, I’m 20 years old, and I have a bone disorder called “Osteogenesis Imperfecta” (OI), which is basically the fancy way of saying “brittle bones.” It’s funny, because I’ve introduced myself that way for years: “Hi, this is my name and age, and I’m handicapped”, as if that’s the most important thing about me.
But the thing is, sometimes it can feel that way. My type of O.I. leaves me in a motorized wheelchair, and with a couple of physical deformities. No matter where I go or what I do, I wear my disability on my sleeve. What society would see as my biggest fault is also the first thing people know about me when they meet me. Sometimes, they don’t even actually talk to me, but instead opt to stare. People stop walking in the mall to ogle at my wheelchair, as if I’m about to morph into Optimus Prime. They stick their heads out their car window as they drive by. What makes me truly different is out there in the open for everyone to see all of the time, and I can’t stop that.
I once read somewhere that it’s important to have “lamppost people” in this life, someone who is like you and has done well for themselves, that can help light your way. The thing is, I can look up to badass, tough women and warrior princesses fighting for love and justice all I want, but growing up, I never had a lamppost person who was like me. You cannot find anyone in the media with a disability. Anyone who is disabled is left to be their own lamppost in this life, both to find their own path and to shed light for the ignorant.
I’ve never been ashamed of my disability. It’s a part of me, just like someone else’s ability to walk is a part of them. Like, I have blue eyes and someone else has brown. No different. But then again, brown eyes don’t stop you from entering a building that only has a stairway entrance. Brown eyes don’t draw attention in a crowded room. And people definitely do not crouch down and speak to you extra slowly, just because you have brown eyes. (You do not even want to get me started on the generalizations people make about disabilities. A physical disability does not mean my brain is affected!)
As if growing up physically different doesn’t sound hard enough, try doing so as a woman. These days, the pressure to be perfect and skinny and beautiful is immense. We’re plagued by stories of women who suffer from eating disorders all the time, and even still those women are Photoshopped to look even thinner. Unfortunately, it’s even more of a struggle for those with a disability, because no matter what I do I can’t change myself at all, really. I’ve never been ashamed of the fact that I am in a wheelchair, but I always wished that I looked different, physically: That I were thinner, or my arms were less crooked. It was something I used to really struggle with, to be honest. I went through a few years towards the end of high school that were especially difficult, and that will probably affect me for the rest of my life.
Luckily, one day I realized that I needed to pull myself together, and that no one was going to do that for me. I found that silly little things like having your own “motivational mantra” helped a lot, but the biggest thing was removing all the negative people from my life. Without their negative influence, I became less negative myself.
Shortly after, I really heavily started using the Internet and websites like Tumblr. I got back into a show from my childhood, Sailor Moon, and started blogging about it. Through that blog, I’ve made a lot of friends and I’ve shared my story. Tumblr has allowed me to connect with other disabled people, and form my own little community. It has allowed me to open myself up and help inspire and influence anyone who may be struggling with their self-image or with themselves in general.
Disability is something inevitable. Every person in this world is going to be faced with it at some point, whether it’s themselves or a loved one. It’s time for a change in how we address it. Why is my body positivity so much less important than yours? Why doesn’t my media representation matter? How come in a television show that prides itself on being “diverse,” I do not see a single person with a disability? Why is it that those of us who are different are left out in the cold, and left feeling like freaks? And on top of that, why is it our responsibility to educate the masses on disability and how to treat disabled people? It’s time for a change.
My skin has thickened over the years, and comments about my disability or my “weird body” don’t even phase me anymore. But I know that there are millions of other disabled people out there with no one to light their way for them, so I’ve devoted my life to being that light. I’m going to school for broadcasting, and I’m learning how to get myself out there even more. Just because I didn’t have a “lamppost person,” doesn’t mean I can’t be one.
Abby Green is a 20-year-old blogger and writer from Ontario, Canada. This month, she will be going into her third and final year of college for Radio & Television Broadcast Presentation. Outside of school, music is a big part of her life: She’s a singer and plays ukulele. She’s also a self-described nerd who spends most nights watching anime (with Sailor Moon as her all-time favorite). Abby is in a wheelchair, with a bone disorder called Osteogenesis Imperfecta. She believes your life is your message to the world, so make sure you say something that matters.
(Images courtesy of Abby Green)