Feeling confident in our own bodies is something we have all struggled with at some point. Whether it be about our weight, skin, hair – we have all had an off day or two. With contentedness and acceptance about the way you look often comes confidence. However this can actually be less black and white when living with a disability. We all face issues with our confidence at one point or another, but feeling body confident with a disability is a whole other complexity in itself. Society spends a lot of time telling us what looks right and what does not. Today it’s the skinny look, tomorrow it’s all about the curves. Rarely is a disability taken into account. As humans, we want to love ourselves but what are we supposed to do when the way our body looks does not quite fit in with society’s ideals of what the perfect woman should look like?
As a child, my disability was never something I was particularly conscious about. I lost my leg in a car accident as a baby so my prosthetic leg was just a part of me and I didn’t feel any different. Fast forward to my late teens, and I was a lot more aware and self-conscious of the odd stare and glance at my leg. I was generally quite self-confident but coping with the usual teenage body issues of acne etc. did not help feeling confident in my own skin 100% of the time.
Building that confidence with my body image was also slightly more complex as I “did not look disabled.” I use quotation marks in order to stress that disability does not have a specific look and comes in all different variations, and due to the fact that I have been explicitly told that “You don’t look disabled.” I understand people think they are complimenting me by saying this or that they never would have guessed, but would it be so bad if my disability was a lot more obvious? Knowing full well I have this disability has often put me at odds with others perception of myself. I have faced an internal pressure of thinking I look a particular way as I use a prosthetic leg and sometimes walk with a limp. Consequently most of the time, my disability goes unnoticed by others, in some cases, for years. So here I am dealing with my body image as someone with both a physical and invisible disability.
In addition to personal pressures one might face, there is also the influence of the media and entertainment industry that plays a huge part in the way we can sometimes view ourselves. For years there have been calls for the mainstream media to reflect the reality of society in terms of representation. It is no secret that there is a lack of Black, Asian and other ethnic minority faces out there in much of the Western media today. While efforts to increase diversity in film, TV and advertising are being made, it has to be emphasised that diversity is not only about race. Disability also has to be considered and sadly it simply is not given the same recognition.
On top of dealing with being body confident with a disability, I go through it as a black woman. Intersections between different groups of society are often ignored and that of race and disability is no different. For most of my life, I have lived with a prosthetic leg that has been several shades of brown darker than me. It is only now at 23 years old that part of my leg is closer to my skin colour albeit slightly still a bit off. When it comes to wearing skin colour tights as a black woman, it is already such a struggle. Well now imagine your legs are two different colours.
We are continuously conforming to a beauty standard that has been set and deemed as the norm. Yet when brands attempt to combat those standards and promote them as what they call “real beauty,” I expect to see a little more done than including a few different shades of women. It is somewhat discouraging as someone with a disability to see able bodied people being regarded as “normal”. After all what is normal anyways? And it is not just brands such as Dove that are guilty of this – take the most recent Boohoo “All Girls” campaign. Tall girls, petite girls and even a pregnant girl were all included in this ad. Sadly there were no dark skinned girls, plus size girls and definitely no women with disabilities.
Ultimately we should not look else where other than within ourselves to seek justification on how we look. My body is mine and mine only, regardless of what it looks like. It has given me a strength I do not think I would have had if I were able bodied and for that, I am proud and confident.
Written by Aisha Rimi