Thursday, November 29, 2012

Disability Dish: Look in the mirror

What do I like/love about my body? This is huge and so not simple for me to write about. It took many, many years for me to own that there are things I do like about my body. First, I’d like to share a little more about me. I am 48 years young, recently married to the love of my life, and I grew up with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA.) I contracted JRA when I was three and got the most aggressive kind, where it ravaged every joint, made my young body look old, with small fingers, short arms and an uneven gait; I’m also bionic with knee and hip replacements. As a kid, teen and young adult, my parents trekked me to tons of doctors, where they poked, prodded, examined, stared at, pricked, x-rayed, medicated and splinted me to make me hurt less. All this was done to my body, and often, the focus was on the joint/parts that were most inflamed. A wrist this week, a hip next year. Living with arthritis can feel like a roller coaster. I learned to disappear. I went into my head a lot and forgot my body. I wanted to escape the pain and stares.

In my early twenties, I found a good therapist, discovered alcohol and broke out of my shyness with men. A late bloomer with dating (another column), I think all of this contributed to re-discovering my body. You have to look at your body before you know what you like about it, right? I had never looked in a full-length mirror. I wore loose-fitting clothes, used little make-up and rarely brushed my curls. I wanted to portray that laid-back, hippie bohemian look. Who was I kidding? I don’t think I pulled it off.
I often wondered: How did I come to accept, see and like my body? Body self-acceptance is a process for all of us, but a little more complex for a disabled woman. Liking and accepting my body has been a zig-zag journey, and it is ongoing. I’m still in it. Something began to shift for me when I came out of my shell with men; having that exterior validation helped. Another experience that helped me see was when I posed nude at 42 for my Raw Beauty photography show. Face it -- women have it hard with media-driven superficial standards of beauty. Even the average able-bodied women are screwed. No one looks like supermodels…not even supermodels!

But over time, I stood alone, and my need for the external validation lessened. I only saw what I didn’t like and always compared myself to others. I couldn’t see the stuff that wasn’t so terrible and uniquely me. In my late thirties, I took the plunge, looked and really saw. I joke to Robert, my adorable husband, that God gave us a broken body, so it seemed just that he would bless us with some so-called “perfect” exterior features. Yes, this is going to sound superficial and Robert does love me for my mind/soul, but when I look in the mirror, this is what I see now and feel grateful for. I love my...

*Round butt, more perfect than geometry.
*My brown curls, bouncy, non-kinky, the kind women would pay a lot of money for.
*My big eyes, green like emeralds.
*My full pink lips.
Don’t get me wrong; there are days I am so frustrated with my body that I can’t stand it, when I hurt a lot or it’s hard to walk or get into the car. Or I’m having a bad hair day! All of this is part of my whole, my good, bad and ugly -- perfectly, imperfect me. What do you see when you look in the mirror? What do you like?

--By Shelly

[Photos via We Heart It]

6 comments:

  1. good for you for loving your body :) good post x

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  2. Shelly, you have an amazing story! My niece (now grown) has cerebral palsy. As a child, she used a wheel chair and still does - sometimes she can use walking braces but she becomes tired. Like you and Melissa - her sweet heart, kind personality, and warm ways have always shined through. You are BEAUTIFUL girls inside and out!!! Your smile, our niece, Melissa have smiles that exude love from the inside out ~ God bless all of you always !! oxox

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  3. Twinkle, your niece sounds amazing!! Give her a hug for me! xoxo

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  4. This is so beautiful.. brought me to tears! I love though, that beauty is still as subjective as anything else. Being able to love your flaws is the most courageous, smart, and beautiful thing one can ever do. Very inspired.

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