Thursday, December 20, 2012

Disability Dish: How one project helped me accept my body

A colleague recently shared with me something surprising and shocking: She rarely looks in a full-length mirror, and when she does, it is only superficially. “T” is beautiful, thin, married and able-bodied. Women with disabilities are not alone; able-bodied women also struggle with body love and self-esteem. Sometimes, it is easy to fall into poor victim mode and blame everything on whatever your “thing” is. Mine is my visible arthritis. As I often do, I put on my therapist hat with “T,” probing, validating and offering ideas.
I didn’t suggest this to “T,” but something that helped me connect to my body more deeply was when I posed nude for a photography show a few years ago. It’s such a long story of how I got to do this, and the story of The Raw Beauty photography exhibit was life-altering for the 20 disabled women who were models for our exhibit. I’ll share with you the highlights and what opened up for me. Out of the 20 women who posed, I was one of three who posed semi-nude.
At age 42, I stood taller and stronger in self-acceptance. I was happy with work and had a guy who was crazy about me, so when the opportunity to do Raw Beauty came to me, I said yes. Usually I would analyze and over-think, but this time, I didn’t. I thought, “People stare at me anyway…why not have them stare at a beautiful photograph?” Don’t get me wrong -- when the big day came to bare it all, I still felt nervous, shy and hesitant. But our photographer was incredible, and he also had a chronic illness, which made him more sensitive to body image stuff.
We don’t often think of when or how we feel most beautiful, and I got to design my very own photo shoot. I met with my photographer before the shoot to discuss specifics of clothing, poses and looks I liked. We had a blast, and it was exactly as I envisioned a real model shoot. I’m excited for all women to do this. After my shoot, I felt so inspired and altered that I called the other models who were vacillating about posing nude and screamed, “You gotta do it; it was amazing!” I know I inspired one of my friends with arthritis; she secretly hired a photographer for her own boudoir shots and gave them to her husband on their anniversary.
The lesson here: Let go of your fear and take the photos for you; I have a few of them framed in my apartment. When I am feeling low or down about anything, I glance at the photo of me and remember my beauty. Give yourself this gift for the New Year!
--By Shelly
[Photos via We Heart It]


  1. I haven't owned a full-length mirror or a scale in probably a decade–it keeps me from obsessing, but I never realized how truly odd that sounded until now. Thank you for the wake up call–and the sound advice!

  2. It's funny, body image seems to be a hot topic this week. I just wrote a blog post about some vicious comments directed at me for daring to be disabled and post photos of myself on my fashion blog.
    Love your posts - Happy Holidays!

    Spashionista (Alicia)

  3. I feel its a little strange that you chose to include photos of idealistic beautiful women..

  4. i thought you were only 30ish? i didn't get it. were you paraphrasing?

  5. Good catch, Jen. This is Shelly's newest column, but I forgot to put her name at the end. Thanks for catching it...must be that cold I'm still getting over!


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