This morning I woke up to read a blog on disability and beauty (dead cool). I read the article with one eye open–not because it was 5am and sleep continuously runs away from me lately–but because the discussion around disability and attractiveness always ends in a gigantic unanswered question mark. With my heart in my throat, I read one stranger’s account on the issues surrounding the topic.
This eloquent author argues that disabled people are often seen as beautiful because of or despite their disabilities. She discusses the issue of constant patronization that is so often attached to the “you’re so beautiful, I don’t even see your chair.” She briefly addresses how, for many disabled people, it is hard to accept a compliment, without wondering if the motive fuelling the nicety is based on some stereotypical, ignorant notion about disabled ppl and what they need to hear. What I liked about the post (which by the way, is worth a glance. Fuck, if you’re reading this instead of that, don’t. Read that.) is that it doesn’t offer answers, really. It sounds to me as though the writer knows better than to answer this infinite question. She simply frames the issue in a way that makes us ponder a bit, which I have a thorough appreciation for.
In case any of you Facebook loopies are still reading this, the issue with defining disability and beauty is that they, in their fundamental states, do not agree. Hold back your cringes, and let me use a stupid metaphor and then try to redeem myself. By fundamental states, I mean, their core ideas, in many respects, conflict. Recall Grade 9 science. Think about that lesson on the laws of attraction and positive and negative ions. (that was the same lesson, yeah? :(). Pretend that beauty is a wonderful positive ion, and that Stephen Hawking deemed disability to also be a positive ion. (no one argues with him, he’s disabled. And a genius.). The beauty ion and the Stephen Hawking ion are repulsed be each other, because science tells me that two positives hate each other.
Back in reality, the reason for the incompatibility of these two constructs is because beauty is based on hierarchy and disability, at its current time/movement, focuses on demolishing hierarchies that support barriers to people with disabilities. Beauty says, “You must meet these standards in order to be valued by friends, men, your mother” Disability rights say, “It’s okay that your ankles crush themselves when you stand, here’s a candy.” Beauty is a standard, while disability (and its associated movement)is a transformative search for finding equality in having no or minimal standards. They are complete opposites, even though that destroys my shitty ion metaphor from the last paragraph. Oh well. Hope you caught the truth in that jumble of confusion.
Looking at how this interacts with social realities, I’ll look at my own life (because what else is there?). I’m pretty disabled, by my own description. And I don’t mean disabled and pretty, i mean my disability is in the severe section of the mild-severe type of of lil premie babies who just couldnt figure out breathing after birth.
So here’s me, kickin it with brain damage and a big ass wheelchair, minding my own business. And like every girl that’s graced this earth, my business isn’t minded for long because a small segment of men like to be very vocal about their attractions. For most girls, this means getting cat-called, maybe a “how you doin?” on a summer’s day. Sometimes it’s appreciated, sometimes it isn’t wanted. But that’s a different post.
For me, getting hit on by strangers almost always sounds like, “You sure are purttyyy for someone in your ‘situation'” (my ‘situation’ is my wheelchair. Other situations include being black, gay, brown, a cat. right? I feel so bad for Jamie Foxx and his ‘situation’). With time, people have gotten better at refraining from this obnoxious behavior some, but when I first entered my 20s, it happened all too often. This is because this stream of ignorance acknowledges the ingrained belief in the disconnect between disability and beauty. Acknowledging the clash between disability and beauty that is prevalent can make a wheelie go nuts. The question soon becomes, do I “pass as able enough, for the sake of being sexually attractive,” or “Give up trying to be attractive in order to embrace/reveal disability?”There is the option of doing that which I’m inclined to, which is to be both, despite their inherent contradictions, but then there’s the issue of the novelty effect, and constantly wondering if people are seeing aspects of my beauty in terms of me or “for a person who uses a wheelchair.”
Last example I’ll bother you with is a personal one which, for me, defines just how deep the contradiction between beauty and disability runs. Until I was 19, I had a really crooked spine, which can be a common issue for ppl with CP. Unless you are John McCrea and you were born with a spine of steel. Anyways, before I was able to get surgery, my spine was all wrong for 5 years. This wrecked teenaged-me in a lot of ways. I really felt like I went to bed a potentially beautiful 14-yr-old and woke up looking like God put my torso on wrong. It all happened very fast, and within a blink, my nice stomach was now a protrusion. My sides were uneven. My body just didn’t look like I thought it was meant to, and I absolutely hated it. I couldn’t be a disabled girl who passed enough to be accepted as pretty anymore, my pretty was gone. I was just disabled.
Thank god time passed and I went away to school and met some people who helped me with self-acceptance. And I eventually got surgery. Who knows where I’d be if surgery wasn’t possible and I’d had to accept myself fully.
All of this riggamoroll leads me to this point: Beauty and disability shouldn’t contradict. But they do. All we can do is be above it.