“I couldn’t possibly handle looking like you. You look hideous.”
~ Stranger in lift.
I wrote and helped direct that video for No Limits. It’s a true story, only reversed, hopefully to show just how jaw-droppingly blunt people are about appearance. I wrote a little about that video here, last year.
When you look this different, it’s as though you are public property for people to comment on and criticise, and say exactly what they think, no matter how insulting. I imagine it’s a little like being pregnant – people commenting and dishing out advice willy nilly, though I don’t get strangers coming to touch my tummy.
These past few weeks I’ve had a lot of discussions and spent much time thinking about being different. I’ve spoken about it in radio interviews on Light FM and The ABC, to the Centre for Appearance Research staff and Scope, and written it in a speech proposal.
And I’ve concluded that it’s often other people who have more of a problem with how I look than I do. And people make assumptions, that those who look less fortunate’ than them are leading less fulfilled lives. This has to change.
I reflected on appearance and assumptions when I wrote my speech proposal for the UK. I am completely happy with my looks. Happy with my height, shape and size, like my curls, and love my fingernails, smile and boobs. To use the word even would be counterproductive, but for the sake of this piece, I am even happy with my face.
Yet people assume that I’m not comfortable with having my photo taken (and at times, have not been comfortable with appearing in a photo with me). They assume that looking the way I do is a burden (forgetting that the burden is actually the pain of the condition) and that I may not be achieving all that I am. And as you know, I am so very happy with life and all that I’ve done so far.
I happened to come across a conversation about my Roxette review earlier this week. Instead of discussing the concert and my experience, they discussed my appearance, making all sorts of assumptions. That I am burnt. That I was courageous (for meeting the band/living life??). And that I shouldn’t be ashamed of the way I look. It was laughable. While I am sure it was said with good intention, I laughed that the conversation did not reflect so much on my appearance, but society’s perception of normal and the level of comfort people feel when faced with difference.
My friend Elvira, also on No Limits, is stunningly beautiful, inside and out. She has spinal muscular atrophy and is in a wheelchair.
She thinks that there is a tendency for people to expect something different to what she presents when they see her. “I think it can be a strange mix or both in particular when an individual sees me in my wheelchair from behind and then they get to see the rest of me. I can actually speak and interact with confidence which throws a lot of people off – in a good way, I guess?”
Elvira used to be overweight and in the past few years, lost a lot of weight. She believes when she was overweight, people may not have paid her as much attention because of her appearance, but it was also to do with her self esteem and attitude. “I was far more happy to sit back and slip under the radar and naturally did. I was very much the invisible girl on wheels”, she says.
She speaks of the way people can assume those with disabilities have lives that are lacking.
“I think there is an expectation that when an individuals ability is limited in one area, that is mirrored in all other areas of their life.”
She, like I, also believe in the importance of taking pride in our appearance, to make ourselves feel good. “I do however also believe that a lucky gene pool isn’t the answer. This may be a generalisation but I think many people that rely on carers and use of mobility aides fail to take as much pride in their appearance. It may be harder and not as easy but there are ways around it and I think people forget to realise that it’s about making an effort for you and not necessarily onlookers and critics” Elvira says.
I love dressing up, and it plays a big part in making me feel good. And as I once wrote, I think taking pride in my appearance helps to change peoples’ perceptions of me. But I also think (although there may be a level of concern in peoples’ reactions to appearance) people need to mind their own business about how others look, stop making assumptions and taking pity. Love the skin you’re in, and love the skin others are in too.
PS: I wanted to take part in Edenland’s Fresh Horses Brigade meme from last week, but I’m too late, and have taken my angry pants off. The theme was Sorry. I still have a few things to say on Sorry though. All tongue in cheek. Sort of.
- I am (not) sorry that my metabolism is faster than yours.No need to point out your jealousy.
- I am (not) sorry that I am more comfortable with my appearance than you are, despite.
- I am (not) sorry that I’m not what you expected.