by admin on December 21st, 2014
Beauty is something everyone wants to feel they possess, but society can make that a difficult task, especially if you have a disability. Since crushing my spinal cord in an automobile accident and being diagnosed with quadriplegia in 1982, I’ve had to actively question social standards of perfection to rediscover and recapture that sense of beauty for myself.
Initially, the accident did more than simply devastate me physically. I had just started college, was majoring in theater, and had big plans of becoming comfortably rich, and nominally famous before falling in love, settling down, buying a house, having some kids, and living the American dream. That life disappeared for me right along with my ability to walk. Doing any kind of work that required any kind of intelligence or special skill? Gone. Competing in any kind of physical sport that didn’t have the word “special” associated with it? Not gonna happen. Having anyone find me and this broken body of mine at all romantically interesting, let alone attractive enough to covet, fall in love with, marry, have kids, and raise a family with? Not for me. Not in a million years.
Those first six months were the hardest. I, like everyone else who’s ever been in my shoes, awoke from my accident to find myself not only physically disabled but, more significantly, psychologically disabled by a number of beliefs, expectations, and stereotypes about who/what I was now – had to be. Those things weren’t me, and I not only didn’t want, but knew I really couldn’t be those things either. And, if not those things, then what? I had no idea. I thought more than once about killing myself, and even found myself passively-aggressively doing things that had a pretty good chance of making that happen.
Eventually, however, as my injuries healed and I got to know how to make this new, different, sometimes frustrating, but ever familiar body do both what I needed it to do, and what I wanted it to do, I found myself starting to question what it – and I – actually couldn’t do.
I went back to school and graduated. Pursued my dreams of fame and fortune, becoming the first woman with a disability to pose for Playboy magazine just four years after my injury. Went on to lecture around the world on self-image and sexuality. Got a masters degree, teaching credential and a lecturer position at a state university. Skied, surfed, bungee-jumped, scuba-dived, and competed in everything from marathons to equestrian events. Met some really great guys who did find me interesting before falling in love with the greatest one of all, getting married, buying a house, and having a daughter who, at ten, is challenging me in ways that make coping with my physical disability seem like a piece of cake.
What couldn’t I do? Not a lot, as it’s turned out. The first thing I had to do was to reject the beliefs, perceptions, and expectations I, and pretty much every able-bodied person I’ve ever known, has always had about what it means to be disabled. I had to ask myself and, through my work, to ask others about all the ways we find ourselves limited by expectations that are equally ignorant of, uninformed by, and sadly indifferent to the awe-inspiring reality of who/what we really are, and, more importantly, could be if we simply stopped being held, and holding ourselves to preconceived, stereotypical expectations.
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