When you Google “beauty and disability” you get roughly 30,600,000 results in under 10 seconds. It will take way more than 10 seconds to stop giving backhanded comments to people living with disabilities. We must change the narrative from you are “beautiful but” to completely doing away with the “but” part. When the story of a person living with a disability is told, it is normally in the lines of “despite her disability she runs a very successful car hire business.”
You might hear individuals describe Henry Wanyoike, the Paralympian, as “despite his disability he is a very successful athlete”. He is a successful athlete living with a disability and I can bet you a gold bar, he is successful despite of it.
He is not a sympathy seeker; he most certainly would be happier if we tried to include him in our lives with his disability regardless of it. Diversity does not just encompass the color of our skins, culture, tribe or nationality. Diversity should also cover individuals whore are differently abled. Those living with disability.
One of my friends cannot wear high heels because of issues with her leg but she loves seeing women in heels. The most she can do is wear a simple wedge. If she was to go to Bata or any other shoe company and ask for a custom made shoe, I highly doubt they would consider it. This is because of costs and all the time it would take. However, it doesn’t mean that she hates her leg since she cannot wear a high heeled shoe or stiletto. It means she also wants to look as elegant in a high shoe as any other woman. She would like to be breathe the air reserved for women in high heels since they practically get a few inches closer to the sky. I know you might say beauty goes beyond ones physical appearance, of which I agree. It also does not mean a woman sitting in a wheelchair doesn’t want or wear lipstick and foundation. She is human and has needs like every other woman. She wants to smell like roses and tulips in the morning dew.They all want to be included in the conversation that revolves around beauty.
The media has a way of playing mind games that in a way that makes us think that what they “feed” us as beautiful is the universally acceptable version. We therefore work hard to achieve what is on our faces all the time. I have seen the narrative of acceptance of plus sized models as opposed to the slim girl norm we have been accustomed to. It has happened and it makes every woman feel beautiful because there is not perfect body size we all just have ideals and most times the ideal is unachievable. Diversity is more than body size though. We all need role models and people to look up to. We need to engage with people living with disabilities in their daily lives. This will give them a chance to see people who look like them, appreciate them and have someone to look up to. We need to stop with the pity parties when we are telling the disability story. I know the tear jerking story of every other person’s disability that will never go away but there is so much more to a person living with a disability.
Fashion and beauty are a constant reminder of our imperfections and the imperfect world we live in.
Fashion and beauty highlight the ideal woman or man. By doing this we have covet and work towards achieving our bodily desires. We however need to give people living with disabilities someone to identify with.
Only recently did I see a pageant show for people living with albinism. Miss Tourism Mombasa Babelynn Mukila is in fact deaf. We need to see more of these individuals in our media because it’s normal to live with a disability and still be beautiful. We need to remind everyone that people living with disabilities are part of our society and they belong just as everyone else. Beauty and disability are not mutually exclusive.
Like my friend keeps saying, “The disability club is open to anyone. We don’t enjoy when we get more members but it’s a place of inclusion and we will welcome you with loving hands.” We should start the conversation of “beautiful and disabled” not “beautiful but disabled”. A disabled person needs to see a disabled woman with a full face of makeup and think that it’s doable. Disability is not a punishment or a curse. Disabled people aren’t evil or scary, they are members of our society. We need to stop featuring disabled people in movies as psychopaths because that is the way our children will see them. For example Captain Hook in the Peter Pan story is a villain. We need to help end these stereotypes. They are the reason some children would be afraid of a person living with a disability or think they are evil. The movie “I am Sam” features a mentally disabled father who is fighting to keep her daughter because the system thinks he cannot bring up his daughter because of his condition. He wins because he is mentally disabled but that doesn’t reduce his love and care for his daughter. We need to do the same in our real lives.
I remember I was doing an interview with Miss Disability 2016-2017 and she told me a guy once told her you are so beautiful but your limb has ruined it. He went on to tell her how sorry he was because of her condition. This needs to change our mindsets and the way we look at people living with disabilities. We need to stop putting on the “I am sorry” expression on our faces when we see someone rolling on their wheel chair. It only brings sorrow and makes it hard for us to connect with anyone.
People living with disabilities are the most underrepresented. They are not given a chance to work in industries they would excel in. They have less opportunities than those we consider normal people and do not have the chance to tell their story. Most of us will not even agree with this statement because it’s been instilled so deep in us that people living with disabilities cannot perform certain tasks. In fact, we need to see more of them in the media. I love how, of late during news there is someone interpreting into sign language. That is a step in the right direction but it’s not enough.
The media shows what disability is and leave the audiences to fill in the gaps about what disability is not. People with disabilities are beautiful, attractive and desirable. We just need to look a little deeper. On the catwalks less than 1% of the people living with disabilities are represented if any. We need to address this issue.
We need to hear stories from the horse’s mouth and not just focusing on the part that will tag at peoples heart strings. We need to see the normal and beautiful parts of stories of people living with disabilities. The only way that can happen is if we start talking about it. People living with disabilities have so much more to tell than the disability they are living with. They love dressing up. They love dancing. They love feeling beautiful and rightfully so.
This narrative needs to change and it needs to include people living with disabilities. We need to view, celebrate and accept that disability can be and is beautiful.