On Sunday, I told my cousin, a young woman not long released from the tyranny of high school, she should not have body image problems. It forced me to revisit my own image issues. I , having Cerebral Palsy, have always been body conscious. Yes. Ever since my now retired orthopedic surgeon told me to watch my weight, I’ve been afraid to get fat. He warned me: If you gain weight, moving around is going to be labored and painful!
Since then, I’ve obsessed about myself. Am I too thin? Am I scrawny? Can a body type be “effeminate”? What will I do if a blistering man of brute strength threatens to end my life?
According to the hyper-masculine men I’ve grown up around, If you’re not a man with a oil tank for a stomach or you can’t lift a person; you’re non-existent.
Every handshake I’ve gotten from these guys nearly broke my hand in two places.
These ladies shame the pants, shirt, and belt off these men . They are butch enough to push a lawn-mower, and hard enough to linger emotionless when you’ve angered them, yet gentle enough to garner any lingering sympathy that you think you don’t have for them. They have the strength of Job and the grace of Oprah in one fatal cocktail.
This place is where my cousin comes from. So imagine my shock and awe when she complained.
Compare this story to the one about people with disabilities. There is a fight to dispel the myth that disabled persons are weak-willed, weak-minded and ripe for any type of physical and verbal abuse. I’m not sure even the well-intentioned man knows what ill-fated comment might bruise a disabled person.
Yes, the odd-looking disabled person gets all the coverage. The disabled image is still a work in progress. There’s the white man with a top of the line Quickie chair and a talking machine. How about the innocent, doe-eyed child with the soft, adorable speaking voice? More recently, we’ve got the recovering Olympic-esque amputee with a prosthetic, bionic legs, impressive arm strength, and a killer smile.
Suddenly, the stupidity of my comment leaves me puzzled. Maybe, I was scared for her because disabled me never looked “disabled”. Cue the issue of body image.
Most people can’t tell I have Cerebral Palsy, until they see me get up and walk. Someone on Facebook accused me of not being “disabled enough”. WHAT????
I get up and do this awkward dance with the world. The dance usually follows a Catharine O Hara-like stare of fear because I walk differently. You can’t tell from my winning smile or those Hallmark family photographs on my Facebook page that anything is wrong with me.
Yes, even though I have years of medical evidence, osteoarthritis pain, and broken bones to prove it. A Trump supporter was set on telling me that I couldn’t prove what I face everyday. How’s that for your “pre-existing condition”? Do I need to dig up a record detailing the cost of shoes I’ve destroyed because I “skid” them to death?
Apparently, I’m some tax-payer draining individual that doesn’t want to work and isn’t concerned about my health, or any of the vastly under-represented people like me left clinging to the support of a few selected loved ones and some much needed and appreciated governmental intervention.
Lately, I’m stuck replaying Beyonce Knowles’ “Pretty Hurts.” I do many seemingly insignificant things to make myself feel pretty. I drink tea. I sing in front of the mirror to no one in particular.
Beyonce sang: “It’s the soul that needs the surgery.” She’s right. My soul has been trying to match the pretty man on the outside. I’ve understood that even college education and literary devices fail at isolating the disabled from ignorant, simple-minded bigotry.
Even I, with all my sure-footed bravery, need encouragement and support. Why does “pretty” hurt so much? The charity hospitals hone in on making people cry so they might donate money.
Sometimes I consider: Am I too normal-looking to get the vote Schriner’s and St Jude hospital kids get. Am I too old to wish for emotionally intelligent responses from people who supposedly care for me? The fact is: The Schriner’s kids don’t look like me. Handsomeness still subjects me to ridicule. I used to let my loved ones pick my clothes because I didn’t believe that I was “good enough” to have that right. How is that for sad and hopeless?
But back to my larger point…
Some U.S. citizens believe that higher education isn’t a disabled right. Are high school education stats any better for people like us? Supposedly disabled people don’t deserve the social network afforded to everyone else. It’s like someone said: Don’t have compassion for them unless they are war-veterans who died in some government-funded atrocity.
Finally, I don’t pander to people using that dejected, sad image, if I can help it. I see it this way: Do all you can for yourself until you cannot, and then seek help
Sure, there’s Stephen Hawking. But look at all he had to accomplish before people batted one eye-lash! And he’s still not a black guy. That’s an issue for another post.
I find myself redundantly wrestling to convince the world that I am not a collection of books, music, and, art to be viewed, admired, and catalogued away. Disabled people aren’t to be gawked at, as such.
Some time later, I remembered my mom saying that she laughed in the face of the doctors that told her, I might never be capable of real, complex cognitive thought. Imagine that?
I guess I can empathize with the pain anyone feels when his or her worth is buried in the adornments of worldly decoration. No, I’m not a person without compassion for the greater world.
I’m not willing to waste taxpayer dollars on a fruitless dream. My mission is to educate more people—-especially black people—-about how disabled men like myself lose their way in an American society that keeps recycling the same imagery.
I’m pretty sure I can be handsome, intelligent, and disabled. Pretty doesn’t have to hurt, in order for me to be happy. Maybe, I was rejecting the notion that an obviously pretty person like the young woman I mentioned, should have “prettiness” problems, when she descends from such a beautiful line of strong, black, educated women and has the attention of a guy willing to give someone a black eye.
Maybe, that’s why I’m the idiot.