When you flip through the fashion magazines, you won’t find my body anywhere. When you watch TV, you might see me as a background character, meant to offer inspiration to the show’s main hero. I am the woman with a visible physical disability. You probably see my wheelchair, my cane, and my guide dog. Or you may notice my scars, my speech impediment, and my caregivers…yet, in many ways, I am invisible.
I am invisible in the research of eating disorders. You won’t find any statistics about how many women with disabilities struggle with their eating. You won’t see many women with disabilities seeking help in treatment centres or support groups for their eating.
After all, many of these centres meant to help women with disordered eating are found in old houses. Even if I muster up the courage to make it to the front door, I am met with a mountain of stairs.
You also won’t find my disabled, “broken” body in body positive campaigns. What do you do when it’s not just you who dislikes your body, but society as well?
Women with physical disabilities struggle with the same pressures to be thin and beautiful as all women, but, on top of that, we also struggle with messages that disabled bodies are less than bodies without disabilities. We are pitied, treated like children, gawked at, looked down upon, and sometimes put up on a pedestal as “inspiring” for just living our lives like anyone else. Seeing a disabled body as less than because it viewed as less functional, healthy or attractive, is known as “ableism.”
It is ableism that assumes women with disabilities are too wrapped up in our stressful lives as disabled persons to be worried about their appearance, shape or weight. It is ableism that assumes women with disabilities don’t have issues with disordered eating.
It is ableism at play when a doctor asks a woman with a disability to lose weight before she becomes too heavy for her caregivers to lift. And that ableism persists when a woman with a physical disability loses weight, and instead of asking how she did it, congratulates her on her “success.”
When a building is constructed without considering wheelchair access that is ableism too. Whether or not it was intentional, buildings without access for disabled bodies were built that way because they did not expect a disabled body to ever need to access their building.
When you build support centres in inaccessible locations, you are making my disabled body invisible. When you fail to include representations of disability in your body positive media campaign, you are making it feel abnormal to have a disabled body. And when you fail to include women with disabilities in your research and treatment of disordered eating, you are discounting our experiences.
But I am visible. I am a disabled woman and I want to be counted.