This is kind of a part two to my previous piece on body image, health, and feminism. In that piece, I started to look at my beliefs about body image, where they originate, how I can change them, and how they work with or against my mental and physical health. Now, I want to take that a bit further and talk about sex and disability.
Here’s the usual disclaimer – I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’m just sharing my thoughts and my experiences. Sometimes I am uncomfortably honest and I confront difficult beliefs so I put trigger warnings on this work.
I remember when my story first became public and someone (some odd stranger) made a comment on Stuff about the rise of these “fashionable stomach illnesses.” I was totally gobsmacked. I won’t go into detail, but honestly, at that point in this journey, I was in the bathroom more than I wasn’t. Keeping food in my body at all was near impossible. How on earth was anything I was experiencing “fashionable” or desirable?
Becoming sick has made me explore and question my identity in a lot of ways, and one of those ways is discovering who I am as a woman. I felt stripped of my sexuality. I was used to being healthy, I definitely had body issues as I’ve said before, but I felt like I was reasonably attractive and I put quite a lot of effort into that. I wore very nice clothes. I got my hair done often. I did my nails every few days.
These are the sorts of things that quickly become very low priority when you’re struggling to just survive. My resources – energy, money – were diverted to other things. I bought supplements, not clothes. I went to the doctor, not the hairdresser.
I stopped wearing high heels because it’s too painful (and this blog actually started out as a shoe blog, I was obsessed with them). I stopped wearing tight clothes or anything like jeans with zips and things because my skin and muscles are too sensitive. At the moment, bra straps hurt, so if I’m at home alone… I wear tights and a tshirt and it makes me feel so happy haha.
Jokes aside… I lost confidence. Getting dressed up used to be second nature to me. Now it’s something I do very rarely, because I don’t have the energy and I don’t see myself that way any more. The way I interact with my body has changed. It is not a pretty vessel that I use to express myself in the same way.
For a while, I hated it. I really, actively, hated my body. It has turned on me – it’s not behaving the way it is supposed to. It’s a rebellious, overreactive teenager and it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, I can’t get it in under control.
So I have to work with it. I have to do all the things I can do to make it as comfortable and happy as possible – eat only the right things, exercise when I can, take my medication, allow myself to wear tights and hoodies and flat boots and use my cane.
All of this is not very sexy. Again, here is the patriarchal created image of “sexy” and worthy that I am playing in to, I am aware of that. But it’s hard to confront a lifetime of the belief that stilettos are sexy and track pants are not. It’s hard to see myself as I think others are seeing me – walking slowly down the street with my stick, often hunched in pain. That’s a far cry from the way I used to look and it challenges me a lot.
As I said, I’m forging a new relationship with my body. I’ve realised that, as a woman in this society, I expect a lot from it. I expect it to function and perform on command. I expect it to keep going at all costs, even if I don’t provide it with the right fuel. I expect it to fit external measures of beauty, at all times.
The biggest thing I used to expect from it (beyond basic functioning, which we don’t even question until it stops) was that last bit. That it would be desirable to others. Now, the biggest thing I expect from it is that it will respond kindly when I give it what I think it needs. That it will not be in pain. That it will heal. That it will allow me to write, to interact, to keep participating in life.
As I said in the previous piece, my belief system about what is attractive and not attractive, sexy and not sexy, is informed by internal and external pressures. And yes, I am sad to say that my sick and disabled body does not fit those pressures. This is by no means a comment on what is attractive in other people. People of all body types and abilities can be and are sexy and attractive and actually their sex lives are none of my business so I’ll just get back to mine.
Which is nonexistent. haha. Oops. I hope you were all ready for Oversharing Central today.
I guess that comes back to what I was saying about priorities and survival, and the demands we make on our bodies. I’m making enough demands on mine just trying to keep it alive. How do I go from seeing it as a dysfunctional, endlessly tiring thing, to something attractive again? Something I am willing to share with someone else?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. I guess, like everything else, it’s a journey. I just thought I would share some of thoughts I was having because others might relate. And I wanted to go beyond that first step in the sex and disability discussion, where the fact that disabled people can and do have and want sex is meant to be a surprising thing. Well, um, yeah? And?
I think I’ll leave it there for now. Comments welcome.