This post is a disabled person’s personal perspective on how they experience body dysmorphia, primarily due to their physical disability.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Let’s understand what body dysmorphia is… Body Dysmorphia is defined as a mental health issue where someone is highly critical of their own body and its appearance. A person may experience any of the following:
- Inadequacy, because of their appearance/body
- Shame and Disgust at one’s body/ appearance
- Avoid mirrors and photographs
- Eating disorders
A person with Body Dysmorphia would like to change their appearance and body by doing anything; some of them are listed below:
- Camouflaging (with accessories such as hats, clothes, etc.)
- Surgical options
How Physical Disability could contribute to Body Dysmorphia
Someone with a physical disability doesn’t have what society considers a ‘normal’ body. Their body does not fit the existing definition of what is an 'acceptable' body. This is especially pronounced if the person has some sort of locomotive disability, with the limbs/body affected — because these disabilities are more noticeable, when compared to someone who is, for example, hearing impaired/Deaf, or even vision impaired/ Blind.
Let me tell you how I feel as a person with a physical disability about my body:
- I am very conscious of my body and how it looks
- I avoid looking at myself in the mirrors
- I avoid getting photographed
- I avoid taking full-length photographs of myself
- I can’t exercise as abled-people, because gyms are not accessible/ adaptable to my body
- My disability prevents me from moving around easily — I need external support to stand or walk. So I was told at a very young age that I should find a career that didn’t have much moving around
- Exploring the dating scene as a disabled person was not comprehensible.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this issue of Body Dysmorphia in a disabled person:
- The concept of a perfect body — We need to move away from this idea of a perfect body. As a person with a disability, I already know that I don’t have a normal relationship with my body; I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of it.
- Inclusion of all bodies and body types — In all conversations of different body types, there is a marked absence of disabled bodies. As a disabled person, it erases me and I am no longer considered as having a valid body.
- Representation of different people — As a disabled person, I don’t see my body represented in any media where content is generated, distributed and consumed. Having a visible representation would help me have a positive relationship with my body — I would be more comfortable with my body if there were disabled theatre/cinema actors, disabled fashion models, disabled stories being created and the roles essayed by people with disabilities.
- Normalization of disabled people — Disabled folks are often relegated to the backgrounds and shadows. They need to be put in the spotlight and opportunities need to be presented to them to pursue their dreams.
- A disabled person might want to be a fashion model — they should be presented the opportunity with reasonable accommodations provided.
- A disabled person may want to be a fitness leader — gyms and other spaces should be accessible to them and the trainers should be able to work with them and help them fulfill their dreams
- A disabled person should be able to do drag performances, or pursue any other performing arts — the arts should be accessible to them and any reasonable accommodations should be provided.
I could go on and on about the impact of physical disabilities on the idea of a normal body. But I want to conclude by saying just a few things:
- Someone’s worth/ abilities shouldn’t be decided on how their body looks.
- Don’t ignore the stories of disabled people — we also want to share our stories and experiences.
- Don’t ignore us and give us the opportunities to showcase our talents
- Our disabled bodies are not broken — we may surprise you with what we can accomplish. But that doesn’t make our stories inspirational for you all. We are just making do with what we have. We don’t have any different/ special abilities.
- We want a regular life, but thanks to our disabilities, we require some reasonable accommodations to function. Don’t think that we have any special needs.
- The idea of a perfect body doesn’t exist. Let go of this concept. It’s doing more harm than good.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.