One of the hardest things for me to cope with when I first became a wheelchair user was my change in body image. I had always been a very athletic, health conscious person and I struggled with how I viewed my new physical self. I think that personal body image has a very important social value for women, with many females being particularly vulnerable to perceptions of their body and physical appearance. Nights out were extremely difficult; especially when a certain DJ stopped the music on a Saturday night in a busy, conventional nightclub to congratulate “the girl in the wheelchair for getting out on the dance floor”. I’ve also had people describe my chair and myself as a “buggy” and a “cripple” respectively. Although these comments often come from ignorance, sometimes they can affect body image and self-esteem.
Some people with physical disabilities or differences may feel they are not seen for their true selves because of their bodies and what they can and can’t do. A negative self image feeds into low self-esteem and how much you feel you are worth and valued; A downhill spiral of depression and addiction can ensue.
Physical changes that occur after an SCI combined with trying to establish a new role in society means it can be tempting to compare ourselves with others. We might start to compare ourselves media images (“ideals” that are frequently airbrushed and not realistic). Let’s face it, everyone (even the most perfect-seeming celeb) has things that they can’t change and need to accept about themselves — like their height or their shoe size for example. I began to appreciate that each person is more than just how he or she looks on any given day. We’re complex and constantly changing. I learned to focus on what’s unique and interesting about myself and tried not to visualize the disability but rather the person instead. I quickly realised that you can possess heart, passion, power and patience irrespective of whether you have the full use of your body or not.