My Body My Mirror

In Columns, Life With Laura by Laura Stinson

I’m not sure who invented mirrors. I have no idea who thought it was such a marvelous idea that, each day, I be subjected to a reflection of myself … an unbiased, truthful reflection. But, wait …is a mirror unbiased? Can a mirror possibly be truthful?

When I look at my reflection I tend to think, no, that is not what I look like. In my rare moments of real clarity, I realize that what I see in the mirror is not what I look like. I know it sounds odd, but what I see in the mirror is not actually a truthful reflection of my appearance. It is supposed to be, yes, but my perceptions drastically alter the reliability of any mirror.

I wouldn’t be lying if I said my body image is distorted. Everyone’s is, some for better, some for worse. I have been stared at on a regular basis for 22 years because I’m in a wheelchair. Eventually, those stares stopped rolling off my back and started weighing upon my shoulders. Maybe I began to believe what I see in stranger’s eyes. Maybe I began to believe the messages coming through those stares. The stares at age 22 are far different from the stares one gets at age four. When you’re four, being in a wheelchair is cute because you perform tricks and you are always happy and always perky. However, when you reach your teens and twenties, when you feel you should be sexy, a wheelchair is absolutely not sexy.

I do what I can to maximize whatever sexiness I possess. Shirts revealing cleavage are my weapons of choice, along with a piercing gaze from my (so-called) intense green eyes. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be enough. Even though guys have notorious breast radar, it doesn’t seem to override their radar for the abnormal: “Hey, she’s cute. Nice boobs. Oops, she’s in a wheelchair, never mind.”

Yes, I’m cynical. No, I have no faith that people will overcome the superficiality of human nature to look at me for who I am, but I have no reason to be anything but cynical, and have been given no reason to hold out faith.

Let’s look at media stereotypes. Have you ever seen a woman who was considered desirable, sexy, dateable, but was also in a wheelchair? I haven’t. Television, movies, magazines–they all tell the same story.

To be beautiful a woman must fit into a preconceived mold of tiny waist, long flowing hair, big breasts, and must feel that clothing is optional. I don’t know about other women in a similar position, but I certainly don’t fit this mold and really have no desire to. But, that’s what “they” say is right. And we must always listen to “them.”

When did my body become my nemesis? When did I stop being pretty? When I was four, I was always pretty. When did it become important rather than insulting for guys to stare at my breasts? I just want to know when the way I look became more important than the person I am.

There are days when I refuse to allow any person’s ignorant stare to get me down. I leave my house knowing there are wonderful qualities about me, and I am beautiful because I’m a woman and all women are beautiful. Then, there are the other days … days when I don’t want to get out of bed … days when no amount of effort I exert is going to make me feel less ugly … days when I am positive every person I pass is looking at me critically.

What’s a woman to do? Does being in a wheelchair make me less attractive? No. It just makes it harder to find people who realize that. So I fight. I fight the stereotypes. I don’t buy into the belief that because I’m not blonde, blue eyed, and buxom I’m not beautiful. I have my off days. Everyone does. There are days when I do, in fact, buy into that belief. I just don’t let it control me.

There is more to me than the way I look. It took me many years to figure that out. I have finally reached a place where I can look in a mirror and, at the very least, not be disgusted by what I see. If you should like to know, I can tell you all the qualities that make me beautiful inside. Which is more important? A beautiful heart permeates to the exterior. Then again, so does an evil one.