Wheelchair Rapunzel: ‘Growing up, I never knew I was allowed celebrate my disabled body’

Alex Dacy is a strong voice on Instagram for disabled body compassion and equality

Alex Dacy: where is the diversity we need in exploring our body shapes and stories?

Alex Dacy: where is the diversity we need in exploring our body shapes and stories?

 

Body confidence and a positive body image go beyond feeling happy in your dress size. It is about accepting, loving and being proud of the body you own regardless of its imperfections, limitations and idiosyncrasies.

This is the first of a five-part series about body confidence
This article is part of a five-part series about body confidence

For many it goes even further than that as some may face more challenges than others when it comes to loving their body.

Alex Dacy, also known as Wheelchair Rapunzel, is 25 years old. She has a rare, genetic disability called spinal muscular atrophy, which causes muscle loss. Dacy runs an online shop and with that and her strong presence on Instagram, she is a voice for the things she is passionate about, which include disability representation, disabled body compassion, and equality.

The body positivity movement has created a change and acceptance for many to appreciate their bodies no matter their shape, size, colour or stature. And yet, we are left flicking through the pages in an attempt to find those who have been left on the periphery of the body positivity movement.

How often does the media celebrate people with disabilities across their pages and on our screens?

Where is the diversity in exploring and celebrating our different body shapes, movements and stories, especially when it comes to disability awareness?

It is limited, often verging on being a symbolic effort as campaigns are often seen to include those with disabilities and soon enough go back to their airbrushed quality control of supposed perfect bodies and shapes.

We subconsciously, or consciously, stigmatise those with disabilities as we preclude them from the conversations which are naturally around us. It suggests we are disqualifying them from being a part of our culturally recognised norms. This can only lead to negative attitudes, discrimination and exclusion which ultimately leads to body dissatisfaction and diminished self-worth.

In an effort to avoid being overlooked and for the voices of the marginalised to be heard, there is a strong movement by positive thinkers who are actively promoting disability awareness and challenging the norms of our society. They are strengthening the body positivity movement to be more inclusive.

Alex Dacy: ‘One of the main things I focus on, as a disability activist, is disabled body positivity and acceptance’
Alex Dacy: ‘One of the main things I focus on, as a disability activist, is disabled body positivity and acceptance’

Disabled body acceptance

“After graduating college three years ago with a degree in disability studies,” says Dacy, “I moved to Chicago and tried to get a job. After several interviews and getting turned down, I was discouraged and wanted to give up. That’s when I started sharing my story on Instagram; to have an outlet, to feel included in society and to contribute, despite no one hiring me.

“One of the main things I focus on, as a disability activist, is disabled body positivity and acceptance. Growing up, I never knew I was allowed to celebrate my body because disabled bodies were never represented in a celebratory way in the media. To the contrary, the media conveyed that disabled people only exist to inspire people and that our bodies are defective and not worthy of sexual pleasure. Let me make one thing abundantly clear: disabled people have sex!”

Body image plays a strong part in our mental wellbeing and when we are continuously confronted with images we cannot relate to we will struggle to accept and love who we are. “It is part of our evolutionary hardwiring to be part of a group and to be accepted by others,” says Aisling Leonard-Curtin, chartered counselling psychologist, co-director of ACT Now and author of The Power of Small. “We do all kinds of things to help improve our chances of being accepted and approved of by others. Striving for an unrealistic, unhealthy, and often unattainable body type is something that many of us have bought into as a way of making ourselves more acceptable and desirable to others.”

When attempting to find ourselves included in the conversation of beauty, fashion and desirableness, there are many who are simply not recognised; mostly because the idea of a perfect body has been drawn from a very one dimensional and polished idea.

“The lack of media representation of perpetuating disabled bodies seen in sexy ways contributes to the stigma surrounding disabled bodies and disability and sex,” says Dacy. “I post my disabled body, one sexy post, at a time in hopes to show the world that disabled bodies are sexy, worthy and they matter.”

We all have a right to grow up loving and appreciating the body we are given and to not be judged, segregated or made uncomfortable for who we are. Representing all body forms throughout the media is important to “help society understand that there’s no one type of body that is worthy of love and acceptance,” as Dacy says.

She was relieved when she saw disabled people joining in with the body positive movement. “It was what you could say, a life changing revolution, when I saw a disabled person being confident in their naked body,” she says. “The only logical thing for me to do with this newfound sense of body acceptance was to take part in order for others to know they are allowed to celebrate their bodies, too. No matter what it looked it. It will show disabled people that they can stop hiding. Because, we’ve hidden ourselves far too long in fear of societies harsh and discriminatory reactions.”

Alex Dacy
Alex Dacy

Self-validation

None of us are alike. Our uniqueness makes us who we are. It’s time to celebrate our differences and love ourselves, stop body shaming and build our self-esteem. It sounds relatively easy, as though we can flick a switch and accept our bodies for what they are and what they can do. It’s not as simple as that but understanding that loving your body, appreciating it and getting to know your body is a first step in becoming body confident and maintaining a positive mental image of our bodies.

“For those struggling with their body image,” says Leonard-Curtin, “it can be incredibly powerful and healing to learn the practice of self-validation. Rather than beating yourself up for how you feel about your body, practice validating your feelings ‘it makes sense that I dislike my body because. . . ’ and fill in the blank. For example, it makes sense that I dislike my body because I’m fed a whole host of unrealistic images or I’ve been told that skinny is more attractive etc.

Alex Dacy
Alex Dacy

“This doesn’t mean that you should dislike your body. What it does mean is that there are reasons that you feel the way you do. And these are more based on the culture you live in and the unhealthy messages you’ve learned than it is to do with your body.”

Strong advocates such as Dacy are making waves in spreading positive body image and disability awareness. The more inclusive we are in the mainstream, the more empowered we will all feel from knowing that our bodies are worthy of being admired.

Body Confidence
Part 1: After serious illness or injury
Part 2: Our idea of beauty is diverse
Part 3: Celebrating my disabled body

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