10 months ago, I stood in front of the mirror and called my body “beautiful.” For the first time in years, I did not criticize my appearance. I did not disparage my physical features. I admired every curve, every scar, every tensed muscle. I detected strength shawl behind weakness–a powerful, invisible strength I have carried with me for my entire life.
In that moment, as I considered myself clearly for the first time in my life, I made a vow, a pact sealed with a caring look and a gentle smile.
I would never again refer to the left side of my body–the side has an impact on my cerebral palsy–as my “bad side.”
I have long struggled with my body image, principally as a result of a lifetime of internalized ableism. Throughout my childhood, medical professionals routinely underscored strengthening my affected side, helping me walk “better, ” and “fixing” the complications inherent in living with cerebral palsy. After years of therapies, as well as an orthopedic procedure, I was convinced that there was something “wrong” with my body. Consequently, I began to view my left, affected side as my “bad side, ” and my right, unaffected side as my “good side.” Quite literally, I believed I had a “right” side and a “wrong” side.
My body was not “wrong, ” but I was . My perception of my body was clouded by my complicated, distorted opinion of disability. A perspective be a primary consideration in years of inwardly-directed ableism.
Although I fully accepted others with physical disabilities, I struggled to accept myself as disabled. I perceived my own disability as shameful and was unable to extend myself the same love and respect I showed others.
When I began publicly writing about my life with spastic paralysis, I was forced to confront my pent-up cascade of internalized ableism. It was then that I fully realized that living with a disability is never a cause for disgrace. Living with a disability is my “normal.” It is not “bad.” It is not “wrong.”
And neither is my body.
Although I had become conditioned to believe that my affected side is my “bad side, ” I no longer let myself to use that deeply-entrenched descriptor to refer to my body.
Considering the weaker side of my body my “bad side” and my stronger side my “good side” not only devalued myself, but it also subtly belittled the entire disability community. By insinuating that there is something wrong with the side of my body affected by my disability, I regularly reinforced the misguided, ableist stereotype that disability is unfortunate and those with physical disabilities are “broken.”
We are not unfortunate.
We are not broken.
I now consider my disability to be a gift I would never exchange. Since I began writing about my life with cerebral palsy, I have had the opportunity to connect with others in the disability community. I have received words of support and encouragement from people from all walks of life who, in some respect, are touched by disability. I have discovered that I can transform the lives of others with physical disabilities through writing, helping them espouse their medical conditions just as I have come to embrace mine. I have learned that as a person with a disability, I am never alone.
I have never felt more fortunate.
I have never felt more whole.
I have come to realize that I can no longer justify utilizing nomenclature that unwittingly tears down the very community that has built me up. I refuse to use speech that perpetuates the misguided notion that disabled bodies are wholly incapable. I will never again refer to my affected side as my “bad side, ” not only as an act of love towards myself, but also as an act of respect for the entire disability community.
I no longer say I have a “bad side” because I view my entire body through a lens of love.
I no longer say I have a “bad side” because it reinforces the outdated, deleterious stereotype that people with physical disabilities are broken.
I no longer say I have a “bad side” because it undermines the strength and progress of the very community that has taught me to embrace myself.
I no longer say I have a “bad side” because I know that the implications of self-directed ableist speech are far-reaching, affecting society as a whole.
10 months ago, I stood in front of the mirror and called my body “beautiful.”
10 months ago, I vowed never to refer to the side of my body affected by my cerebral palsy as my “bad side.”
Today, I continue to challenge my internalized ableism.
Today, I know that my pledge will never be broken.
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