Image Credit: Sarah Alexander

Embracing Fashion and Body Positivity with Chronic Illness

Reading time | 4 mins

Confident, fashionable people with disabilities are not often portrayed in the media. It’s almost as if we don’t exist because how can a person with a disability have ‘style goals’ or love their life? Surely we’re all suffering and hiding away from society? Surely we all just live in our bedrooms wearing sweatpants and hoodies? Right?

No. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s just not true. People living with disabilities and chronic conditions can be as just as stylish as the next person. Granted, I wear pyjamas way more often than I do actual clothes. But when I do get dressed I like to look my best.

Not feeling the love

Fashion is a massive part of my life, and believe it or not, I’ve only found a love for it in the last year.

Before that, I wasn’t confident with my body. I wasn’t sure how to dress my wheelchair-using, disabled body, so I lived in oversized hoodies and jeans whenever I went out. Although this felt more comfortable, I wasn’t happy. I always felt like I looked like I hadn’t made an effort and that people knew what to expect. I didn’t love my plus-size body and I didn’t think I could wear anything else.

I’ve always had a particular style that I’ve gravitated towards and I’ve always been a bit alternative. But could I pull that off? Could I rock a mini skirt, a slogan tee and Dr. Marten shoes? In my head, I created so many looks that I was desperate to wear but I wasn’t brave enough. I wasn’t slim enough, and I wasn’t physically able.

I gave myself so many reasons why I couldn’t wear skirts: they’d get caught in my wheels, they’d ride up and be uncomfortable, they’d show off too much of my bruised, scarred legs.

Changing my perception of my body

But then something clicked in me last year. I was approached by a brand who wanted to photograph me in an outfit, and it was the first time I’d ever had full-length images taken in my powerchair (motorised wheelchair).

I’d always shied away from head-to-toe shots because I’m plus-size and felt like I’d been conditioned to dislike my own body. I had wanted to change my body since I was a teenager. I tried all kinds of diets and exercises but I found that they either exacerbated the symptoms of my chronic conditions, or they just didn’t work.

Despite all this, I was still desperate to look like the women in the magazines and on television. I wanted to look like them so badly and convinced myself that because I didn’t, I didn’t deserve to wear pretty clothes. They couldn’t possibly look good on me.

Realising I looked great

After I was photographed by the brand, I looked through the images of myself and I didn’t hate them. In fact, I thought I looked great. I thought, if I’d seen more women who looked like me when I was growing up, maybe my body image would be completely different?

These photos ignited a passion in me that took my love of fashion to a whole new level. I began wearing clothes I’d previously told myself I couldn’t wear. My wardrobe expanded quickly and my journey with body positivity commenced.

My shelves went from harbouring only skinny jeans and hoodies, to dresses, skirts of all lengths, shirts, tops of all styles and jackets and blazers in all kinds of colours. And I finally got my first pair of Dr. Martens.

Growing in confidence

My whole outlook on myself and my body completely turned upside down. People began complimenting me on my outfits, asking me for style tips and telling me how much I’d grown in confidence. And I felt like it. I felt like a weight had been lifted from me because I no longer cared what anyone thought of me, as long as I felt good.

Although I spend a lot of time at home and in my pyjamas, I do try to push myself to go out and make an effort at least once a week. That might seem silly to some people but it’s a big deal for me.

My chronic conditions take such a huge toll on my life that I need to plan rest days before and after I go out, so my body can recuperate. So on a day when I do go out, I want to look as good as I possibly can. I organise my outfit days in advance which really excites me. I also take some pictures for my Instagram account which is all about living with a disability and fashion.

Continuing my journey towards body positivity

By sharing my body-positivity journey online and sharing photos of me in my wheelchair, I hope that I can inspire other people living with disabilities and body issues.

My disability stops me from doing a lot of things (that’s an honest fact) but it will not stop me looking good on the days that I plan to go out. And it certainly will never stop me from being a lipstick-loving, shoe-obsessed woman.

The takeaway

Living with disabilities has taught me a lot, but most of all, it has taught me to appreciate the small things. So if a pair of leopard print boots and a little black dress are going to make my day, I’m going to wear them. And I highly recommend that you find something that makes you feel that way too. Confidence is empowering and it will make you love your life a little bit more, whether you are living with disabilities or not.

UK/MED/19/0127 June 2019