This is a guest-post by Eva Sweeney.
“Nice shoes!” “Great smile!” “You have pretty eyes!” Those are the kinds of compliments I get on a regular basis and they are wonderful. However, people never comment on my body. You might be thinking- as a woman, wouldn’t you be offended if someone came up to you and commented on your body? “Nice tits!” I would be offended by that. However, one little piece of information you should know is that I’m “severely disabled”. I have Cerebral Palsy (CP) and I use a wheelchair to get around. CP has influenced the way I developed physically. My muscles continually spasm and I have little control over my arm and leg movements. I definitely view myself as sexy and attractive. But other people are either afraid to look or think they shouldn’t comment on my body because it’s “broken”.
I am in no way condoning cat-calling. I definitely think that cat-calling is sexual harassment (and can be the beginning of sexual assault) and is a big reason that women don’t feel safe in their own neighborhood. That being said, my body is never the topic of conversation, eye-gaze, or interest with adults I have just met. My girlfriends have definitely been “interested” in that topic, but that’s after we got to know each other. I don’t want to be cat called. But I don’t mind people asking me questions about my body or flirting with me if we are having a nice conversation. Even something as benign as “I like your shirt, where did you get it?” would show me that they notice my body and aren’t afraid of it. People are conditioned to think that people with disabilities hate their bodies. They think they shouldn’t bring it up because they think it will offend me or remind me that I’m gross. The lack of attractive people with disabilities (and I define attractive as an attitude versus some standard of beauty) on TV, in movies, and in pop culture reinforces that stereotype.
Adults are afraid to ask me questions about my body. Again, they think it will remind me of the “hideousness” or it’s a taboo topic. One example of how uncomfortable my body makes some people is when I go to the sauna. Like every other female in the sauna, I go completely nude. And even though we are all there stark naked together, some of the women keep staring at me and I guarantee its not because they were checking me out. Because my body looks different, they have to look. And I wouldn’t mind them looking, except that their gaze says “Oh my god, what a weirdo. Doesn’t she know what her body looks like?”
Kids, on the other hand, will just come right up to me in public and say “why are your legs like that?” One little girl asked me, “Why are you in an armor chair?” I think that’s great because after I explain, kids are usually like “Cool!” and proceed to talk to me about other things. Their parents on the other hand, usually yell at them for asking such a “rude” question. I honestly wish that more adults would just come up and ask questions because then they might actually see that I’m attractive, intelligent, and disabled too. I know that some people would think that’s intrusive and this is just my opinion, but I’m totally cool with adults just saying “So tell me about your disability.” I am happy to answer any questions, even the “silly”ones. It all helps them understand something significant about me and it’s much more interesting than “Nice weather, eh?” Ignoring my body cuts out a huge section of who I am. And because people don’t want to learn or ask questions, they don’t get to know who the whole Eva is.
Eva Sweeney is a 26-year-old college graduate. She majored in gender studies. She recently started The Deal with Disability (http://thedealwithdisability.blogspot.com/) which gives accounts of her daily life as a person with Cerebral Palsy. Her other hobbies are photography, creative writing, and painting.
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