models versus role models

body-image-do-magazine-images-influence-how-you-feel-about-your-body

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that our shallow and perfection-obsessed culture is poisonous for girls and young women. Our society constantly smacks us in the face with ads, images, and stories about how we need to look as beautiful as possible in order to succeed and be happy. And even Hollywood is starting to take notice of how unhelpful this is. More and more celebrities are opening up about their eating disordered pasts and unhealthy relationship with their bodies. Stars like Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato and Katie Couric have come clean about how their poor body image led to dangerous health problems. And the ironic thing is that these women are all thin and conventionally pretty. So if these beautiful people can barely manage to accept their figures, how is someone who is missing a limb supposed to love her body? And what does it say about us as a culture that many of the bodies we envy and wish we had are the results of eating disorders and low self esteem?

15-tips-for-raising-kids-with-a-positive-body-imageAs a young woman born without a left hand, I quickly learned that the way I looked did not exactly conform to the ideal. I was a chubby kid with extremely frizzy hair and glasses a few sizes too big for my face. Looking back, there was nothing inherently wrong with my appearance but, back then, it certainly felt that way. When I was 12, I went on a crash diet and soon became addicted to the feeling of pride that came with moving the bar to a lower weight on the scale. Exercise became my obsession and food became my nightmare. I lost way more weight than was healthy and was diagnosed with an eating disorder promptly upon my first doctor’s checkup of the year. And to be perfectly honest, I still struggle with food and weight and my eating habits on a daily basis….even 9 years later. And trust me, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give if I could stop at least one person from going through the same grief I did.

I don’t want to be a Debbie downer, but I do know that a lot of the readers of this blog are young women with limb differences and parents of little girls with limb differences. And I feel like this is a very important topic to address, especially earlier in life. Self image is important and it doesn’t just have to do with weight. I also struggled for years with the thought that I was ugly and that boys wouldn’t like me for the way I looked. But these are obviously not healthy and not productive thoughts.

39778401487Now as a 21-year-old woman, I’m the most confident I’ve ever been. I’ve learned (albeit the hard way) that self-hatred is not attractive and that guys don’t go for perfection anyway. A guy who really loves you will love you for everything you are and not for the fact that you’re not as skinny as Angelina Jolie. But before that (which I also learned the hard way), you have to love and be comfortable with yourself. That’s harder said than done, of course. But I won’t leave you completely alone on this. Here are 4 things that have helped me feel better about the way I look:

– Tell yourself that you are beautiful. (Or if you’re a parent, tell your daughter that she’s beautiful.) It sounds really corny, but this is essential. You know when they say “fake it ’til you make it”? Go by that rule and say it to yourself until you fully believe it.

– Pamper yourself. There’s nothing like a manicure or a bubble bath to make me feel like I’m worth it. Relaxation is so necessary and so healthy.

– Surround yourself with positive people. If you’ve ever seen Mean Girls (or walked into any high school), you know that body-shaming is often a group activity. Ban your friends from talking about their physical flaws in your presence and make a pact to focus on what’s good in your lives.

paraplegicELLE– Surround yourself with positive images. While it’s impossible to avoid the ubiquitous ads featuring women with seemingly perfect figures and features, remind yourself that beauty is diverse and is not limited to one body type. Check out Elle Magazine’s spread about Paralympic swimming champion Jessica Long, who looks as gorgeous as any standard model in the fashion industry.

I hope these tips help and lead you to realize that a limb difference is just that: different. And “different” is not synonymous with “ugly.” Difference can be beautiful. And as Ryan Haack from Living One-Handed says, “Different is Awesome!”

At the end of the day, this is the best tip I have for you – In order to be happy and have others like you, you need to be younger thinner prettier yourself.

 

Peace,

Caitlin Michelle

 

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interview with ryan niemiller

Hey there! A lot has happened this week, the highlight being that my boyfriend Chris started a new job in New York. I’m super proud of him, and I know that he’ll do amazingly well there. He’s very interested in the work he’s doing, which is the key to any great career. This, of course, got me thinking about my own future career and jobs in general. While I’ve never experienced discrimination because of my disability (I work as a writing tutor and as an intern for NBCUniversal), I know that it’s a very real possibility for many people.  So to get a better perspective on the matter, I decided to interview Indiana-based comedian Ryan Niemiller. Here’s what he had to say (I color-coordinated it for you because I’m thoughtful like that):

Me: Has your disability ever been the reason why you didn’t get hired for a job you applied to?

RN: Certainly. It comes with the territory. People see me and since I have a fairly obvious disability, it’s much easier to assume I can’t do something without giving me a shot than it is to give me the opportunity and see what I can do. I used to get really mad about it, but it’s a natural human defense mechanism for some. But really, as frustrating as it is, do I really want to work for a place that assumes I’m incapable?

Me: I understand that you’re a professional comedian. Do you view your disability as an advantage or disadvantage in your stand-up career?

RN: I’d say it’s 80/20 advantage to disadvantage. My arms make me unique. I can guarantee there are no other comedians just like me in the world. I’m not just a late 20’s single white guy comic. I have something that helps me stand out, a hook if you will (pun intended). I have something I can immediately bring the audience in on. At the same time, there’s the fear of me being a comic who ONLY talks about his arms. Plus, a lot of times I have to over prove I am actually funny and not just a gimmick. There’s certain bookings I probably don’t get because people assume I’m a novelty act. Luckily, it doesn’t happen often.

Me: I know that you work as a barista at Starbucks. What’s the strangest reaction a customer has had to your arms?

RN: A little girl screamed in terror once, which was fantastic for my self esteem. But really, there’s not a lot of strange reactions. Most people just stare at most. I’ll get the occasional, “Wow, you’re such an inspiration!” line, which is irritating, but really, most people just want their damn lattes. 🙂

Me: Would you say that your co-workers treat you differently because of your arms?

RN: Not at all. Anyone who gets to know me and sees me operate doesn’t worry about my arms anymore. Once I am given the chance to prove myself, I take care of business and it’s a non-issue.


Me: So let’s say you were born with two “normal” arms. Would you still be in the profession you are now?

RN: I’d like to say yes, but honestly, I doubt it. I developed a sense of humor as a defense mechanism – I’d make all the jokes before anyone else had a chance to. If I was “normal,” I doubt that would have ever developed the way it did. I’d probably be an accountant or something equally lame. Ha ha.

Me: Let’s take that question a step further: how do you think your life would be different if you had “normal” hands?

RN: I’d probably be happier, as unpopular of an answer as I’m sure that is. Not that I’m necessarily miserable right now or anything, but my arms do lead to a lot of issues that I wouldn’t have to deal with otherwise. Getting jobs wouldn’t be as difficult, it would be easier to find someone to date, etc. But really, that’s just speculation. There’s no real way of knowing. Maybe I’d be even worse off.

Me: How do you respond when someone asks you about your hands?

RN: It depends on tone. If it’s a child, I try to be patient, because as irritating as it is, they don’t know any better. If it’s an adult who I don’t know well, usually with annoyance. Because I rarely get asked simple questions about it. I know some people are just curious so I try to be patient, but I’m almost 30 years old – I am a little tired from answering questions.

Me: What’s the best way to own your disability? By that, I mean: what do you do to feel confident when the world gets you down?

RN: I make money off it. I travel the country telling jokes about it, and then they hand me a check afterward. For me, it’s hard to get much better than that. And recently, I’ve just started cutting out a lot of the negative energy in my life. So if you’re not with me, you’re against me. That’s how I own it.

Me: Now I’m about to go all college-application-interview on you: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

RN: Not a damn clue, and that’s half the fun. 🙂


   Thanks so much to Ryan for his time and honest answers. 


   If you’ve got comments or thoughts or ideas or anything else you feel like sharing, comment below! 


Peace,
Caitlin 🙂

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out with the old

  Hi there and happy Saturday! I’ve just finished my first week back to school after a too-short winter break, and I can’t say I was looking forward to abandoning my comfortable bed for rainy days filled with reading syllabi. Also, I foolishly wore suede boots the first day that don’t do well when wet, so I probably looked a bit crazy walking in weird patterns in an effort to avoid puddles. Anyway, the point of this post is not my poor fashion judgment or my attempt to discreetly text friends during boring lectures. Instead, I’d like to talk about something my boyfriend Chris and I decided to do a few days ago. 


  We were sitting on my living room couch reminiscing about the past year. After a while, though, the feelings changed from nostalgia to bitterness and regret. We both felt that we were still carrying a lot of our past hurts and fears around with us. And that would NOT do. So we decided to write all the bad things on small strips of paper. We jotted down everything that was bothering us. I bought a candle and found some matches and, together, we burned all the memories of everything that had ever hurt us. 


  Of course, I thought a lot about my arm. It wasn’t that being one-handed is so awful. But a lot of bad experiences related to my disability have taken a toll on my confidence. 


  There was the time in middle school when I had just lost a race at a swimming meet and was pretty upset about it. My mother, trying to comfort me, told me that it was okay because I was the “inspiration” of the team. That stung. I wanted to win, not inspire. And it was my own mother throwing me the surprise pity party. 


  There was also the time when my dad ranted about how I should just stop trying to be athletic because I would never be good at sports due to my lack of an arm. As if my slow running speed was somehow the direct result of my missing hand. 


 Oh, and the time when my fourth grade crush freaked out when he saw my short arm. That was fun. (Not.)


  Anyway, the point is that human beings often carry the hurts of the past in their back pockets and allow them to ruin their futures. I refuse to let that happen to me. I’m done toting along ugly memories and insecurities that just weigh me down. I want to be able to walk around in public without the fake arm and still feel okay. I want to be comfortable with my accomplishments and not feel like I always need to prove myself to everyone. I want to enjoy all the good things in my life.


  So, with Chris, I watched the flames destroy the burdens we’d been holding onto. And it was such a relief to see those little pieces of paper, the symbols of all our past hurts, disappear. We almost burned down my house with our little bonfire (the smoke alarms did not take well to what we were doing), but the feeling that we are not defined by the past and are more than what has happened to us was worth it.  


  I’m not saying that every issue I’ve ever had faded with that night; life’s a process and I’m not perfect. But I did learn to separate myself from the labels other people have given me. I am not “Inspirational” Caitlin or “Bad at Sports” Caitlin. I’m Caitlin, the girl who has a wonderful life and a beautiful future ahead of her. And no one is going to take that away from me. 


Peace,


Caitlin 🙂






(image found on weheartit.com) 


  

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