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Body Shaming + When Illness or Disability Affect Body Image, Fashion, and Beauty

Body-shaming is sadly a very real phenomenon. I mean, just look at the awesome and mega-fit Lady Gaga  (who I LOVE, by the way!) who was shamed and trolled over a practically-nonexistent “belly roll” during the Super Bowl.  It almost became a bigger topic of conversation than her stellar, iconic, and historically-great Super Bowl Halftime Show. This is an unfortunate occurrence. A woman’s (or man’s) body is not for public consumption or contemplation. Yet, we live in a society that judges people based on unfair standards of not only beauty and physique — but also one that stigmatizes or marginalizes those who don’t fit a perfect and ideal image of strength, health, and physical ability.

What’s worse about the endless scrutiny she’s faced online is that Lady Gaga has openly and bravely 1702061618-lady-gaga-super-bowl-show-gets-subtlydiscussed her body image issues in the past: her struggles with weight loss and eating disorders. She’s been vulnerable and transparent enough to also open up publicly about sexual assault, PTSD, synovitis, chronic pain, and a possible lupus diagnosis.

And yet, she’s still being critiqued for something as superficial as some skin on her stomach.

She’s a strong woman who is creative, artistic, generous, and kind. (Not to mention, in great shape.) She goes out of her way to be nice to people and embrace her fans. (See exhibit A and exhibit B.)  She has this incredible talent and skill, yet she reminds us that she’s still human — and then gets attacked for it.

It’s no wonder, then, that people with illnesses or disabilities sometimes don’t like to be open and vulnerable by sharing their stories, their fears, their worries, their insecurities. If someone like Lady Gaga — rich, beautiful, talented, successful — gets torn to pieces by a perceived flaw that threatened to overshadow all the good she’d done, where does that leave the rest of us? 

When the culture we live in values the physique and the human body and its abilities and appearance over seemingly everything else, how are those of us whose bodies don’t even work properly supposed to feel?

Even our current president has admitted to rating women on a scale of 1-10. When the most powerful man in our nation is on-record stating that Angelina Jolie, Kim Kardashian, and Heidi Klum and the like are “fat” or “not beautiful” or that certain politicians are ugly or haggard, then, again, where does that leave the rest of us — especially those of us who are sick or disabled?  (After all, he also allegedly called deaf actress Marlee Matlin “retarded,” but that’s a whole other issue.)

My point isn’t to get political here — it’s not even about him. My point is to discuss the fact that many women AND men already feel insecure about their looks or their body. Our society seems to celebrate shaming people for their appearance and, furthermore, our society is ripe with ableism, too. (Ableism is especially notable in advertising, casting, and fashion, and the diet, health, and fitness industries.)

If someone like Gaga is considered so “imperfect” becuase she has a … perfectly fine… tummy, then, in society’s eyes, how imperfect am I because I live with dozens of medical problems? How imperfect is someone who needs a wheelchair or a cane or who can’t see or hear?  How imperfect is the person whose stomach looks nothing like Gaga’s and who work their butts off every day trying to get it to be so?

Comments belittling people for their appearance or their physical ability are so degrading, and are sometimes even more disrespectful or hurtful to people who are in a situation beyond their control, like living with an illness or disability.

Just like there are no “one-size-fits-all” medical treatments for many of us, there is also no “one-size-fits-all” definition of what “fitness” or the “perfect body” look like. (*Editor’s note: even the stock photo thumbnail generated for this blog is problematic in that it promotes only a certain body type — but that’s life.)

Personally … well, I’m working on loving my body — but it’s hard: I’ve gained weight from steroids; my metabolism is out-of-whack for many various reasons; my hair thinned from Methotrexate and I have a very sparse area with little hair growth around my brain surgery scar; I wear a knee brace and foot cast and ugly orthopedic shoes a lot; I have scars and bruises all over my body; I have skin issues because of my conditions; and sometimes I can’t put on my makeup or wash my hair because of pain.

It’s also generally hard to love your body when you feel like your body hates you. This is something I’m working on — and it isn’t always easy to do when you live with autoimmune diseases or other chronic illnesses.

Something on a somewhat-related note that I’ve been thinking about for a couple years now is the place where beauty and fashion intersect with illness and disability …and where those things intersect with body image and self-confidence.

As an author, I’ve been thinking of doing a book project about these issues and how they affect sick or disabled people (calling dibs on it now, so please no stealing my idea lol!) and I have pipe dreams of someday consulting on a line of 1.) fashionable, adaptive, functional, comfortable, stylish clothing and footwear for people with disabilities or musculoskeletal/pain problems and 2.) helping to create a line of stylish, fun, fashionable, personalized medical accessories and assistive devices.

If you want to be a part of my “think tank” for these projects, (or want to be an investor lol!) please email me!

The disabled and chronically ill population have special considerations when it comes to beauty, fashion, and accessibility, and are often left out of that “world.”


I look forward to the day when fashion and fitness are even more intersectional and inclusive. When the beauty industry is more adaptive. (Makeup brushes and hair styling tools for those with physical limitations? Pretty please!)

Until then, I’m going to continue learning about the industry (I’ve signed up for Teen Vogue x Parsons,) I’m going to pitch my ideas to some friends in fashion and patient advocacy groups, and I’m going to continue using my gift of writing to at least get dialogue started about these important issues that sometimes get left behind. People who are disabled or sick still want to feel good about themselves — dare I say, we even want to feel sexy sometimes! — and we all deserve it as much as anyone else.

There’s no such thing as a “bad” body. There are only people who make you feel bad about your body.

One thought on “Body Shaming + When Illness or Disability Affect Body Image, Fashion, and Beauty

  1. Pingback: Tweeting with Christina Ricci, Giveaways, and More | Ashley Boynes-Shuck

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