Thursday, 28 June 2012

Identity - It Doesn't Get Diminished By Disability

"Don't forget to put on some earrings, okay? What will people think otherwise", my mom reminded me as we were getting ready to go out.
"Who will think of what?" I asked her.
"Other people about us."
"But why? And why should they think about you when I'm the one not wearing earrings..?" It didn't make any sense.
"Because I'm going with you."
And still it didn't.

Make-up and heavy jewellery has never really been a part of my outfit, for reasons that kept changing with time. I used to have a whole make-up set during my school days but it was hardly ever used after trying out for the first time. Occasionally if I felt like, I would put some eyeliner or use a Labello but not more than that. Not because I hated it. In fact, thought not heavy painting, I did like to sometimes do my eyes more than the eyeliner. But never did. I didn't mind using a lipstick. Didn't do that either. My thoughts at that time were, 'Who cares about make-up when I have bigger things to worry about.' The 'bigger things’ here was my disability. How did my body look like? What should I do to make myself 'appear' more 'normal'? And so on. Yeah, that's how low my self-esteem was. It wasn't just down, it literally had to be dug out.. As time went on, the refusal took a different turn. Now, while I had started becoming more independent, accepting more of myself the way I am and learning to embrace my disability, I was still hesitant in putting make-up or wearing really good fancy jewellery more often. The feelings at this time changed to 'I shouldn't do it. I'm a disabled person and so I should appear/behave according to my limitations.' Social attitudes are a tougher hurdle to deal with and sometimes it can pull you down a hundred steps in an instant regardless of the fact that you’d taken years to reach up till there. Besides, I've always been lucky to have people who encouraged these thoughts, whether they did it on purpose or not.  
And since more recently, I'm ok with what I wear or not wear. I still use very little make-up (mostly none). But it's not the same like before, because now it's a choice made out of preference than pressure from insecurities. I try not to hide away under chemical masks. Of course I have no objection to those who use it, I respect individual choices and it’s not something I would be against to. For me though, it’s more about comfort, convenience and not conforming to imposed (and often oppressive) socially constructed standards of beauty and keeping my individuality in the presence of forces constantly trying to wipe it out. Plus it also helps to understand and beat away many hidden fears. But of course, at times when I really want to wear, I don’t stop myself either.
It wasn’t exactly the demand to look appealing part of the conversation that struck me as odd but the latter half of it. Maybe because by now I had gotten used to the realisation of how much women are expected to be visually pleasing and ‘good looking’ instead of just being themselves. What got me was how deeply instilled this perception is that it’s not just your own body you had to alter but even try to regulate other people’s looks if you wanted to be seen as associated with them. And how perfectly ‘fine’ it was to ask them to do that. Maybe you might think this was only a mother telling her own daughter, so not exactly an ‘other’ person, right? But no, when you’re 20, you are an ‘other’. There was a time when my identity was largely dependent on my parents and what I wore or did would reflect their dressing styles and outlooks. That time, I was 5. It’s not the same when you’re an adult. Now if someone were to look at me and make a judgement on my mother instead of me, surely something is wrong with how they view people, in which case I’m not the one having a problem.  
The thing that actually hurt me was - would she be this easily assertive had I been a person without disability? I don’t think so. How you get the confidence to make demands on other people’s personal matters is when you see them as lower than you and not worthy of respect in their own right. What makes disabled people as deserving of lesser personal choices and rights to make decisions on their appearances and physical expressions? If she was truly going out with her ‘daughter', she wouldn’t have cared what I looked like. The only other way is when you see the disabled person as an extension of someone else and who’s identity is inseparable from the person they may be in any way relying on.

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