I remember reading an article when I was a senior in high school about taller people being more successful than shorter people in the workplace; thus began a huge hurdle in my body image. I cannot remember where I read this or whether it was even a legitimate claim. Nevertheless, the memory of shame and disappointment in the irreversible reality of my stature stuck with me through undergrad, through grad school, and every interpersonal encounter I’ve had since. To be fair, I think it would be realistic to factor in pre-existing issues I may have had due to my disabilities being so visible, but reading an article about it certainly felt like hammering a nail into the coffin of any positive body image I may have scrounged up over my teenage years.
Fast forward to the present and I am working full time, but the shadow of doubt in my abilities still follows me. As a professional with disabilities, I am no stranger to putting 200% effort into my work just so I can be sure everyone around me is taking me seriously. Why then, do I still worry constantly that people are not taking me seriously? The answer is simple: Society continues to tell children they have to be perfect inside and out in order to be successful. This means I was imperfect from the get go and therefore assumed to be a failure (or incapable of true success) all along. Sounds to me like the game is rigged, big time! Employers are really getting a good deal out of me, because I am working hard, performing higher than average – since, you know, I’m disabled so I’ve got to make sure I’m doing better than average in order to be viewed as an equal – and not expecting commensurate compensation as I have been taught society views me as inherently inferior to my colleagues.
Remember the post about resilience? Body image is difficult to manage even for people who do not have disabilities. Throw a disability in the mix and you got yourself quite a hurdle. I have definitely come a long way in redefining my body image to allow for the realities of my disabilities, including my stature, but I still find myself worrying or feeling defensive at times. It’s one of those inner battles that people with disabilities sort of feel like they have to fight in silence, particularly at work.
Hopefully, there will come a time when having a disability does not mean a person is either completely dependent or Stevie Wonder. Again, society needs to expand on the definition of the disabled to include a wide spectrum of abilities consistent with the reality that humans are diverse, even the disabled ones. Normalization of not having preconceived notions of ability would level the playing field tremendously.