03 March 2012

Love the skin you're in. Love the skin others are in.

"I couldn't possibly handle looking like you. You look hideous."
~ Stranger in lift.

I wrote and helped direct that video for No Limits. It's a true story, only reversed, hopefully to show just how jaw-droppingly blunt people are about appearance. I wrote a little about that video here, last year.

When you look this different, it's as though you are public property for people to comment on and criticise, and say exactly what they think, no matter how insulting. I imagine it's a little like being pregnant - people commenting and dishing out advice willy nilly, though I don't get strangers coming to touch my tummy.

These past few weeks I've had a lot of discussions and spent much time thinking about being different. I've spoken about it in radio interviews on Light FM and The ABC, to the Centre for Appearance Research staff and Scope, and written it in a speech proposal.

And I've concluded that it's often other people who have more of a problem with how I look than I do. And people make assumptions, that those who look less fortunate' than them are leading less fulfilled lives. This has to change.

I reflected on appearance and assumptions when I wrote my speech proposal for the UK. I am completely happy with my looks. Happy with my height, shape and size, like my curls, and love my fingernails, smile and boobs. To use the word even would be counterproductive, but for the sake of this piece, I am even happy with my face.

Yet people assume that I'm not comfortable with having my photo taken (and at times, have not been comfortable with appearing in a photo with me). They assume that looking the way I do is a burden (forgetting that the burden is actually the pain of the condition) and that I may not be achieving all that I am. And as you know, I am so very happy with life and all that I've done so far.

I happened to come across a conversation about my Roxette review earlier this week. Instead of discussing the concert and my experience, they discussed my appearance, making all sorts of assumptions. That I am burnt. That I was courageous (for meeting the band/living life??). And that I shouldn't be ashamed of the way I look. It was laughable. While I am sure it was said with good intention, I laughed that the conversation did not reflect so much on my appearance, but society's perception of normal and the level of comfort people feel when faced with difference.

My friend Elvira, also on No Limits, is stunningly beautiful, inside and out. She has spinal muscular atrophy and is in a wheelchair.
She thinks that there is a tendency for people to expect something different to what she presents when they see her.  "I think it can be a strange mix or both in particular when an individual sees me in my wheelchair from behind and then they get to see the rest of me. I can actually speak and interact with confidence which throws a lot of people off - in a good way, I guess?"

Elvira used to be overweight and in the past few years, lost a lot of weight. She believes when she was overweight, people may not have paid her as much attention because of her appearance, but it was also to do with her self esteem and attitude. "I was far more happy to sit back and slip under the radar and naturally did. I was very much the invisible girl on wheels", she says.

She speaks of the way people can assume those with disabilities have lives that are lacking.
"I think there is an expectation that when an individuals ability is limited in one area, that is mirrored in all other areas of their life."

She, like I, also believe in the importance of taking pride in our appearance, to make ourselves feel good. "I do however also believe that a lucky gene pool isn't the answer. This may be a generalisation but I think many people that rely on carers and use of mobility aides fail to take as much pride in their appearance. It may be harder and not as easy but there are ways around it and I think people forget to realise that it's about making an effort for you and not necessarily onlookers and critics" Elvira says.

I love dressing up, and it plays a big part in making me feel good. And as I once wrote, I think taking pride in my appearance helps to change peoples' perceptions of me. But I also think (although there may be a level of concern in peoples' reactions to appearance) people need to mind their own business about how others look, stop making assumptions and taking pity. Love the skin you're in, and love the skin others are in too.

PS: I wanted to take part in Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade meme from last week, but I'm too late, and have taken my angry pants off. The theme was Sorry. I still have a few things to say on Sorry though. All tongue in cheek. Sort of.

  • I am (not) sorry that my metabolism is faster than yours.No need to point out your jealousy.
  • I am (not) sorry that I am more comfortable with my appearance than you are, despite.
  • I am (not) sorry that I'm not what you expected. 

Edenland's Fresh Horses Brigade


  1. People are so judgemental and hurtful - when in fact, you live a much more exciting life than most! Not because of, or inspite of your disability, but because you are ace!
    You are not a Negative Nancy, as a lot of people are, and I love that you live life for you, no matter what people may say or think. These people, as Heath Ledger once said, are without.
    Keep being you, and being awesome....in spite of the horrible people in the world!
    The words in your vid make me shudder...people!

    So many able-bodied, and genetically-typical people are just so smug...until something happens to them. It stuns me that people walk around with such a sense of superiority, when anything can happen to anyone, at anytime and change their life forever.

    People need to be more understanding and accepting....and just decent!

  2. Hi Carly, been a reader of your blog for a little while now and now I think it's time to de-lurk just to say how much I truly admire your amazing attitude and the work that you do to raise awareness on disability issues! It's quite inspiring really.

    You're absolutely right, the people who have a problem with your appearance are just that, they're the ones WITH the problem. Good for you for not letting any of the discouraging comments get you down (that true story that your video's based on is a shocker).

    You're a paragon of self-esteem and that's fantastic. But what's truly great is how you handle all of this with the pain that you go through each day. I had a skin problem not long ago where the skin on my hand kept opening up and was that pain unbearable. But having read your blog I knew that I was being a gigantic wuss! If I thought that was painful what must you go through!

    So you see, hats off to your resilience and the fact that you let none of these things stop you from enjoying life to the full. That's how it should be! So keep it up! You give hope and inspiration to many people. Take care, lots of love, Sharon xx

  3. You look amazing in just about all your photos Carly. It's very rare to find someone who can bloom in front of the camera with that kind of confidence and natural-ness

    1. Thank you so much Lanelle! I agree - it is all in the confidence. I know a very popular fashion blogger who isn't confident posing for photos, which puzzled me.

  4. Hi Carly, I am a new follower of your blog and love it. It's so well written and with such amazing confidence. And...you got to meet Roxette - OMG! What a shame you didn't get to meet them for longer. Good luck with the Best Australian Blogs this year! Can't wait to read more :)


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