An Open Letter to Body Beautiful Me and You

by Presley Nassise

I am supposed to be writing about being beautiful, cute, fun, and sexy as a disabled person. But unfortunately I don’t feel so beautiful right now. I feel broken, vulnerable and not myself. I think it is hard to talk about inner and outer beauty when you don’t feel it. However these feelings are raw and honest. Disability may not always be pretty, but each and every disabled person is beautiful. So in times like these, when my beauty does not shine outwardly, I look for my inner beauty to shine through.

Writing this, disability has not been pretty at all. It has been needles and tests and hospitals. Disability may not always be pretty, but it will always be inherently beautiful. Today the beauty came from my strength. Wiping away a tear, smiling at someone in the cafeteria, my head slowly nodding along with the piano player in the grand hall of the hospital – these things are all beautiful. In conjunction, there is also beauty in the scary or dirty parts of disability and illness.

I’ve just come home from the hospital. On my couch, surrounded by blankets, I bandage my most recent IV site. I now have ten of them, pricked and bruised on both of my elbow folds, up one arm and down the other. Under my jeans, my calves and thighs are black and blue with bruises. My eyes are sunken, under eye hollow. My curly hair is tangled and matted because of the seizures I had earlier in the day.

Hello, body. Hello, beautiful.

Hello, Body. Your fragile ache is a familiar pain, I’ve been thinking of you. I’ve thought of all you have been able to accomplish. I’m proud of you. Each and every particle of your being is putting in its full effort to keep you going. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? How each and every cell came together in harmony and now you’re you. If every particle of you is doing it’s very best, then you must also be. Remember that your best is enough. Take in a deep breath, Body, and look around. You will encounter so many other bodies, they will look different, but they will be working just as hard as you.

Hello, Beautiful. I’m sure you look lovely today. I heard that someone told you ‘you’re too pretty to be disabled’ – clearly they are wrong, seeing as you are disabled and more beautiful than ever. All around us disabled women are reminded that either we do not exist, or we are not beautiful. I turn on the TV and see advert after advert, and I don’t see anyone with mobility aids. I don’t see disabled people. Certainly not disabled women. For whatever reason, disability has become taboo and dirty. I’m here in lingerie and a wheelchair to tell you that disability is not taboo and it isn’t dirty. Disability can look just like you.

That’s me in the wheelchair. To be quite honest, I rigged up the backdrop in my backyard. Living with a disability often involves compromise, but thus far I’ve never had to quit. Not everything is perfect with my photography, and I’m certainly not a model but I am perfectly me. Perfect as Presley.

When I was younger and had just begun to be sick, I hated my body. I felt it was failing me. I resented how I looked. It took me many years to realise that I am spectacularly beautiful, not in spite of my disability but with my disability. Quite frankly, it is my disability that has shaped me into the person I am. At one point in my life it would have been a lot harder for me to say that I am perfect or beautiful; I would have cited my wheelchair as my first imperfection. I would think that a wheelchair doesn’t belong in a pretty picture. That’s where I was wrong; my wheelchair, acting as an extension of my body, completes the picture.

I create photographs for young women who are like my younger self. Young women who, after coming into the world as a disabled person, have to learn to accept themselves first. The world may follow after. My photography is for women blossoming into adulthood and sexuality. You are terrifically beautiful and you are a sexual being. Your disability doesn’t take that away. Don’t let anyone or anything take a part of you away. The photo I took of myself is for abled and disabled women, young and old. They are for the girls in wheelchairs who, just like me, never see themselves represented.

I want to portray images for other disabled women that I often find missing. I want to show that a disabled woman can be beautiful, creative, strong, and bright. Disabled women can wear lingerie, disabled women can wear whatever they like and will look spectacular. Disabled women can do absolutely anything they want, they can and should accomplish their dreams, and they will look beautiful doing it.