“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.” – Proverbs 31:25
When I was in the seventh grade, our school published a newspaper. One of the features in it was a column highlighting things that were considered trendy or “in” and things that were not trendy or “out”. I remember some of the trendy things in 1995 being backpack purses, baby tees, knee high socks/stockings, platform sneakers, “The Rachel” haircut, and all things Sanrio.
I also remember a few things that were “out” like hand-me-down clothes, high-waisted pants (It was all about the hip huggers.), hair scrunchies, and wearing glasses (Why?!). The one item on the list I remember most distinctly was leg warmers. It was so not cool to wear them! I remember feeling like it was a personal attack on my sense of style, because I was the only person in my school who wore them. I laughed with my friends about the absurd article, it was such an obvious tactic to bully the “uncool” kids, but deep down it hurt.
Clothes have always been a source of contention for me. I was born with a disability called Spina Bifida. It affects my mobility and I am able to walk using orthotics or leg braces. When I was a teenager I was embarrassed to wear them, and so I would usually wear pants or jeans. Yet, when the occasion required a dress or skirt, I would bunch a pair of leg warmers over my braces, almost like knee highs but, apparently not, since those were considered “in”. Clothes never fit right. Pants are perpetually too long, shirts are always too narrow in the shoulder or waist. When I use my wheelchair, if clothes don’t fit, they hang over my wheels and always get dirty. (Wearing white is impossible!) Needless to say, being a teenager without much stylistic freedom was a real esteem-killer. I had to come up with some creative ways to express my individuality, while having a very narrow selection to choose from.
In 2010, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Disabled Divaz” fashion show held by the Aurora Foundation. The event was created to raise awareness to the fact that people with disabilities, especially young women, don’t have access to the same clothing options as the rest of the population. It’s an issue of exclusion and lack of awareness perpetuated by impossible beauty standards that the so-called “industry” has set forth. Having worked in disability advocacy for a number of years I have seen the esteem issues that many people deal with. There are a few “disability” clothing companies, but the clothing is not very attractive and usually more expensive than your average department store finds.
Lack of access to affordable, fashionable clothing is, in my opinion, just as important has having access to employment and healthcare. When you look good you feel good, and therefore are more likely to go after the job you want and take care of yourself by going to the doctor, etc. This special event gave young women the opportunity to work with a designer, creating a signature look to fit them and reflect their personal style, in spite of their limitations. My designer created a beautiful, green dress that I could wear at my wedding reception. The event was a fundraiser for the foundation and a competition for the designers. My designer actually won! I was so proud to be a part of something that changed the community’s attitude toward people with disabilities.
I had a life-changing experience when I turned sixteen. That is the year I committed my life to Christ. I suddenly had someone who knew me and loved me exactly as I am! I still struggle with my self-esteem, but I know that I don’t have to worry about what I wear. I also know that the people who know Him and know me, love me regardless of what I’m wearing. As an adult, it mostly comes down to what’s comfortable and doesn’t wrinkle in the dryer! “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life–whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? –Matthew 6:25
Recently, I read an article that said Tommy Hilfiger has modified his clothing line for children, so that those with disabilities have the option to wear the same clothes. This is an exciting step in the right direction and I hope that other designers will recognize the importance of having access to fashionable, functional, clothing choices. In the meantime, I might just find me a pair of leg warmers to sport, because dress season is right around the corner!