Body Positivity & Disabilities: Never Give Up

Body positivity is a really uncomfortable subject. And, trust me, I wrote this story feeling incredibly uncomfortable, from start to end. But I’m motivated by my conviction that it’s a story that needs to be heard.

To start off, let my say that my views on ‘body positivity’ are largely conservative. To me, it’s one of those phrases that make you cringe. It’s stupid to glorify being overweight. I’ve been fat before and I have fought may way back to skinniness (twice) and there is genuinely no excuse for not pushing yourself to lose weight. It’s not that I don’t sympathise with the shame you feel when you’re overweight, because I know how hard it is to look in the mirror and see how many chins I have or my massive belly and man-boobs.


In fact, I still feel that way a lot, even having shed dozens of kilos. I see every ‘flaw’ that I have, every little deposit of leftover from rapid weight loss. And it’s definitely because of the unrealistic standards set by the society I live in that I’ll probably never feel comfortable in my own body.


BUT, I use it to motivate myself. I’m not prepared to accept defeat and give into a delusional idea that my body is perfect the way that it is, and also compromise my own health. Should you feel comfortable in your own skin? Of course. Is it constructive for people to make you feel even more ashamed of your body than you already are? Absolutely not (although I will say that when somebody close to me told me that I look badly overweight, it motivated me more than anything and I’m very thankful for it in retrospect). But it is also absolutely necessary to promote a healthy lifestyle and I think that you should call your friends and family out for neglecting their bodies and growing complacent. However, my fairly unique perspective on body positivity that I feel compelled to share is not my journey with weight loss, it’s about my nightmare.

When I was 10-years-old I suffered a really bad stroke. I spent seven hours in surgery after I was induced into a coma. Obviously it’s incredibly uncommon to occur in a child and even more uncommon was the cause – an Arteriovenous Vascular Malformation (AVM). Nonetheless, I’ve had to live with left-hemiplegia for the majority of my life, which means that every part of the left side of my body doesn’t work at all or has very limited functionality.

A memory that has never left me, after all these years, was in my Grade 5 class, barely a few months after I had my stroke, when one kid called me a cripple and it caught on with all of my classmates. I imagine that the way I feel when I hear that word must be akin to a black person hearing the ‘K-word’ or the ’N-word’ – it cut me deeper than anything ever has, far worse than someone telling me that I’m fat. The word has followed me around for my entire life, just like my shame regarding my disability.

Nonetheless, I worked very hard through physio for a few years, learned how to walk again and retained some mobility in my leg and my left arm. My left hand, however, is a lost cause. I also learned how to get on with my everyday life with Occupational Therapy and am easily able to perform two-handed tasks with one. For example, I can use an Xbox controller with one hand and I’m typing this article with relatively high efficiency. However, the appearance of my left arm and my left hand, which are much smaller than the right, still disgusts me. It genuinely does – and my disability as a whole also makes it harder for me to exercise and build the body that I want.

And I have put so much practice into putting on a brave face, smiling as if it doesn’t affect me emotionally, that I’ve become blind to a lot of the insecurities I have. When people tell me that I look okay; that they don’t even notice my clearly lopsided posture and my effectively spastic hand, I see it as the kind of politeness that’s inherent in us all, the sensitive and compassionate approach that body positivity activists think will make it easier for you to love your body. Outside of the kids I went to school with, who were really just your typical lethal teenagers, I’ve never met anyone that’s above being polite and pretending that I look okay. And, even if people are being sincere when they say that I look okay, it doesn’t help. I will never stop seeing what I see in the mirror. But, it’s not all doom and gloom and this isn’t some sob story…

The last time that I was fat (30kgs/66lbs ago), I decided that diet simply isn’t enough to lose my weight, like it was when I lost 50kgs before that. I put genuine effort into working out and following a strict exercise regime. I used to tell myself that it would be stupid to lift weights and put on muscle because the difference between my left and right side in terms of muscle and tone will be even bigger. It was a fucking cop-out. Excuse my language, but it fucking was. And if you’re an overweight person making similar excuses for not exercising, I bet it’s not as good an excuse as being disabled. It’s childish and you need to stop doing yourself the disservice of making excuses not to exercise regularly. If body positivity is about loving your body then you better damn well look after it.

Excuse the rant, but I’m hoping someone will be reading it that needs to be told this. I don’t want to make light of people with hypothyroidism, for example. However, you cannot give up, and fighting to conquer your own set backs is the best way you could ever love your body.

The transformation of my body is proof that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Since I’ve been working out on a regular basis, I can plainly see how less disabled I’ve become, so to speak. My balance is better, my posture has improved, I can take long hikes with minimal fuss… working out is significantly easier than it has ever been. I couldn’t follow a normal, one-size-fits-all workout plan because of my disability and I’ve had to adapt my exercises. I do push-ups with one hand, lift single dumbbells for bench pressing and abductor exercises and so on. I adapt. And you can do it too. It’s really not that hard – it’s just an emotional barrier that you need to overcome.

Once you stop bullshitting yourself with the narrative of body positivity and being comfortable in your own skin, you’ll be able to do exactly that. I’ve regained a ton of confidence, my health has improved, my moods have gotten better, I have more energy, I sleep better, and I could go on and list countless reasons why my life is better; why the way my shame motivated me and helped me truly feel comfortable with my body.

Of course I don’t condone getting lost in a haunting rabbit-hole of shame. I’m not telling people to go out of their way to insult people about being overweight, or even just doing so in general. What I’m trying to say is that you must not let yourself be fooled by the burgeoning, concept of body positivity that grows ever more popular in our media and culture. Being happy with being unhealthily overweight is senseless. That’s called giving up. From the perspective of a person that fought his way out of a wheelchair, I’m telling you that failure, giving up, cannot be an option. Love your body and never give in. Treat it well, because you’ll never get another one. We all have flaws, and some of them, like my hand, will never go away.

There’s a good chance that I’ll live with insecurities over my disability for the rest of my life, that I will always wonder about how people judge me, how they look at me. I’ll probably always be bothered that women won’t find me attractive because my arm is utterly repulsive. And there’s also a good chance that people genuinely do not care about it. But there’s still an entire other half of my body that I can keep in shape and put to good use.

Work with what you have. Take small steps towards a realistic goal. Motivate yourself. Confess your insecurities to someone close to you and don’t bury them deep down like I did for years on end. Do what you need to do. The only way that you will ever embrace body positivity is to never give up on the vision you have for yourself where you look like a GQ model. Never give up the ghost and, when you’re a few steps closer to that vision, you’ll find yourself loving your body and being comfortable in your own skin.

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Published by Kyle Smith

Kyle is a journalist by qualification that has operated professionally in a number of roles in a wide variety of fields. His interests lie in sports, politics, technology and entertainment. Writing from Cape Town, South Africa, Kyle also engages with locals and visits prominent locations in The Mother City, whilst also taking an interest in current affairs abroad.

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