I'm Zoë and I have Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome a genetic disorder, various comorbidities and ME/CFS, which remained mainly undiagnosed until I was 19. For about 3 years in my mid teens I became very sick and I spent my life between my bed, the children's hospital and school when I could manage it. I hid my body under a uniform of fluffy socks, leggings and a hoodie. On the worst days I often couldn't dress myself, brush my own teeth or shower, at one point I was sleeping for anything from 18 to 20 hours a day. My faith in my body was shattered, Hundreds of humiliating, dehumanising medical procedures made me distant from my 'meat suit', I read hundreds of fashion magazines in waiting rooms but never saw my body represented.
The person I saw in the mirror didn't look like me anymore. Puberty and illness had changed my body into something I didn't recognise, and I didn't know how to exist in harmony with the body I have. I didn't see myself represented in the media. It's only really in the last 5 years or so I've really noticed a rise in disabled bodies in the beauty industry, and media as a whole. There wasn't anyone saying 'it's okay to look like you'. Jillian Macardo the model and Samantha Renke (writer and star of the Malteasers advert) were the first disabled people I saw reperesented in mainstream media in a way that wasnt pitying, abelist or inspiration porn. The first male I ever saw in a mainstream advert was the sportsman in the Guinness advert. Seeing other disabled people out living their lives and being successful taught me it was okay to be who I am, while school and wider society told me I was incapable of achieving my dreams, and wouldn't I rather set my sights a bit lower. I first came across the body positivity movement a couple of years ago and it was an absolute game changer. It taught me it was okay to be myself, that my twisted body was nothing to be ashamed about. That it was worthy and that I could achieve my dreams. I used to hide my legs under long floaty trousers because I hated how they were bent at angles they shouldn't be. Last summer I wore short shorts and showed off my legs because I wasn't afraid of people's reactions (I don't think anyone actually noticed, or at least they didn't say anything) the hurdle was my own self esteem. The bopo slogan 'all bodies are good bodies' really helped me to reclaim my own. Different doesn't mean ugly. Scars are nothing to be ashamed about. Societies beauty standards are narrow and harmful, and the beauty industry promotes a toxic ideal that is purposefully unattainable. It's okay just to be who you are, and that is enough