A Strange Reaction

by Kayla Whaley

I’ve been trying to take more selfies recently. I haven’t actually done a great job of it, but I’ve improved some. When I take them, it’s a production. I spend a lot of time on my makeup. I spend at least double that taking shots from a bunch of different angles with various lighting. It’s a long, painful process. But I’ve done it a handful of times recently, and that’s good. What’s more, I’ve been posting them almost every time I take them.

The picture in question.
The picture in question.

Last week I had my picture taken professionally for the first time. Isadora Pennington was lovely enough to meet me and get some headshots. I figured it was time to have something other than a crappy camera phone selfie plastered all over the internet.

It was an awesome experience. She told me where to go, how to pose, how much to smile, all of which helped me feel so comfortable. And she took some amazing pictures. Seriously.

So, I posted them, and I made one my profile pic as planned. Everyone complimented them, which I appreciated. And that was that.

Except it wasn’t.

Not unlike a lot of people (girls especially), I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my appearance. Mostly, it was a negative one. It got worse as I got older. I did the typical avoiding the mirror while I brushed my teeth thing. I wore long sleeves even in the middle of summer because I hated my arms. In class, I sat with my chin in my hands, strategically pushing the skin backward to try to slim down my face. I hated being in pictures.

None of this makes me special or unique, which is a tragedy in its own right.

But it’s important, because it’s the reason I’ve been trying to take more selfies. It’s why the process of taking selfies is painful. I have to scroll through (and delete) a LOT of pictures that accentuate what I think of as flaws. It reminds me that while I’ve worked so hard to love my appearance, it’s still a challenge.

Because of my disability, it’s also logistically difficult for me to take selfies. I can’t really lift my arms up, so I have to do a lot of finagling to get the phone in position, and then it’s hard to push the button. Because of that, it can be physically painful as well. But another result of that difficulty is that all my selfies are close-ups. My face and maybe my shoulders are included. That’s it.

I keep startling myself when I see my new profile pic. That happens whenever you change your picture though. You’re used to seeing specific colors, shapes, whatever, and it takes time to get used to the new.

This isn’t that.

My photographer took a lot of pictures, all from a distance. Which makes sense. Most professional headshots are really upper body shots. It looks weird for your face to take up the entire screen.

But that means my wheelchair is visible. Clearly visible. And it keeps startling me.

There’s not actually a thesis here. There’s no conclusion I’m going to draw. I just wanted to work through why I keep feeling this tightness in my stomach when I see my new picture. It’s the chair. You can see my chair. That’s what’s throwing me, and it throws me that it throws me.

I don’t think I was taking selfies in a way that consciously hid my chair. It was just a side effect of my limited range of motion. But it was a nice side effect.

I think it’s bullshit (and suuuuper offensive) when people say crap like, “Oh, I don’t even see your chair!” or “I don’t think of you as disabled!” or whatever else. No. I am clearly visibly disabled and that’s cool. Erasing that is erasing a huge part of who I am.

What does it mean that I’ve been doing it to myself, even if unintentionally, in my selfies? Selfies that I take in part to control how the world sees me, to present myself in the most attractive light. What does it mean that it never occurred to me to even try taking a picture where you can see my chair?

What does it mean that I am strongly uncomfortable whenever I see that new tiny icon?

I mean, probably the answer is that I continue to have a complicated relationship with my body, and that I’ve still got a fair bit of internalized ableism to work through. And I guess writing this is one way to start working through it.

I’m going to keep the picture for now. Because I do love it. I look great in it! And maybe forcing myself to confront that discomfort will help.

2 thoughts on “A Strange Reaction

  1. Pingback: A Strange Reaction by Kayla Whaley | Disability Visibility Project

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