#DisabledBeauties on Instagram: Beauty as a Tool for Activism

Access the podcast version of this article here https://soundcloud.com/sensory-activism

I’m not sure how I stumbled across the profile and # but as a disability rights activist and a feminist, it caught my attention when I bumped into #DisabledBeauties on Instagram. At first, I thought it to be a healthy dose of self-love and recognition yet it really made me think…

In fact, there are numerous profiles and #s based on the same idea: #DisabledBeauty and #DisabledCuties, as well as a number of profiles only slightly different. Other #s used in combination with these are: #DisabilityAwareness, #DisabilityPride and #AbilityNotDisability.

The women using the # in their pictures tag the profile in order to get published on its profile. Going through different similar profiles, there are slight differences: some pictures are more like photoshoots whilst others seem to be part of the women’s daily life (dressing up for a fancy dinner), in some profiles there are motivational quotes and some mention the type of disability.

#DisabledBeauties caught my attention because, on the one hand, the women using it are trying to challenge the idea of disability. There has been a long-standing idea that people living with disability, and in particular women, are ‘unable’, ‘crippled’, do not fall within normative beauty standards and are asexual. Thus, by using images on Instagram they are challenging these ideas.

On the other hand, by challenging the idea of disability and what it means for one’s body to be disabled, by reinforcing their femininity, ‘womanhood’ and cuteness, their strategy is to adhere and to, in a sense, maintain a certain standard of beauty. In other words, their strategy for social inclusion and showing that ‘they are normal’ and ‘fit in’ is adhering the normative standard of beauty.

Examples of photos that are part of #DisabledBeauties

In most cases the disability is shown in the picture, such as a wheel chair. Yet, the women are sitting elegantly and cutely in it instead of raising awareness of the difficulties they must go through on a daily basis. There are no awkward positions or body parts. Most women probably will have needed help to get in the position they are in. To my understanding that is completely fine but it does make me think that there is work still to be done in that area – normalizing the awkwardness of bodies, all bodies, on social media. This might be particularly the case with women who live in bodies labelled disabled.

This makes me think of how the visibility of the disability must affect who does and who does not participate in the #. Could it be that when your disability is more visible, you suffer more discrimination and difficulties because it is for everyone to see and stare? In this sense, medicalization and diagnosis interplay with how and if women decide to engage with the #. Looking at the pictures, it seems as if the disability has to be beautiful and that deformations or scars, if present, are only moderate. If not, it would definitely not fit into the standard notion of beauty. This also excludes women whose disability is invisible such as mental issues, learning difficulties, chronic illness or even deafness. There are no blind or partially sighted women either.

Nevertheless, I do not want to criticise women who are active in these profiles and #s!! It is still such an important and even taboo topic. I do not want to come across as too critical.. it just makes me think and I am here sharing me views with my readers.

Examples of photos that are part of #DisabledBeauties

When I think of my own case, I do not like my awkward squinting face when I am trying to focus, I cringe for myself whenever I see a picture of me looking at the computer, phone or paper from 3cms away and in work video calls I sit far away from the screen even though if I do, I cannot see the person I’m talking to (otherwise they would just see my forehead because I would be so near the screen).

I find these women’s positive way of doing activism to be uplifting, fresh and fruitful in highlighting the normalcy of their bodies. I simply get a bit sceptical that they have to emphasize their beauty instead of their achievements despite living in a body that society names ‘disabled’.

Yet above all, I have to reflect on why this campaign exists – for women to feel good about themselves in such harsh environments? To educate and raise awareness? I personally have no desire to participate. I am unsure if that is because my disability is pretty invisible or because I have adapted and integrated a very ‘normal’ way of behaving in society and I am very good at hiding the fact that I don’t see so well. No matter what I might think or consider though, the women using the # use body image, which is still so important in today’s society, as a source of activism and social integration. They use their bodies to emphasize learnt female behaviour regarding beauty (which most people can relate to and which is shared among many) to say things about the aspects of their bodies that are different and not so normative.

I am very curious about your opinions, what do my readers think about this topic and my reflections?

Thank you so much for reading and see you at the comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *