It is January of 2010 and I am sitting in front of my ocular plastic surgeon wearing my painted scleral shell for the very first time. I have still not figured out how I feel about my newly minted matching eyeballed self, and suddenly he says: ‘
“You look amazing! With some botox to stop you from squinting, thinner lenses in your glasses and some contacts you’ll be all spic and span for law school!” and I sink. He tells me I look “grouchy” when I squint and that it isn’t attractive. He tells me my glasses are too clunky and that I’ll look so much better with thinner lenses! He wants to help me find a husband, too.
I don’t know what to say in this situation. How do I tell him I’m happy with my face the way it is, and why, when he tells me he’ll do the first shot of botox for free, do I not start screaming at him?
Without really asking, he sends me down to the office which provides clients with contacts (after being disappointed that I won’t let him stick a needle in my forehead) and the contacts lady repeats the same words that I have always known I would hear: Your eyes really can’t manage contacts for a full day. I thank her and I leave.
For Lillian Cohen Moore her story goes like this:
“So, to share my moment related to disability and bullshit beauty standards: when I was 14 and asking my family’s doctor about my persistent issues with mobility and pain, she told me that if I did not commit to daily multihour physical therapy for my ankles and knees “You’ll be in leg braces by the time you’re sixteen. Big, bulky braces that you have to screw around your legs and strap on. Do you really think boys are going to come near you? You can’t hide braces like that. Wearing a skirt isn’t going to help.”
Moral of the Story: At 14 I was being told I would be ugly and undesirable if I wore an apparatus designed to give me mobility. For bonus points she made a heteronormative assumption, but I sure as Hell wasn’t going to tell her I was bisexual after that.”
I’ve been told that wearing my shell will normalize me. I’ve been told that my normal shell will make my pretty appearance even better – but why does it matter? Why can’t my cataract be pretty? Why can’t someone with braces on her legs be attractive?
It is experiences like this that are the reason why the Dove campaign for beauty caused me frustration and rage. Because while Debenhams has set up a campaign of (granted, traditionally beautiful) women with disabilities and nontraditional body types, Dove is continuing to reinforce the idea that what is pretty is a white woman with a normal body. The fact that they don’t feel pretty doesn’t really matter to me. These women probably wouldn’t think I was pretty if they had to describe me, or another person with a disability. What if they’d had to describe a woman without an arm, would they have simply left it out as a matter of feeling uncomfortable?
Why are we told that nobody will want us if we are who we are? Why was Lily’s doctor using boys and attractiveness as a carrot for her health? Why was my doctor telling me I’d be better at my job if I didn’t squint?
When I first met my husband, we were walking past his office with my cane in my left hand (bad form, but I hear better out of my right ear) and his hand in my right. Later that day, he told me that one of his co-workers complimented him on his volunteering work with the blind. Because that couldn’t possibly be his girlfriend. No matter how pretty she is, it has to be for charity.
I have been told that I’m pretty despite my eye, I have been told that I am prettier with my painted shell in, I have been told that it is impossible for a person with a disability to be as pretty as I am. Like that’s a reason to not have a disability. I have been told by schoolmates that for prom I shouldn’t wear a strapless dress because my surgery scar was icky and then it would show.
Every time I think about that doctor, I am filled with rage, because I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have a way to say to him “I’m actually quite happy with the way I look in the mirror” I am also filled with sadness, though because I cannot imagine what it would be like to interact with him if I didn’t know who I was and have comfort in that.
Because the truth is, when I look into the mirror and see two matching eyes staring back at me, I don’t know who that woman is. I know who the woman with the cataract is, and she’s a fighter. Maybe it took me longer to love the way I look, maybe my dreams for a matching eye were fulfilled. But they were met too late, they were met after I learned to grab my self esteem and clutch it to my chest.
Edit for Clarity: I do wear a scleral shell every day. It just happens to be clear instead of painted to match my other eye!