Within the Feminist and Body Positive Movements, those with disabilities are often marginalized and left feeling alienated or even ostracized. Even though this marginalization is largely unintended, it can still hurt. As someone with both a rare bone disease and autism, I know first-hand how much being underrepresented and overlooked can affect someone's self-image and feeling of personal value. Here are a few easy tips on how to be more inclusive of those with all kinds of disabilities:
Stop Hyperbolizing Your Emotions Using Medical Terminology
As a disabled person, few things irk me more tremendously than people who insist on trivializing the suffering of those with legitimate mental illnesses by using the illnesses as terms to describe times when they're feeling things within the normal range of human emotions.
"I'm so having a panic attack right now, guys."
"OMG, I couldn't get tickets to the show, I'm so depressed."
"I'm so OCD about keeping my floor clean!"
Phrases like these are not only hurtful and belittling, but they can be downright offensive to someone with a disability or mental condition. Cutting out actual medical terminology from the vernacular you use to describe feelings is an absolutely vital step to being more self-aware and inclusive towards those with disabilities.
Don't Think About The Body in Binaries
Fat or thin. Black or white. Female or male. Broken or whole. Beautiful or ugly. The human body comes in infinite variation, yet we always seem to want to label it in very binary ways. This can be damaging to people not only with disabilities, but in general. This sort of thinking encourages people to try to fit neatly into socially-constructed categories that just don't satisfy everyone. Changing your way of thinking to include more shades of grey is beneficial to disabled people because it can change your beauty standards. Those with disabilities can often feel like they don't fit into society's definition of what it means to be "beautiful", and that whether or not they're considered beautiful somehow affects their intrinsic value as people. Reimagining societal beauty standards to be more inclusive of disabled people is something that we all have to make a conscious effort to make a priority, or else we risk further marginalizing those with disabilities.
Promote Intersectional Body Positivity and Feminism Always
Intersectionalism is all about being inclusive. It's about recognizing your privilege within the feminist and body positive movements, thereby recognizing people without those privileges and giving validity to their unique struggles. There are some seriously underrepresented and marginalized groups within the feminist and body positive movements, one of them being those with disabilities.
Share positive images across social media including photos or art of members of underrepresented groups, like those with disabilities. To someone with a disability, seeing artwork or imagery of others with disabilities can make them feel less alienated. My right wrist is fused; it has a 9" metal plate in it and will never bend again, and I have a huge scar where they had to crush my hand, wrist and arm bones to fuse them and insert the hardware. I can be very self-conscious about my immobile wrist and huge scar. Seeing other people with physical disabilities represented within body positive and feminist circles makes me feel better about mine; it makes me feel like people recognize the unique beauty to be found in those with disabilities, and like I'm not alone.
Social media is a powerful tool that we can use in all kinds of ways to combat the marginalization of oppressed/underrepresented groups within feminist and body positive circles. Sharing positive imagery of those with disabilities can help disabled people to feel more included and less alienated. Restructuring your beauty standards to be more inclusive of non-binary bodies also helps, and using medical terminology relating to those with disabilities as descriptors for everyday feelings is a trend that needs to stop now. Being more inclusive of those with disabilities is essential to the health of the Body Positive Movement and feminism in general; there's beauty and validity in the voices of all those who are currently marginalized and repressed by these groups. We have a social obligation to do all we can to ensure that those voices are finally heard.