About the Author: Emily is a disabled blogger from Manchester. Her page focuses on beauty and fashion as well as disability activism and lifestyle. She works to increase disability awareness and represent disabled people in fashion and beauty. You can find her on Instagram here and you can check out her blog here!
The sexuality of disabled people is a complicated topic. It is often the view of non-disabled people that disabled people do not have as much sexual autonomy as they do. Being viewed this way is as a result of the continued infantilisation of disabled people, particularly young disabled women.
This perceived lack of sexual autonomy likely stems from the lack of autonomy disabled people face in other spheres of our lives: I try not to think about how many times I have touched without my consent, be it in outside settings or medical settings, but I cannot deny how much it has affected my relationship with my bodily autonomy. It often feels like it is difficult to make people see me as an adult who is capable of making her own decisions due to this combination of ableism and misogyny.
Such is why I have found a solace in creating my own image. My interest in fashion and beauty comes from a desire to influence how other people view me and to overcome whatever stereotypes people may assign to me as a disabled woman. If people are going to look at me, ogle me, then maybe I have some power over what people see when they look at me.
Discussing this lack of autonomy and the idea of controlling one’s image in the context of sexuality brings me to the topic of lingerie. Lingerie allows me to almost force people to see me as an adult woman, affirm my relationship with my sexuality and body, but most importantly I feel beautiful in it, and that gives me a real confidence boost.
My love for lingerie also comes from this idea of creating your own image. I loved the glamour and fantasy of old-world pin ups like Bettie Page and the idea of creating yourself into something worthy of iconography. More contemporarily, I looked at the confidence and beauty of models in these glamourous campaigns, and dreamed it could be something that I could emulate, and when I put on the perfect set I feel like I get a little closer to that.
However, I cannot help but think about my experiences in lingerie stores or departments and how this often far from the glitz of these advertisements. It is often very small things. For example, when I am browsing whilst using my wheelchair or crutches, it is often difficult to catch the shop assistant to ask for something like finding a matching knicker to a bra. When I am more assertive, it often feels like they are surprised that I would want these pieces (particularly when they are something other than plain t shirt bras), or that I am even in the store at all.
This feeling of not belonging is then often compounded by the shop itself: I have never gone into a lingerie store and seen anyone who looks like me, either on the packaging of products or on the glossy displays on the walls. Then there is the issue of the products themselves- how am I supposed to feel beautiful in a garter belt I cannot even fasten or a bra that irritates me when using my wheelchair?
It is only ever in the online space where I feel as though I have been seen as someone capable of having a physical relationship or expressing my sexuality, because I am able to find like-minded individuals with whom I am able to have these conversations frankly and openly. The more we have these conversations in the open, the more progress we can make, as more people begin to understand the relationship between disabled people and intimacy.
Naturally, this problem is not going to be solved is not going to be solved with some satin and lace, however, more disabled people embracing their bodies and sexualities, even in small ways could do a lot to destigmatize disabled sexuality and all that comes with that. As companies like Liberare grow, and more disabled people are visible in this space, an awful lot could be achieved in changing the minds of those outside the community.