I am woman hear me roar…

Posted by Elizabeth Forst in Life After Paralysis on February 24, 2017 # Health

Being a woman with a spinal cord injury provokes interesting challenges that men, who have a similar injury, may not consider. Many women, injured or not, enjoy wearing makeup, earrings, and jewelry– it often defines us and helps attract the opposite sex. My mom used to say to me as a budding teenager "never leave the house without your face on", which says you have pride in your looks as you interact with the outside world. I followed this mantra through my 20s and 30s and therefore rarely left the house without looking presentable, even if it meant running to an exam, the grocery store for dinner ingredients or to social gatherings. Makeup and jewelry made me feel accomplished and ready to start the day, similar to changing out of your pajamas into a nice pair of clothing to present yourself in a respectable manner to the outside world.

Before my injury, I loved wearing interesting jewelry and I had quite a collection. When I traveled internationally, I took great pleasure in scouring small, off the grid jewelry stores for unusual pieces that I would treasure as part of my feminine repertoire. Similar to a stamp on a passport, interesting pieces of jewelry were like collector’s items, and when worn back stateside would remind me of my international travels and quests for attention-grabbing, unique jewelry. The night I was injured in a pool diving accident, I was wearing such jewelry, as I had just returned from Thailand and Bali, where unusual jewelry was unbelievably unique per the artistry of many men and women in those countries.

I'll never forget that fateful night, the male nurse in the emergency room taking off my Thailand–inspired silver bangles, colorfully–beaded Balinese necklaces, labradorite and amber rings and even a sterling silver nose ring asking me where else I had jewelry on my body – chuckling to me and his emergency room colleagues as he held a whole bag of my interesting little pieces. I remember sadly feeling robbed of my identity, even in my emergency status state. As my reality sunk in, how was I ever to be me again?

Becoming a quadriplegic, I lost the ability to use my hands for finite dexterity, therefore losing the ability to apply makeup and earrings. I feared my femininity was severely diminished. Seemingly insignificant to some, the ability to present oneself as similar as possible to pre– injury is a huge goal of many women who want to maintain their physical appearance and personality through the representation of their jewelry and makeup. When so much is taken away in an instant, specifically physical mobility and self-care independence, regaining this routine, with the help of caregivers, is paramount in redefining oneself post – injury.

I went through almost a year, during my intense rehabilitation time, not engaging in any feminine practices that I treasured. I found myself wearing zero makeup, forgetting about my beautiful, worldly treasures, wearing baggy sweatpants ultimately never feeling like I was put together or "me" anymore. It was a disrobing of my character.

To my delight last Christmas, I found under the tree a gift, from my sister-in-law Carolyn, that contained beautiful flash tattoos that could double as jewelry and did not leave marks on my skin. Skin sores/breakdowns are a huge issue for the paralyzed community and so what a treat to discover an alternative form of wearing jewelry and being feminine without the worry of skin breakdown. She had discovered them in a small jewelry shop in Charleston, South Carolina – a company called Lulu dk –whose offerings include household decor, stunning jewelry, fashionable scarves and gorgeous metallic silver and gold flash tattoos that, when placed on the skin, last 3 to 4 weeks even with daily showers. These stunning tattoos are not junkie by any means, they are beautifully artistically created and of utmost quality. They are feminine, gorgeous and eye-catching, as I have received umpteen complements from my female friends and colleagues, injured or not.

Little did Carolyn know how incredibly important this gift discovery has meant, for it is helped me find my female self again and have pride in my feminine presentation to the outside world even now as a dependent quadriplegic. Lulu dk was quite the find, for they have unknowingly helped me discover a new way to be a pretty woman once again.

Keep on keeping on,

EB