​Paralysis And Body Image: How To Feel Good About The Body You Live In

Posted by Lauren Presutti in Life After Paralysis on May 09, 2022 # Lifestyle

Scrabble pieces Disability subjects are massively underrepresented in the mental health field, and conversations about body image rarely include the population of people with physical disabilities. As a wheelchair-using mental health therapist, I don’t understand why there isn’t more research and attention on how people with physical impairments can feel good about their bodies. If you struggle with body image, I want you to know that I see you, and I hear you. Spinal cord injuries are extremely traumatic to both the body and mind, and it’s understandable that you might struggle to feel confident with your body given the new ways that it will function after injury. Please be gentle with yourself, normalize your feelings, and remember that you are not alone.

There is no single answer to improving body image whether a person has a “disabled body” or not. But the following strategies might be helpful to explore. Think about what else you might add to this list, and don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist in your city if you need support.

Deconstruct the word “disability.” Where does that word even come from? Because when we look at the entirety of humans, we see that bodies are made up of all kinds of sizes, shapes, skin colors, ability levels, and more. But due to oppression and the quest for power, some people with “normal” ability levels decided that people with lower ability levels would be called “disabled people.” When people decide something like that, it means they are socially constructing something (just like “race” is socially constructed and distinctly different from skin color). That social construction of “disability” is distinctly different from a person’s body difference. Consider how body difference is an incredibly wide spectrum that is made up of all different ability levels. If one person is an Olympic swimmer and another person can’t swim, it doesn’t mean the person who can’t swim has a disability. If one weightlifter can lift 300 pounds and another one can only lift 100 pounds, it doesn’t mean the weaker person has a disability. If one person is tall enough to reach the top shelf and a shorter person can’t reach it, it doesn’t mean the shorter person has a disability. Remember that all bodies are different in their own unique ways. “Disability” is a flawed way to categorize body ability levels, and you aren’t defined by it.

Look at yourself as a whole person. I believe the human body is one of the least interesting things about a person. The body is merely a vehicle to carry ourselves. What makes us who we are is much more defined by our personality, interests, integrity, kindness, honesty, creativity, sense of humor, ability to be a good friend, our motivations, desires, dreams, our values, core beliefs, and everything else that makes up our personhood.

Shut down negative inner thoughts about your body not being “right.” There is no such thing as a right or wrong body. That is a complete fallacy. It’s okay to acknowledge that you are grieving the loss of abilities or experiencing sadness related to your paralysis, but having paralysis does not mean that you now have a “wrong” body. Your body functions differently now, but it’s still a body that deserves love, acceptance, and gratitude.

Celebrate your body’s resiliency. Even when faced with an incredibly traumatic injury, your body survived. Your body fought back. Your body carried your soul to the hospital and went through serious treatment. Your body survived through all the pain. Because of your body’s resiliency, you are still here and fully capable of living an extraordinary life. That’s absolutely worth celebrating.

Think critically about social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that imply messages about “ideal bodies” because these are unrealistic and only lead to negativity. Protest these messages: write a response to the original poster about the negative consequences of spreading media that teaches people to dislike their bodies or simply “talk back” to the image or message in your own mind. You may also want to journal about these feelings.

Wear clothes that make you feel good. Although it’s unhealthy to focus obsessively on your appearance, it’s okay to acknowledge that certain types of clothing make you feel better than others. Go through your closet and try on different things that you haven’t worn in a while. If you don’t feel confident in something, it’s okay to donate it. For the items that you love, notice what you like about them and see if you can keep an eye out for similar items when shopping.

To learn about River Oaks Psychology, visit www.riveroakspsychology.com and follow River Oaks Psychology on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.