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Beauty and the Self-Concept: Perceptions of Beauty for the Disabled

How we figure out who we are is based on the feedback we get from other significant people in our lives, or reflective appraisal, It is something we all do especially when it comes to our personal beauty. For me, being disabled, with and without the wheelchair, I often have eyes on me.
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How we figure out who we are is based on the feedback we get from other significant people in our lives, or reflective appraisal.It is something we all do especially when it comes to our personal beauty.

For me, being disabled, with and without the wheelchair, I often have eyes on me.

A few years ago, I had a blind date. This was before I required the use of my wheelchair. I've always been very up front about my disability because I know how startling it can be for people who don't know me and are unfamiliar with FSHD Muscular Dystrophy.

When I was walking, I had a pretty significant curve to my back. When I stood and walked, it was quite shocking for people to see, and for those whom I've never met, the image you draw in your mind when you describe a disability is quite difficult to envision and usually always more overwhelming to deal with in person.

When my blind date and I first met, I was already sitting. About ten minutes into the date, I stood up and went into another room. After I returned a few minutes later, my date got up, mumbling something about not being able to handle the severity of my back and just had to leave. He didn't walk, but he ran for the door. I never heard from him again. It's not the first time, nor the last that this reaction has happened.

This was quite a blow to my self-esteem. I felt unattractive, undesirable and I decided to refuse blind dating. Lucky for me that now I am in an amazing relationship with a good-hearted man who isn't afraid of my difference's, but rather embraces them.

The reason I tend to be blunt about my disability has a lot to do with the re-occurrence of the reaction I tend to draw like from my blind date. This constantly molds my self-concept which seems to be a delicate line.

My self-monitoring, how I act around others, is constantly being morphed. It's part of why I stood up and left the room at the beginning of the date: to test his reaction.

And when this blind date took place, or the result of, my self-monitoring altered again. I started to move around less, to avoid actions or motions that were more prone to draw attention. It also affected my self-disclosure, how much information about myself I put out to others. I became more verbally descriptive of my disability in response from my internalization.

My blind date also gives me a glimpse of how I do social comparisons or how I would compare myself to others. Being disabled, it's easy to upwardly rate myself against able-bodied people as a reference group. If I took my self-concept of being disabled and created a cons list of what I would have if I were healthy, it would destroy my self-esteem.

Downing yourself with what you don't or can't have -- be it health, wealth, love, etc. -- can do irrevocable damage. It can cause depression, anti-social behavior and can sometimes lead to suicide; however, social comparisons can also do good, even in hardship.

I look at my MD and what I do have. When I compare myself downwardly to others that have MD or other afflictions, it may sound bad, but I can more easily see the advantages I do have that I can strive with.

I still do everything most other people do, maybe a little differently, and it might take longer, and from a wheelchair now, but at least I'm not completely dependent on others for all of my everyday needs. This is very boosting to my self-esteem.

To know, and do all I can. To prove not to others, but to myself, that I can and to go beyond my own expectations building my self-concept, my identity, and my self-worth.

I also find it interesting how the roles of my "real" self and "ideal" self seem to switch. When we talk about my appearance, it's me who tries to put out my "real" self and that others will overlay me with an "ideal" me.

This tends to happen when I've talked to, but not yet met someone new. You can see this with the reaction of my blind date. I described to him my physique, and he had a more ideal image of what I looked like. Seeing that conflict, he obviously wasn't ready for the "real" me concluding the date with a less than chivalrous exit.

Culture plays a big part here, not just for my own self-concept, but overall on our countries cultural adaptation of acceptable beauty. We are obsessively bombarded with how we should perceive beauty.

Idealistic, unobtainable body images, and guilt for not meeting said standards -- it's impossible for even the most healthy of people to reach these goals, hence retouching, C.G.I. and special effects to meet body beauty quotas.

The beauty industry takes a lot of the blame for their unrealistic standards of beauty. But it is us ourselves that set and enforce this myth of the perfect look or body image, or the requirements to be seen as pretty if you will, by our own doing.

Media, movies, magazines and the companies with the products you must buy to at least try to reach the imaginary recipe of beauty are the only benefactors of this obsession. And no one seems to pay mind to the extent of damage we all do to each other by our own judgments of others, and no one seems to have even considered the extreme ramifications of being held to those same beauty standards for someone who is physically different due to a disability or an injury.

Now, when someone is disabled, or otherwise different, they are placed into the unattractive and undesirable category either consciously or unconsciously directly based on our cultural conformity of acceptable physical attributes. Constant judgments and expectations of beauty can alter self-concepts leading to eating disorders, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, and suicide for anyone able-bodied or differently configured alike.

There is an upside.

Our culture is beginning to recognize it's own unrealistic image of beauty and it's devastation it's reeked. There's been more effort put forth to improve all with body issues to embrace what's theirs. Empowering people to feel comfortable in their own skin, to take the concept of beauty and expand it's definition to all shapes and colors, to positively re-shape self-concepts. Maybe one day the standards for physical beauty will cease to exist and be replaced by the ideal concept of the beautiful character.