If you know me personally, you probably know that I’m quite the fashionista. In fact, for most of my childhood, I dreamt of becoming a fashion designer… and although I ended up majoring in economics in undergrad and have ambitions of becoming a lawyer one day, I hope to weave the fashion industry into my career/life, somehow.
Yes, many women have at least some interest in fashion and clothes and have some conflicts with those topics due to the sickening body-image shaming in the media (cough cough, Trump). But, I have a slightly different story. Fashion has been my security blanket. A security blanket that could somehow mask my cerebral palsy… or at least making CP not the first thing people see when they look at me… to reach some level of “normalcy.” I wanted people to see my clothes before they looked at my wheelchair. Excuse my narcissism, but I lived for people to compliment my outfits. For a moment, it let me have a sense of confidence that wasn’t found anywhere else. Endorphins and dopamine were released in my brain, and this sensation became an addiction.
When I was growing up, I loved to flip through magazines- Elle, Marie Claire, Vogue, Seventeen, etc. However, after a while, I noticed something: none of the models are in wheelchairs. While most of my peers were brainwashed by the media that you had to be size 0s or 2s, I was conditioned to believe that only able-bodied women can be models or be considered as beautiful by the media (but don’t get me started on Kylie Jenner’s photoshoot in a wheelchair, that’s for another day).
However, as per usual, I wanted to f*ck the system, screw the media and prove something from a very young age. I wanted to prove to the world that you can be fashionable AND be in a wheelchair. So this is where my addiction started. I thought the only way I could express my true self was through my clothes, and put on a misleading confident look. I cannot tell you how many times I fought with my mother about her disapproval of my outfits for school (well, I guess that’s not uncommon for a teenage girl). But for me, it wasn’t about getting the boys’ attention or whatnot, but rather, I wanted to feel a sense of comfort, confidence, and conformity. My clothes made me feel bold and beautiful, although internally, I was sad and miserable.
But as I start my 20s, I am realizing that it was less about wanting to feel “normal,” but rather more about being able to wake up in the morning. At this point of my life, I’ve just accepted the fact that I cannot hide the damn palsy, and I shouldn’t have to. But just like some people carry that childhood security blanket long into adulthood for different reasons (ie. your five-year-old self used that blanket as protection from the monsters under the bed vs. now you hold onto it because it reminds you of your grandma who passed away), clothing is like the exact same thing for me.
My fashionable clothes give me the sense of happiness that my depression locks me out of. People rarely think I’m depressed when I’m all dazzled up, and most of the time, this phenomena makes me forget that I’m stressed or depressed. I’ve actually trained myself to walk in 2-4 inch heels because it makes me see a tangible achievement (and because you have way more options for heels in shoe stores than for flats). Again… the endorphins and dopamine. And I feed myself into this addiction by shopping whenever I can, and essentially being a shopaholic, all for that momentary happiness.
Even with having this realization, I’ll probably continue being fashionable, but hopefully it’d be my juice instead of my vodka… “drinking” for enjoyment instead for wanting to forget/numb things. And hopefully on some days, I’ll be okay with being “naked” and underdressed.