Monday, October 27, 2014

The Pretty Cripple, or, But You Look So Good!

The other day, I was riding my scooter along the sidewalk on the main strip of my neighbourhood. Four very large, very drunk young men in their 20s were whooping it up in front of me, blocking my way and utterly oblivious to my presence. I said nothing until one of them actually fell on my scooter, at which point I said, in my very best teacher voice, "Okay, boys, you have to pay attention to those around you."

To his credit, the man who fell on me was profusely apologetic, but in that obtrusive way of drunks, his very apology a kind of domination of my space and energy. "I meant no disrespect," he kept saying. I guess somewhere along the line he learned that it's not nice to be mean and disrespectful to the cripples.

I made to cross the street to get away from him and his buddies and he asked me to stay, saying that they'd be very careful now. I said I'd rather cross the street. He kept promising that he and his friends would now would behave.

Then he stopped, looked closely at my face, and said, with enormous surprise, as if he were giving me a precious gift even better than an apology, "You're pretty!"

Now, it was a beautiful, autumn day so I was already feeling good.

And I was wearing one of Beau's very favourite dresses. Before I'd left, he'd waxed eloquent about how beautiful and sexy I looked.

So, yeah, I felt pretty. I even knew I was pretty, a rare thing for me.

The question is: Why was the drunk young man so surprised that I'm pretty? It clearly came as a complete shock to him that a disabled woman can be attractive.

And why did he say it as if his noticing and commenting on it was something for which I should be grateful, as if such a compliment were like precious rain to a woman parched for affection?

Dress: Gigi; Sandals, sunglasses, earrings, brooch and bangle: vintage; Right hand ring: Effy; Engagement ring: Britton Diamonds

I get comments like this a lot, especially after I tell someone about my struggles with chronic pain and consequent limited mobility. "But you look so good!" they exclaim. I never know quite what they mean when they say that.

How, I wonder, do they expect a disabled woman to look? Decayed? Half dead? Hideous? Certainly not an object of desire, not someone they'd want to date or, shudder, fuck.

I'm disabled, not dead. Why shouldn't I look good?

Are disabled people not supposed to have any sex appeal?

Are we assumed to be sad and lonely, with no sex life and no-one to love us? I guess I didn't get the memo.

I met Beau after I became disabled. It never gave him a pause. Check out his shadow here as he craftily and playfully photographs my cleavage. He knows that a cripple can be hot.

Was I supposed to stop caring about my appearance after I became disabled?

Was I supposed to have no pride in my physical appearance? Was I supposed to forsake beauty and self-esteem to fit someone's notion of how the disabled should look?

I did, for a while. I was in so much pain, and in such dismay over what had happened to my body, that I did give up. I wore old sweats, t-shirts, and hideous runners. I didn't think I was worth beauty anymore, let alone that I was beautiful.

But that was my depression speaking, not truth. Disability is not, after all, a death sentence on beauty, style, self-worth, confidence, and attractiveness. Yet I sometimes feel like people think it should be.

I do understand that many people say, "But you look so good," as a compliment, and I try to graciously accept their comment as such. Yet their compliments betray their belief that the disabled generally don't look good. Really? We don't?

It also comes dangerously close to the classic statement of disbelief that so many of the invisibly disabled face: "You don't look sick," or, "You don't look disabled."

It is said as a refutation of our claims of illness and/or chronic pain. It is a kind of diagnosis by those in no position to make a diagnosis: You don't look like my idea of the disabled; therefore, you are not disabled and you are making it up.

Recently, I met a major union figure in a café and got to talking to him about how my own union had helped me with the disbelief and ill-treatment I received and still receive through my workplace. I told him about the physical pain I regularly endure and why I can't work. "But you look so good!" he said, right on cue. He then proceeded to tell me about all the "fakers" who are on disability, and the "quack" doctors who support their claims.

Then, wait for it, he asked, in all seriousness, "Did you ever think of trying to get better instead of being on disability?" No, of course not. I prefer to be in pain 24 hours a day.

This from a union head, the very person to whom the disabled are supposed to turn if they are experiencing prejudice, including disbelief, in the workplace.

Would he have said this if I did not "look good"? He was almost indignant about it. I wasn't supposed to look good and, if I did, well then, I wasn't really disabled.

Now, I have an invisible disability. My body looks "normal," whatever that means, and, to the lay person, moves "normally." (Anyone trained to notice such things can see the myriad ways I've changed the way I move to try to reduce my pain levels.)

Perhaps when people tell me I look good, what they mean is that I don't look like someone whose disability is visible, which, to them, is the only kind of disability that is real.

But what does that say about their feelings about those who are visibly disabled? Are they saying that such people don't "look good" and can't be "pretty"? Are they saying that they perceive the visibly disabled as unattractive? Wow. If this is so, it's damned sad. And, from what I've read and seen and heard, I think it probably is so.

I am quite sure that the big drunk man on the street would not have shown surprise in the fact that I am pretty if I had not been in my scooter. I wonder what he would have done if he'd found a visibly disabled person pretty. Yelled in shock? Felt weird that he was attracted to a "freak," as the visibly disabled were once called?

We should never be surprised if we find a visibly or invisibly disabled person attractive. We should never offer our attraction as some kind of rare, benign gift. And we should never question her disability just because she looks good.

The disabled won't take kindly to such condescension. Does that surprise you?

(I'm linking this up with Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet, and Spy Girl.)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Eve Got a Bad Rap: Marcel Boucher and the Garden of Eden

This is the story of my birthday, a Marcel Boucher brooch, and how it caused me to think about the Garden of Eden and how Eve got a very bad rap indeed.
It was my 44th birthday and I was happier about it than I've been about a birthday in a while. I feel like this is a time of new beginnings for me. In the past year, Beau and I got engaged. We found a lovely little home to share with his two boys. Yes, I became a step-mother and it's going surprisingly well. I was able to find a good trauma therapist and, since I'm not working, see her regularly and go really deep with my healing. And my disability claim was finally approved.
This is me moving forward, accepting my disability, and figuring out where my life is going from here.
On a less profound note, I was also excited to find out what present Beau got for me. I'd been sending him hints, almost all vintage jewelry, for months. I figured, if I sent him enough hints, whatever he got me would be a surprise. Plus, it gave me an excuse to look at lots of vintage jewelry online.
The day my present arrived in the mail, I could hear Beau's, "WOW!" as he opened it, even though he was downstairs and several rooms away from me.
Brooch and earrings by Marcel Boucher

This is what caused his exclamation: a Marcel Boucher demi parure of brooch and earrings.
I discovered Boucher, who once designed for Cartier, several months ago when I paid a whopping $42 for a brooch without his name on it. That's a lot for me to pay for a piece of costume jewelry but it was so beautiful and so well made that I didn't hesitate. I went home and did some research and figured out that Boucher was the designer. Since then, I've acquired several of his pieces, but this one is the largest and probably the best.
He had several styles but his most recognizable is this trademark optical illusion of a swoop and swirl of rhinestones that must be very tricky to make. I think it gives his work an organic feel, like flower stems and blades of grass.
Boots: Ecco; Hair clips: Stylized; Belt: boutique; Skirt, shirt, earrings, and brooch: vintage; Engagement ring: Britton Diamonds; Pinky ring: heirloom; Right hand ring: Birks   

Of course, I had to concoct an outfit with which to wear it right away ...
... even if all I was doing was going to local café. On my birthday, I'll sparkle if I want to!
Sparkle? I think I actually glowed a bit, don't you? I was happy, which is not all that common for me.
I even walked a painful extra block and a half to photograph my outfit and my new parure in a garden that nicely echoed the design of the earrings and brooch.
Like a little girl who keeps flouncing her skirt around because she's so excited about it, I kept staring at my brooch, which produced the rather unsophisticated effect of my looking like I was repeatedly gazing at and touching my bossoms.
Oh well. Whatever.
To really emphasize the blade of grass theme, I hurt my back a bit by clamouring up into this little flower bed. Only later did I notice the interesting geometric echo of the lines in my skirt and earring with the lines formed by the grasses. It all looks a little Art Deco to me.
But I was reminded even more of Eve and the Garden of Eden.
Eve was the original nature girl, I guess. And here I was, unconsciously mimicking her, complete with "God lighting" ...  
... just like in the Garden of Eden ...
... plucking at tree fruits in dappled light ...

... just like Eve.
I do think the Garden of Eden must have had grasses and flowers that grew jewels, don't you? C.S. Lewis first gave me the idea for "fresh picked," edible, growing jewels in his children's novel, The Silver Chair. The prince's primary temptation in the novel is abandoning his people so he can live in that garden and eat that jewel-fruit to his heart's content.
Fruit, temptation, a beautiful garden? Lewis was never terribly subtle or secretive in his creation of Judeo-Christian allegory, was he?
Maybe I'm not either, but, I swear, as I looked at these photos, biblical images just seemed to bloom from them. I think here I look oh so pious and demure and innocent, like Eve ...
... before the fall. Then she got her fateful idea ...
... to pluck the forbidden fruit and taste it for herself.
But I've always thought that Eve got a bad rap. Of what was she really guilty? Wanting to have the knowledge of good and evil? Shouldn't everyone have that knowledge, if for no other reason than to avoid perpetuating evil?
Was she guilty of intellectual and spiritual curiosity? 
Was she guilty of wanting to know about God's creation, all of God's creation, even the forbidden fruit?
Was she guilty of taking a keen interest in all the beauty in this brand new world?
Aren't these good things? In Jewish tradition, a questing mind and soul are positive traits.
Yet all this is said to have caused the downfall of "mankind" and led people to see women as guilty of original sin. Sometimes even the snake who tempted her is portrayed as female! 
The reviled female, the vain female, the female in need of constant control by men, the female whose beauty is a source of endless temptation to men.

Eve got a bad rap.
Be proud of your curiosity. Be proud of your own beauty, and enjoy the beauty in the world, whether it be a Boucher brooch, or a particularly tempting fresh fruit. I think it's a kind of faith to find beauty in the world, even when you do know about its evils, and no matter what the Bible says.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Last Days of the Summer Sun, in White and Black

I don't have any deep thoughts inspired by this outfit, and I didn't have any deep inspiration for this outfit. It was a summery, early Autumn day, and I'd just bought this skirt at the Salvation Army. That was all there really was to it.

Shoes: Ecco; Skirt, larger earrings, flower ring, sunglasses, and brooch: vintage; Shirt: Old Navy; Engagement ring: Britton Diamonds

I've owned two skirts like this in the past. The first I "outgrew" as I hit my thirties, the second I "outgrew" once I became disabled. Quite honestly, I think each skirt has looked exactly the same on me, not bigger, but identically sweet, slightly old-fashioned, and quite flattering ...

... even from the back.

Wearing it recalls for me the days when I was very fit and, as my doctor later told me, "artificially underweight" from over exercise. Exercise was my way of managing my complex PTSD, and it was also an obsession with physical perfection.

I wonder if I ever would have learned to exercise more moderately if disability had not crashed down upon me. Probably not. I would probably still be underweight and working out till I was shaking and sick.

But disability was not the solution to my problem. I would have liked some choice in the matter!

I do miss my toned, smooth body, with all its "cut" muscle definition. My arms are actually quite strong these days -- they do a lot of the work my back can no longer do -- but you'd never know it to look at them.

More than anything though, I miss the days when simple acts like twisting, walking, standing ...

... and picking up my cat were easy. Well, they were easy if he'd let me pick him up, which was never a given. Now, in his old age, he lets me hold him close and even purrs about it ... for about 30 seconds at a time.  

See his one white whisker there? It matches the little white patch on his chest. So he and I are a matching set, right?


Putting Bobby down isn't easy either.

Quite honestly, my love of little creatures has been one of my motivations to move and do what I can to improve my strength. Bending, lifting, feeding, cleaning: these are all abilities I need to have to care for my cats (and my beloved wild birds) and it's often hard. Motivation helps in the struggle.

As I've said before, outfits are a good motivation too. I dress up a bit and go out. It hurts but it can improve my mood by adding beauty, creativity, and whimsy to my days.

So I dressed up the skirt, going all matchy matchy with my jewelry ...

... sort of. None of these pieces was designed to go with the others. I'm still a bit iffy about the larger earrings. What do you think? The littler ones were a gift from a couple at my church when I was about eight and had just had my ears pierced. I didn't actually know the couple well so I was very touched by their gift and have kept them all this time, though I lost the matching necklace.

I'm more than a little bit of a micro-manager when it comes to the photos Beau takes of me for this blog. Here, I am instructing him to photograph me through the white rails so as to create even more black and white contrasts.

Here? I don't even remember but I'm micromanaging again, something about light and angles and the white of the garage door behind me. I think.

Mostly, the day was about the last of the summer sun in white and black. And, really, what more reason do we need to enjoy a day?

(I'm linking this up with Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet, and to Spy Girl's 52 Pick Me Up.)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thanksgiving: A Study in Orange

This post isn't really about my outfit so much as it's about the colours of a season.

Sandals: Wonders; Pants: Reitman's; Top: found in the garbage; Earrings, pendant, gold chain, sparkly ring, bracelet, and sunglasses: vintage; Engagement ring: Britton Diamonds
The outfit itself is not wildly inspiring or interesting, but the pumpkin is.

So is autumn in general, with all its autumnal glory.

I think I'm noticing it even more this year because of this pendant. I got it in a grab bag from Value Village and knew only that it was a broken bit of jewelry, and that it was beautiful. So I wove it into a gold chain I already owned and wear it on days when I'm feeling particularly fond of autumn.

The pendant, or whatever it is, is obviously all about the autumn leaves ...

... which are in abundance here these days ...

... in all their different shades. 

We don't actually get many red leaves here in Autumn ...

... and most of what we do get isn't indigenous but was instead planted by those missing the more spectacular autumn leaves back east. 

I found this parure on ebay, here
Perhaps that's why I so love my pendant. It's more in keeping the colours of autumn here than elsewhere.

I did a little research and learned that my pendant was once one earring in a beautiful, thermoset parure by Lisner, all in the muted browns of a less flamboyant autumn. Isn't it beautiful? It's also really expensive so, for now, I'll make do with my pendant.

It inspired my whole outfit, really, while the pumpkin inspired the other photos I took for this post. 

We grew it completely by accident. Our neighbours' pumpkin vine crept into our yard and had grown about seven feet against a far fence before we noticed it. We got this orange orb from it and then had to chop it down as it was toppling down on itself and strangling our flowers.

Its orange really affected what I photographed on my outing that day.

Oranges and browns are definitely good colours on me. Check out this study in orange textures: bracelet, stucco wall, and summer freckles, in perfect harmony.

And here are some more leaves because, really, this season is mostly about the leaves, isn't it? And the light, but I'll get to that later.

I got this cane because it matches my hair (and, of course, I need canes) but it also matches autumn ...

... and autumn leaves. 

Until my mind was on orange, I'd never really noticed how homey this cafe is.

It's flanked on the left by huge trees which make its patio blessedly cool in the summer ...

... and on the right by this green grocers. Doesn't this look good in this light?

For those who live a bit north, autumn light is almost magical in its beauty.

This is our kitchen, which we are slowly transforming into 50s kitsch.
Its magic seems to kiss everything with beauty and an almost other-worldy quality.

Look how it's hard to see where this mural ends and the real world begins. Are those shadows from trees or painted there?

They're from trees, in fact, but who can tell?

And doesn't that young woman's shadow look like a little elf in the pumpkin patch?

Nature, human creations, and humans themselves all seemed to blend well together ... 

... with oranges and yellows ... 

... and yellows and pinks ...

... and pinks and oranges.

I love how this guy's pants and hair perfectly harmonize with the day and the poutine shop behind him. 

After all, humans are part of nature just as much as any other animal is, though we often forget it. We're a part of nature so why not let it inspire us ... 

... in art ...

... in decor ...

Okay, mostly I just wanted another excuse to show my kitties, but Milo is orange so he had to be in this post.
... in love ...

... and in our outfits.

(I'm linking this up with Visible Mondays at Not Dead Yet.)