Carly Findlay is a 20 something Melbourne woman working full time as an events planner/writer and a freelance writer on the side. She has a lifelong genetic chronic illness called ichthyosis form erythroderma (which means scaly red skin). Her skin gets itchy and sore, she gets infection easily which sometimes result in hospital stays where she is bandaged up like a mummy.
While the disease is medically challenging, the social challenges can be even more difficult. Carly is stared at, commented on and teased every day. She hosts a blog where she hopes to educate people about what it’s like living with a chronic illness, particularly showing that life can be really positive despite medical and social challenges.
My dad once told me that I should always take pride in myself. He said I should always present myself in the best way possible. I should be well dressed and groomed. Walk with good posture. Always smile. Be a nice person. He told me this because he believed it would help people look past my confronting chronic illness.
His advice came many years ago. But I still think about it now. I love fashion and shopping. I try to present myself well at all times. (My dad now thinks I should spend less on my wardrobe and put more toward superannuation!) I feel most beautiful when I’m wearing great clothes and having fun. These are the times when I can forget about my illness.
A few people have told me they would hate to look like I do. They said they could not cope with looking so different. They could not cope with the comments and stares. I think this is a reflection of their own personalities, not my appearance. I think their insecurities come from how the media emphasises and defines external beauty and perfection.
Claire Vickery is the CEO and founder of the Butterfly Foundation, which supports Australians with eating disorders. She is also a member of the National Advisory Group on Body Image. Ms Vickery believes that people love beauty.
Aesthetically, we look for shape and form,Ms Vickery says.I understand that’s what people want to buy in magazines. They’re wanting perfection. But we’ve taken it so far we’re not recognising that people who aren’t perfect are valued or worthy or equal. And it’s hurting people.
It can be impossible for many women to look the same as images in magazines. I read a few fashion magazines for this article. I often admire the fashion in the magazines. But I rarely aspire to look like the models. I know that a similar appearance for me is not a realistic goal. I could get a better figure if I exercised more. I could also look different if a photograph was manipulated like they do in the magazines. But I will still never look like most of the models in the magazines. It is not something that saddens me, yet I know it does upset others.
Some women with disabilities are also concerned with how people in stores and hairdressers will treat them. Michelle has a disability which causes brown spots and fatty lumps over her body. The lumps have ranged from the size of a pin-head to the size of a golf ball. Michelle’s skin is multi-coloured so cosmetics retailers often encourage her to buy different colours of makeup. But she chooses to buy one translucent powder. Michelle takes a friend when shopping. Her friend specialises in beauty treatment. She can help Michelle choose suitable products for her skin. This makes Michelle feel more comfortable and confident with her body and her disability.
I agree with my father that you should try to look your best. But I think it is important to remember what is realistically achievable. I think you can do something small every day to help you feel beautiful. It might be a new hairstyle or a different shade of nail polish. But I think you should make changes to bring joy to yourself, not to please others. And more importantly, people should remember that inner beauty shines through no matter what you look like.