Look at me women

MarleneWomen with disabilities often encounter prejudice and negative attitudes or have many barriers to conquer on their journey to achieve success and reach their life goals.  The world around us loudly shouts what physical beauty should look like and that anything less than this is not worthy.  

The focus is much more on the physical beauty than on the inner beauty and it omits to share the courage of disabled women and women in general.  Don’t get me wrong, of course women with disabilities also enjoy looking good and we do see ourselves as beautiful – but as long as we do not ONLY use the physical to feel happy and fulfilled.  We feel comfortable in our own skin and have learnt to accept ourselves and to live life fully.

In 2008 Marlene le Roux, wanted to perceptions with her book, called “Look at me”.  This book showcases the real life stories of 23 courageous, strong and sensual women with various disabilities in South Africa.  Some of the women were born with a disability, others was disabled through an accident or illness later in life.  ‘I realised from a young age that society puts people with disabilities in a box with an “ag shame” attitude and I felt I wanted to celebrate who I am – disability and all.’  ‘I realised that only a person with a disability can change the mindset of society.

Marlene says that the photographs and stories allow women to reflect on their challenges and their inner journey to personal self-mastery. 

Here are a few pictures and brief stories of women that is featured in the “Look at me” book.

BONITA - VISUALLY IMPAIRED

BONITABlindness descended upon me at the age of four months, silently robbing me of the chance to experience a Capetonian sunset

I journeyed from being a blind baby, to being a blind toddler reaching out to foreign objects with eager hands. I then blossomed into being a blind girl with ponytails and matching ribbons.

My teenage years were mild and sweet. And then, like a ship on her maiden voyage, I cruised into womanhood

I got my degree in journalism through hard work. Dragging my poor mom through countless academic libraries, while my dad waited outside, practicing the patience of a saint.

I took the challenges to make my dream a reality, not because I wanted to be a social show-off, but because I needed to be recognised as a person in my own right.

The journey still continues and I fight the battles with the same fervour with which I love. I suppose it is the small print on my birth certificate, that little clause nobody knows about, except me and women like me. The clause that states that we’ll constantly have to prove ourselves.

DONNA - BORN WITH NO RIGHT HAND

DONNAI was born without my right hand... For any parent it is the happiest day when they welcome their newborn baby into the world, but nothing can prepare a proud new mom and dad for the news that there is something wrong with their baby.

At first the children at my primary school had many questions about the girl with the one hand. Some of them were cruel, but they soon got used to the idea. Once I came to terms with the fact that I was different, I became more confident and used this to my advantage.

One day my mother tested me – as she often did. She gave me slices of bread to hold. After the sixth slice, there was no more place on my arms to pack it. When she handed me the seventh slice, I quickly realised that I needed to make a plan, so I opened my mouth and in went the seventh slice! That’s how my mother ensured that I fully adapted to the world. She played such a big role in my self- acceptance.

Once everyone around you accepts you for you, it will be easy for you to accept yourself, my mother taught me

REINETTE - VISUALLY IMPAIRED

REINETTEIt took some persuading to convince me to contribute to this book. Purely because I saw myself as an inappropriate subject. I am on the wrong side of fifty and definitely on the wrong side of eighty kilograms.

A man whom I will always remember with the most profound tenderness once paid me the following compliment. He said: ‘I read somewhere that in the eighteenth century they used to make canaries blind so that that they would sing more beautifully. I believe God made you blind in order to make you a better lover.’

The media brainwashes society into believing that in order to be valued, to matter, it is necessary to be young, slim, beautiful and most importantly, to be whole.

If you have any defect, even a small one like a mole in the wrong place, you are not desirable. My problem is not a misplaced mole; I am blind. And when last did you see a spread in a magazine showcasing beautiful blind women, or any disabled woman for that matter?

Disability is never made out to be beautiful.

MASINGITA - CEREBRAL PALSY

MASINGITAAt birth a lack of oxygen resulted in my disability. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

I was a happy child because my parents treated me like any other child. I was expected to do household chores and other things that come with the responsibility o being a firstborn child.

It was easier for me to be around children than adults, because the children didn’t discriminate against me and they saw me as one of them. In the end, my disability was harder on my parents than it was on me.

When I won the Shoprite/Checkers Woman of the Year Award in 2004, doors started to open or me The battle or us has only been halon because the ultimate achievement would be when people change their attitudes towards people with disabilities. I still feel that people with disabilities are faced with twice the amount of obstacles. They are reminded daily that they are different from others. Decisions are still made for us and I would like to see that change.

In the last five years, I have seen myself grow into a very powerful business woman, but one who will never forget where she came from. One who will strive to always help others, never forgetting that she herself is blessed.

SHELLEY - PARAPLEGIC

SHELLEYAt the age of 24, I woke up to find myself in hospital with empty walls and broken dreams. I was just another victim of the notorious taxi wars in South Africa. Long before the doctors had the courage to admit it, my body had already told me: I was paralysed from the waist down.

I have come to realise that unless we (as people with disabilities) are able to be the maker of our own images, our lives will constantly be depicted on the basis of the assumptions others hold of who we are, how we live, how we love.

Therefore, I am a firm believer in positive thinking and I have witnessed its full power in my life. I want to re-imagine my imagination, create a different way of seeing, writing, being. I am not interested in being like everybody else. I find that rather dull actually.

I know about this dance of living. This dance is not with the feet. This dance is with the heart. And when I dance with the heart, music comes through me.

Music is me. And then all that I am, is the dance.


BARENICE - CEREBRAL PALSY

BARENICEAt the age of two I could still not walk and I was referred to the Red Cross Hospital for physiotherapy. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

I realised this would mean a life of being treated differently, like the day I told my aunt about my dreams for the future. One of which was to get married.

When she heard this, she said: ‘What man would want to marry someone like you?’ I was shocked and could not believe that she could be so cruel and heartless.

Luckily her words were untrue. I fell in love with a wonderful man. I knew that he was the man that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

We were engaged for three years before we got married. We are blessed with three beautiful children.

Becoming a mother has completed my journey into womanhood…