Living in a woman’s body: this body is a genetic mistake – but it is sex, laughter and beauty too | Body image


This body is a genetic mistake, a pitiable stare, the scan on a mundane Tuesday lunchtime with a doctor speaking in hushed tones by the bed.

It is glorious too, thanks. It is deep-in-the-bones laughter at 2am with people who love you; only strangers care that it is sitting in a wheelchair while doing so (“Have you got a licence for that thing, sweetheart?”). It is straight-As, promotions and beating expectations as much as the odds. It is being buckled over from the pain, clutching a public toilet bowl, pills and dignity rattling at the bottom of a handbag. It is sex, fevered goosebumps and kisses to the skin like magic. It is warm summers with friends, sunshine on bare legs and 90s dance music ricocheting through the air. It is fucking knackered.

This body is more than twice as likely to be domestically abused, is paid on average £3.68 less an hour, is a third less likely to be able to access lifesaving breast cancer screenings, and is still told to be “grateful” for it. “Be grateful, love. You’re lucky they hired you. He’s a saint to be with you.”

This body is a scrounger if it needs the state, a faker if it holds down a job. It is the reject of capitalist productivity, all the while working harder than any FTSE 100 CEO. This body is one in five, full of potential, untapped and waiting. It is ready to burst, to make its mark, if only the trains were accessible, personal assistants funded and housing usable. It is just not trying hard enough.

This body is told to love something that hurts every day#bodypositivity – or to loathe it, depending on the latest cultural winds. It is too ugly to be on the front cover of magazines, too pretty “to have to be in that chair, love”. It is a token, out front and centre when it suits, hidden in the back room when it all gets too much. It is more beautiful and powerful and astounding than words can muster.

This body is not “differently abled” or “handicapped”, and it is not your “inspiration” either. It is the herculean sum of all those who came before and those who will after; the young girl wearing her BiPap machine with pride on TikTok and the menopausal woman with a stoma choosing knickers in M&S. It is the changing of the seasons over centuries, from being hidden in institutions to regaling on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, from begging in the workhouse to legislating in parliament. I believe they call that progress.

It is said that the greatest act of resistance is to live well, and I think there is truth in that. It is radical to love a body that the world says is wrong. This body, in all its joy and tears and moving edges, is loved completely – not despite its disability, but because of it.

Frances Ryan is a Guardian columnist and author of Crippled: Austerity and the Demonisation of Disabled People

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