When I Couldn't Find Age-Appropriate Clothes That Fit My Body Type
My story starts out basically the same way as anyone else who born with an apparent physical disability in the 1970s or earlier. Medical professionals knew little about my diagnosis, Osteogenesis Imperfecta, so they told my family I was going to die. Obviously they were mistaken.
Growing up, I had a lot of respiratory problems and broke more bones than I care to count. Yet I still managed to go to regular school and take regular classes and be a regular kid. The only obvious difference between my classmates and me was that I was smaller and used a wheelchair.
Being a teenager is challenging for everyone, and I was no different in that respect. However, one thing that made my teen years unnecessarily more difficult was the lack of age-appropriate clothing in my diminutive size.
I was a teen in the ’80s, and I couldn’t wear anything even remotely close to what Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Whitney Houston and my other fashion icons were wearing. That took a serious toll on my self-esteem and ideas about body image.
Like most of us do though, I survived being a teenager and became an adult and went on to college. Although I was successful in my academics, my health was suffering. Respiratory issues continued to plague my adulthood, and the side effects from the medications were horrific.
Every time I went to the doctor, I asked why I was so sick all the time. Is it allergies? Am I overweight? Do I have cancer? Every doctor I spoke with just chalked my ill health up to being part of my disability. Some even laughed when I’d ask about my weight because of my small stature.
I got tired of medical professionals not taking my concerns seriously and decided to take full responsibility for my own health. That’s when I decided to go back to school and study a variety of naturopathic healing modalities.
The more I learned, the more changes I made to my lifestyle. Within the first five years, my weight went from 55 lbs to 38 lbs… and I’m still 38 lbs, ten years later. All my respiratory medications went in the trash because I learned to manage those issues with natural remedies and dietary changes.
After I got a few certifications under my belt, I wanted to teach others how to achieve optimal health despite their physical challenges. There were two major obstacles in my way though. First, nobody knew who I was. A health educator who uses a wheelchair was something people had a hard time understanding. Second, it was like my teen years were coming back to haunt me because I could not find anything age-appropriate and professional-looking to wear! Part of being successful is having the ability to dress for the career you want.
I decided to take on one obstacle at a time. First, I started volunteering and teaching workshops at places where clothing was not a requirement. Under the shade of an easy-up with a warm summer breeze caressing my naked breasts, I taught workshops about digestion, making herbal remedies, ear candling and a variety of other healing modalities. It was fun yet hard work. Within a few years though, I’d earned a reputation for being a health educator who uses a wheelchair… and has nice breasts.
Oddly, the second obstacle was more of a challenge to overcome than the first. I was ready to take my career to the next level, but I honestly had nothing to wear. There are no business suits designed for a 2-and-a-half-foot tall woman with a J-Lo booty and non-symmetrical limbs and scoliosis. Opportunity was knocking, but I couldn’t open the door.
So, I reacted to this frustration like anyone else would. I posted a rant on Facebook. That proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it lead to the solution.
When Facebook friend Carol E. Briney saw my rant, she responded with a request to meet me and discuss this fashion challenge in person. Together, with the help of my lifelong friend Jess Wallace, we created the nonprofit organization Classy Little Fashions Foundation. Our mission is to provide age-appropriate clothing for adults with nonstandard body-types due to physical disability.
The fashion industry has completely overlooked this niche market. The need goes far beyond Jess and me. If this story has inspired you in any way, please take a look at our website: Classy Little Fashions Foundation.