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When I Stopped Trying to Hide My Wheelchair in Photos


Think about the one thing you dislike about yourself. The one thing in your life that you try to hide from everyone, afraid of what they might say, or think. We all have something. A scar from a bad fall when you were a kid, or the mole on the side of your face. Whatever it is, you know deep down inside you wish it weren’t there. Maybe you’ve learned to accept it, maybe you’re still working through it, or maybe you’re hiding it completely, always making sure to turn your head to just the right angle when the camera finds itself on you, so the rest of the world never sees the mole on the side of your face. So that Facebook isn’t appalled at your imperfections.

For the majority of my life, I would make every effort to be sure my wheelchair wasn’t in my travel pictures. I would climb out of my chair to sit on a nearby rock, or seek out a bench with the scenery in the background that I was trying to capture. I would crop photos to just show the upper part of my body. In the back of my mind, I thought if my wheelchair wasn’t in pictures, then I wouldn’t actually be using a wheelchair. I was afraid that the wheelchair would make the picture “ugly,” with a chunk of metal and rubber ruining the scenery. But most of all, I was in complete denial that my wheelchair even existed.

Over the years, there would be times where there was nowhere for me to sit outside of my wheelchair. And I simply couldn’t miss out on a picture of the giant Buddha in Hong Kong or the miniature horse in Wine Country. Over time, I slowly become more and more comfortable in my own skin…in my own wheelchair.

Renee with a giant Buddha in the distance.
Renee with a giant Buddha in the distance.

I learned to look at pictures of myself and see a very pretty smile with a beautiful sunset, or a woman who has overcome some challenges but still traveled to Kenya. I started to see “me” and the scenery. And eventually the wheelchair wasn’t the first thing I saw anymore. I started to see my own photos the way the rest of the world saw them, or at least the way I would want them to see them.

I missed out on hundreds of photo opportunities solely because I didn’t want my wheelchair to be photographed. I regret missing every one of those chances. So the next time you have the chance to capture a photo of you and something you find so spectacular you want to capture it forever, do it — regardless of what your makeup looks like, or the clothes you’re wearing, or the number on the scale that morning. The true beauty in a photograph shines through in a smile, even if you are sucking in a little. We all do it.

Are there still times when I wish my wheelchair wasn’t in the picture? Yes. Absolutely. I’m affected by society’s view of perfection every day, just like everyone else. But learning I’m not perfect, and that there’s something special about imperfections, has taught me to enjoy life a little more freely. I’ve learned to accept that this will never go away. This is who I am, and it’s OK.

Follow this journey on Wheels Travels the World.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were traveling that was either incredibly challenging or where you faced adversity. Tell us how you handled it or wish you had handled it. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.