Selma Blair Is the Sexy Disabled Role Model We Need
Selma Blair has been a pioneer in disability activism; her openness around her diagnoses of multiple sclerosis, candid interviews and Instagram posts about her struggles have finally brought the conversation about chronic illness to the mainstream. She unabashedly shows her bald head, cane and insight into her everyday pain with the world. She’s been called an “inspiration,” “stunning” and “beautiful,” but since her diagnosis, it seems we’ve dropped the word “sexy” to describe her.
This is no accident. Our culture often disassociates disabled women with desirability, sex, love and dating. We see disabled men portrayed as having a love life more often in the media than disabled women, like in “Me Before You.” So when we describe Selma Blair as “inspirational” and “beautiful” but not “sexy,” we’re unknowingly perpetuating the marginalization of disabled women.
Selma knows she is sexy and sultry, as evidenced by her almost naked Instagram post from September 7, in which she poses with full butt exposure and just a purse over her front. Selma shows us she is still sensual and risqué. Yes, she’s an inspiration in her activism and yes, she is beautiful, but she’s also sexy.
But so what if we don’t use “sexy” to describe Selma? Well, there are definitely larger implications to this narrative of desexualized disabled women.
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Lack of Access to Contraceptives, Sexual Health and Education
YouTube duo the “Triple Cripples,” Olajumoke “Jay” Abdullahi and Kym Oliver talk about this intersection of sex and disability on their show. They’ve named themselves the “Triple Cripples” to convey the three layers of oppression they face because they are black, disabled and women. Jay and Kym highlight this when they say on their channel, “The infantilization of disabled people means we are not shown or thought of as being potential love interests, or as people that could get someone sexually excited.”
It’s so dehumanizing to be treated like this. But it’s also dangerous.
Disabled women often aren’t given equal access to sex education and contraceptives because of this idea that disabled women are not sexual. Billie Anderson, who has an ostomy bag, talks about when she first got surgery to have her bag, nurses never mentioned anything about sexual health or just having sex with a bag.
The Triple Cripples teamed up with SH:24 – an NHS-backed organization that provides free sexual health home testing kits and resources — to help address this problem.
Damage to Self-Confidence
As Lolly Cooper says, “Over the years Crohn’s disease has had a great impact on the way my body looks and functions… this has inevitably had a lasting effect on my self-confidence and my relationship with my body.” Taking away the power that comes with sexuality also damages body image and self-confidence. We all deserve to feel beautiful and stunning, but also desirable, and those feelings go hand in hand with our self-confidence.
Dehumanizing Shopping Experiences
This narrative that disabled women aren’t sexual has impacted the fashion industry. Clothing brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Zappos are just starting to release “adaptive apparel” lines (adaptive apparel means clothing for disabled folk that is versatile and not just for able-bodied folk). But for generations, disabled women had nowhere to shop. Shopping in our culture is tied closely to the feminine identity. Good shopping experiences can help define a woman’s femininity, personal identity and self-assurance.
The undergarment and lingerie sector of the shopping experience has been especially dehumanizing for disabled women. Bras and underwear for disabled women have looked like “grandma” underwear and are found on ugly medicinal websites. Can you imagine how humiliating it must be to buy your bra next to a hospital gown? Lingerie and undergarments should be empowering.
This sector is also slowly changing with companies like Intimately.co, an online marketplace for all types of functional and fashionable lingerie and undergarments for disabled women. Their goal is to change this narrative of disabled women not being sexual through a better shopping experience.
But it takes more than just one small company like Intimately.co or even larger brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Zappos to change the way our society treats disabled women. We are all sexy and have a right to feel confident in our bodies, find functional and fashionable lingerie that empowers us, and have access to sexual health and education resources.
Photo via Selma Blair’s Instagram.