There are three things I never thought I’d be: tall, successful, or cute. I thought these three things were so far out of my reach; it was pointless to even dwell on them. But I did anyway. I assumed they were impossible because I was just a Black girl with a disability who thought she would never be worthy of anything.
I have Cerebral Palsy, which affects motor skills and coordination.
I’ve felt invisible for so long I didn’t know anything else. Then, to my complete and utter surprise, 2016 happened. 2016 as a general year was the worst, but it was incredible for me professionally. I had essays published in dream bylines, Twitter verified me, and I had literary agents eager to sign me. I felt truly successful for the first time in my life.
I crossed one of the things off my “never” list and became eager to keep working, to do more, and grow further. I gave myself a set of new dreams, new bylines, and new hopes for the new year.
Toward the end of 2016, something in me shifted when I looked in the mirror and felt cute. I still woke up with morning breath, eye boogers, and drool on my mouth but I felt the cutest I have ever felt. Still, 2016 came and went, and I assumed the new revelation of cuteness would, too.
On February 12th, 2017, I created #DisabledAndCute on Twitter after realizing that the feeling did not fade. The hashtag went viral, and magazines I had never felt beautiful enough to belong in, like, Shape, Cosmopolitan, and Allure, to name a few, were suddenly interviewing me. Those features really cemented my feeling cute and worthy for the first time in my life. I woke up every morning since that cold December day in 2016 and smiled at the reflection in the mirror. Sometimes, I blew her a kiss or pretended to high five her. She felt like an old friend and a new love all at once. Someone I never thought I’d meet, someone I never thought I would be and the hashtag was a way to celebrate that.
People with physical and invisible disabilities, from all walks of life, and all races and ethnicities began posting in the tag too, validating themselves and others. There was a celebration of disability in a way that I had never seen. I was lucky in that the positive far outweighed the negative. However, some members of the community were upset with my use of the word ‘cute’ because the word can be very infantilizing when non-disabled people call us cute when we do anything. Those few angry people began attacking me personally, and I took it to heart. First, I felt guilty; I questioned why I didn’t use a word that made everyone happy. I questioned the hashtag and wondered if I had made a mistake. Then, I remembered that at the end of the day, you couldn’t make everyone happy. I reminded myself that this hashtag was as much for me as it was for anyone else. I believe that criticism is fine, but my critics were chastising me for using cute and not sexy or fine. I know that I don’t feel sexy or fine, I feel cute, and I think that is perfectly okay to say. In the same way that many disabled people reclaimed cripple, I want to reclaim cute.
My hope is that the hashtag continues the act of self-love in the disability community. I hope that we keep telling our stories and giving ourselves the room to feel joy, especially under the current presidential administration and in the face of so much inspiration porn. The hashtag is hopefully a conversation starter between the disabled community and mainstream media. We don’t need to be felt sorry for. We deserve opportunities in every aspect of the word. For journalists and writers like myself, I wish that we would be hired in more newsrooms and editorial boards so that we can tell our stories in a non-exploitive way. I wish that we were in more writers’ rooms so that television shows and movies didn’t treat disability like a death sentence or a death wish.
My hope is that more magazines hire disabled people in editorial positions as well as models. I want to be on the cover of a mainstream media magazine and to show the world who I am, who we all are. I think that it is time we challenged the standard of beauty.
Disability includes a wide range of conditions for a broad spectrum of people. The disability community is full of people from different races, sexual orientations, gender identities, and types. Growing up, I never knew any other disabled people to look up to, let alone a Black woman with a disability. I know that change is a long time coming but it is more than necessary.
I have big dreams of my own that I want to achieve for myself and other Black disabled girls who may look at me as their first bit of representation. I want to write some books, an essay collection, a poetry collection, a movie, and a TV show. I’ll never be tall but I am cute, and I have been successful. So, as the saying goes ‘two out of three ain’t bad.’
I want to be on the Ellen show and share my story with the world. I want to be on the cover of a magazine and write books, movies and TV. I want to be seen, truly seen for all that I am and all that I can be with my disability not in spite of it.