Taking Off My Shirt


By Mark E. Smith

I struggle with body image. I know that many of us do. Yet, my struggles with body image take a different turn than most. See, while many who struggle with body image want to conceal their body, I want to reveal mine.

We live in a society were outer image is powerful. Yet, it’s rarely accurate. And, that holds true in my case. As a man with severe cerebral palsy, using a power wheelchair – where my posture is contorted and my movements spastic – I am the blatant fragility of disability in the eyes of many. Yes, I dress well, but, ironically, that very form of dress, while socially elevating for most, accentuates the concealment of who I am. In a button-up shirt and chinos, or a suit and tie, I’m the portrait to many as a contorted figure in a power wheelchair, fragile, needing help, and certainly asexual.

And, nothing could be farther from the truth. Underneath my clothes, there’s nothing fragile, helpless or asexual about me. Beneath my socially-concealed body is my true self: masculine, muscular and edgy. While society can project assumptions on me clothed, the truth is told when my shirt comes off, when the real me is literally exposed.

Yet, when we think of my struggle with body image – wanting to be embraced for who I truly am beyond my exterior facade of socially-stereotyped disability – it’s actually no different than anyone else’s, is it? While many of us on the surface wish to change an aspect of ourselves that we feel awkward, embarrassed or even ashamed about based on society’s idealization of appearance, it’s really not what we want at all – that is, deep down, we don’t want to change who we are. No, what we truly want is to live in a society that doesn’t judge or value us based on subjective appearance; rather, we want to live in a society that recognizes and embraces the beauty of who we really are – nothing for us to feel the need to change, and all of ourselves celebrated and seen for who we truly are.


Author: Mark E. Smith

The literary side of the WheelchairJunkie

3 thoughts on “Taking Off My Shirt”

  1. I completely agree with you, in everyway, I’m the complete opposite in body type, im very heavy, only 1 breast (from birth) and contorted, but society would rather just assume im lazy just because i look fat.

    Im a multiply disabled woman who has no fear of being ME.

    before going into a power wheelchair, i was on 46 pills a day (22 medications) , my kidneys and liver extremely messed up, i had had 2 minor heart attacks, was weeks away from going on dialysis 24/7.

    Now, 3 (soon to be 4) chairs & 17yrs later, im down to 7 pills a day (5 medications) and free of dialysis totally..

    I have all the same disabilities (and a few new ones!) but im STILL ME.

    I love the yearly pride parade here in Toronto, i dont wear a shirt (except for going places where i have to be properly dressed) all week while at the festivities, i wear shorts, showing my twisted legs, and i take a break from my AFO’s for that week. Wearing sandels feels GREAT! twisted feet unite!

    Mark, wearing so little feels amazing!

    I’m bisexual, I’m disABLED, my hubby is perfectly fine with me, why cant society?

    Because for centuries they have been “brainwashed” by media/tv/radio/music/RELIGION, that anything or anyone who looks even slightly different is unholy, not worthy, not acceptable and is therefore a ” FREAK OF NATURE” …

    Yes i believe in God, deeply.

    But when religious beliefs of people indoctrinate ppl into believing that anything “different” is a work of the devil, that affects ppls perception of NORMAL.

    I have studied this for a long time.

    We are “strange looking” to most ppl in society so they dont accept us.

  2. Hi Mark,

    Well, I am guessing those muscles did not “just happen!” Once again you inspire me to choose to do all that I can with the life I am given, and yes the body I am given. Thanks. God bless.

    “The Glory of God is Man Fully Alive” – St. Irenaeus
    “Gloria Dei est vivens homo”

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