Happy International Day of People with Disabilities!

On this International Day of People with Disabilities #IDPWD2020, I am grateful for my new found freedom with my power wheelchair. It has been interesting becoming a part-time wheelchair user. Reactions from others have been both positive and negative. For people who don’t know me well, they become concerned when they see me rolling by, “Oh, what happened? Oh, what a shame!” They feel sorry for me or they feel like I am “giving up” on walking. Strangers who don’t know me are confused when they see me step out of the wheelchair and pick up my crutches.

Those who know me well know what a joy this chair brings to me! My next door neighbor was super excited for me as she has seen my daily struggle with walking. I have gradually been slowing down in my walking. I can’t stand for more than five minutes at a time. I still walk around my house but now I don’t have to outdoors. I have pain in my left knee from walking, and now pain in my left shoulder from using my crutches for so many years. To me, my chair means less painful days ahead.

My power chair also means freedom. It is a joy today when I can stroll around my neighborhood and enjoy some fresh air without having to fear falling down, or fear being in pain and not being able to get back home. It is a joy to stop and chat with a neighbor (socially distanced) and stay there as long as I want to, because I am not experiencing the pain I would from standing. I even got to surprise my mom by rolling over to her house (a couple blocks away) and surprising her with my new chair. My chair also allows me to spend the energy I have on physical therapy, and yoga rather than using all the energy I have in walking. I will be so excited once the world opens up fully again and I will be able to enjoy going to a mall, or an in-person conference again. Whenever that happens, I will be ready!

My Diaper is Not Sexy, but I Still Am

In episode 14 of DISIRabilityALT, I start off by talking openly about my feelings around being a disabled woman who has to wear adult diapers due to neurogenic bladder and bowel. Then we will focus on the topic of disability fetishes, devoteeism and disability. I will share my thoughts and feelings on fetishes and devotees and hope you will share your thoughts about them with me.

At the end of every episode, I will be asking a question for you to consider. Today’s question is: How do you feel about disability fetishes? Have you come across people with this fetish or have you come across devotees? Are you comfortable with being around people who have this particular fetish? Please share in the comments section below.

Episode Cover Description [DISIRability logo in green with a wheelchair symbol in place of the letter b. “ALT” written in black underneath. In a light orange background, there is the following text in white letters “My Diaper is Not Sexy, but I Still Am” Underneath is a photo of a pink pair of panties next to a diaper in a dark blue background. Underneath is the text “with angela car (she/her) 18+.]

Full transcription of each episode is also available.

Visit: https://disirabilityalt.castos.com/episodes/episode-14-my-diaper-is-not-sexy-but-i-still-am for this episode.

You too are worthy of love (and lust).

This week I want to address how our body image affects our sexuality and relationships. A poor body image can lead to unhealthy sexuality and unhealthy relationships. It can lead to unhealthy promiscuity (I define that as someone feeling shame over the amount of sex they have or having sex with the wrong people). It can also lead to an unhealthy avoidance of sex. Poor body image can also lead us to unhealthy decision-making when it comes to our relationships.

Many people stay in unhealthy relationships due to low self-esteem and poor body image. We settle for bad relationships because we don’t believe we are worth more than that. This is especially true for people with disabilities. When I say unhealthy promiscuity or unhealthy avoidance of sex, I am not saying that promiscuity or the absence of sex are unhealthy in and of themselves. Everyone is different. Some people have high sex drives. Others have no sex drive. Both promiscuity and asexuality can be healthy if you do so safely and you are happy. I am not referring to those who identify as asexual. Asexuality in itself is healthy for some people. It is not healthy though when it is something you feel ashamed of or when the only reason you are avoiding sex is due to poor body image. For example, some people may never want to have sex only because they are afraid to get naked in front of someone, because of their breasts, or their belly, or some other body part. This is unhealthy because this is the person who really wants to have sex but avoids it due to shame. This avoidance of sex can make you feel even worse about yourself. It then becomes a vicious cycle. At least it did for me. When I felt so undesirable that I avoided sex, then I felt even more depressed because I wasn’t having sex. I had the sex drive, but I was letting my body destroy my sex life.

The other extreme is that some people feel so ashamed of their bodies and feel so unwanted that they will jump into bed with the first person who looks at them.  Often negative body image can lead one to think they are not deserving of love and attention, so they think they cannot be “picky” when it comes to choosing a partner.

I know for a long time. I was so focused on the idea that I was over-weight and I had a disability, that I thought I was unloveable. More so, I thought I was unattractive. I thought no one would want to have sex with me. So, when the first person came along that started to flirt with me, I ran with it. I was super excited. I made some poor choices.  These choices didn’t help my self-esteem or body image. These choices made me feel worse about myself.

I am not saying that having a casual fling is bad. If you are doing it for the right reasons and you want to, that is great. Maybe you find someone attractive and you want to explore. Go for it. A hookup can be negative though, if you are jumping into bed with someone, simply for the fact that they are a willing and able partner. If you are doing so because you think you might not get this chance again with another person. If the thought “Who else is going to want to be with me?” is running through your mind, that is a bad sign. Times when I felt this way and jumped in have made me feel worse the next morning.

Now let’s talk about relationships. There could be a case where you are in a relationship with someone just for the sake of being in a relationship. We might be so infatuated with a partner that we start to make excuses for them when they don’t respect us. We might even make excuses for them when they hurt us. We stay in relationships even though we are miserable because we may think “Well at least I have someone. At least I am not alone”.

Patterns appear that we overlook. It may start with being disrespectful. It may become emotional abuse and then turn into physical or sexual abuse. People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of domestic violence. The longer one stays in an abusive relationship, the harder it is to leave that relationship for a number of reasons. So it important to recognize the signs of an unhealthy relationship early on.

What made me realize that I had to stay away from unhealthy partners is that I realized that the fantasy of them in my head was so much better than the reality. I had built these partners up in my head to be so much better than they actually were. Sex with them really wasn’t that great because they really weren’t that into me. I was just another notch on their bed post. They didn’t respect me. They may not have even liked me.

I honestly never thought I would meet someone again after my husband passed away. I thought I might have casual sex, have casual partners, sex with friends. But I never thought there would be someone else out there who would want to spend their lives with me. I didn’t close myself off to the possibility though. I kept socializing, focusing on making friendships, and I kept going out to events and staying close to my core group of people. When I was lusting after someone who wasn’t healthy for me, my friends would call me out on it. I didn’t listen right away. I eventually had to learn for myself and I eventually stayed away from these unhealthy partners. I also took a chance on myself. When I found someone new attractive, I took a chance to get to know them. I risked being rejected.

And guess what? I found someone and have been in a happy, healthy relationship now for the past four years. And he treats me so good. Better than I imagined for myself. If I had continued to waste time being with people who were mistreating me, I would have cheated myself out of finding a new love.

If you are struggling with self-esteem or body image issues, seek out help. There are counselors, support groups. podcasts and self-help books out there. No matter what you look like. No matter what disabilities or medical issues you may have. Everyone has sexual desires and everyone deserves to have good sex lives. Everyone deserves good relationships and love. Everyone deserves respect from their partners. Know that you too deserve to feel special and feel sexy. Know that you too are worthy of lust and love.

Building Your Confidence and Sex Appeal

I talked about eliminating negative self-talk in my last blog You are Enough. Stop feeding Your Negative Thoughts. I have developed a negative view of myself. For me, I would describe it as always feeling like a child. I felt like I would never grow up. Part of the reason was due to society, treating me differently. If I were standing next to another adult, a stranger would always talk to them instead of me. Even if the stranger was asking questions about me. The question was directed at my friend/partner. So, I never felt like an adult, let alone a sexual adult. I was always cute and sweet little Angela or Angie. I also learned that I hate being called Angie because it reminded me of being a little girl. So today, I have had to learn the confidence to tell people, “My Name is Angela”.  My husband would tell me I was beautiful and sexy. But how do I get to that feeling myself? How do I really feel that way? I want to feel like a confident and sexy adult; how do I get there?

Here are some tips I have used to help me to find my confidence and sex appeal. I hope some of them resonate with you and help you.

THIRTEEN TIPS (Because Thirteen is a lucky number for me!)

1. Acceptance. This is me. This is my body. (my weight, my disability). This is who I will always be. I am tired of feeling like crap. I knew I had to change something. So, I changed my attitude.

When I was young, my grandmother raised me with the idea that I can do anything I set my mind to. I didn’t let my disability hold me back. I tried everything. I wasn’t worried about what other people thought. I was having fun. I did gymnastics as a kid. I danced. I went to a school dance in a wheelchair after one of my surgeries and I danced in my wheelchair. I attempted to ride a bike and I rode one with training wheels for a while. I couldn’t do it without training wheels, but I made the attempt and I had fun.  Interestingly, my body shame didn’t come until I was a teenager. As an adult I had to relearn that confidence I had as a child.

2. Change your attitude. It’s not your body that is holding you back. It is your thoughts about your body. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. Begin by just notice when you are using negative self-talk. Then change your words. Replace the negative words with something positive. Stop being you own worst critic. A really good book on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which helped me with changing my thoughts was Feeling Good, by David Burns.

3. If you want to feel sexy, start with dressing the part. Don’t wait. Start today. Be confident and be adventurous. If you wish you looked like the hot models on tv, start wearing the dress, the fishnet stockings, etc. If you think tattoos are sexy, get yourself a tattoo. I have a few myself. I have a portrait of my late cat Annabell, right on my thigh. So, when I wear that short skirt, I wear it proudly as I show off that tattoo. I can’t wear high heels because I wear braces on my legs, but you know what I can wear? I can wear fishnet stockings under those braces, and I make it work. I look sexy. (I wouldn’t tell you to try something that I haven’t tried myself). I said to hell with waiting to lose my weight. I started wearing the short skirts, showing off my legs, wearing the sexy bathing suit. I was confident.

Confidence is sexy. No matter what size you are. No matter what type of disability you may have.

4. Make time for self-care. I recognize that self-care can be tied into how much energy you have. If you don’t have the energy to shower or to shave your legs, you’re not going want to wear that sexy dress, right? Make self-care a top priority. You will be glad you did.  

5. Focus on your health rather than the appearance of your body. See a mental health therapist if needed. Start taking better care of yourself. Start a little bit each day. You will start to feel better.

I started focusing on my health. I joined a 12 step support group Overeaters Anonymous (OA) dealing with food addiction and my life changed. I realized that there was more going on with me that just my obsession with food. I started looking at the reasons why I was obsessed with food and dealing with those issues. I knew all the nutrition information to lose weight. What I really needed was to look at my thoughts and emotions . OA helps me do that. I got healthier emotionally and physically.

6.  Surround yourself with positive people. Get rid of the people in your life who are negative, who put you down, who put themselves down. They are emotional vampires.

Here is another book suggestion: Emotional Vampires, Dealing with People who Drain You Dry, Albert Bernstein. This book helped me in dealing with people in my life who were negative and were using me. People I had trouble saying no to or staying away from. It helped me realize why I needed to do so and how to do it.

My husband was a deejay and ran karaoke. I loved to sing. I sang in my school choir as a kid. It took me two years to be able to get up on that stage and sing karaoke. But guess what happened? I fell in love with it and the people who would attend. They accepted me. They lifted me up. I no longer see most of them, but I have meet other friends and have found a chosen family by joining and participating in various social activities.

7. Read and look at body positive images on social media

Check out #aeriereal. They are using models with disabilities in their campaigns. There are women in wheelchairs and women with crutches. There is also a woman who uses an ostomy bag. All these women are beautiful as they are modeling bras and underwear.

There are also burlesque dancers who have disabilities that I follow on social media. One in Canada, One in Australia and one in California. The one in California teaches burlesque to people with disabilities. Her name is Jacqueline Boxx. Google Disability and Burlesque. She is amazing!

8. Stay active. As active as you can be.

I have taken Belly Dancing Classes and I loved that. I would love to form a group and learn Burlesque. I am not saying I would become a performer. But I would love to be able to do it for my partner. And I know people who teach Burlesque, so if you are in the Philadelphia area and want to learn, let me know. I’d love to try it.

There are many sports and activities that can be adapted for people with disabilities. I have taken a Tae Kwon Do class. Now I am doing chair yoga. These things keep me active and keep me around other people being social.

9. Ask yourself if it is your body you are really upset about.

Most times when I really get down on myself about my weight, it is related to something else that is bothering me. So, ask yourself, did you have a fight with your partner, or your mother? Did something bad happen at work? What else is going on that is making you angry or upset.

10. Be grateful for your body for all it does for you.

Maybe you have a disability, but there are things that you are able to do. Be grateful and do the things you can do. Everyone can find things they enjoy doing. One of my biggest hobbies is knitting and crochet. But that doesn’t mean I have to sit alone in the house and crochet by myself. I joined a knit and crochet circle. I sometimes crochet at the coffee shop and I have met people there. I am still getting out and socializing.

11. Stop trying to be perfect. Progress not perfection. No one is perfect.

If you are waiting to do something until you have the perfect body, you are never going to do it. Ever notice that people who don’t feel good about themselves are never happy no matter what size they are. Same is true of the opposite. You can choose to feel good about yourself no matter what size you are. You can choose to feel beautiful and sexy. You can also choose the people you surround yourself with. We can’t change the family we grow up around, but we can certainly choose our friends and the people we are close to as we get older. Surround yourself with those people that encourage you to be the best you.

12. Stop comparing yourself to other people. It keeps you in the negative and ugly mood. Jealousy makes you less attractive. Begin by noticing when you are starting to feel envy or jealousy. Keep a journal. I learn so much about myself by journaling

13. Continue to work these tips. Confidence is like being in training. You must continually tell yourself you can do it. Tell yourself you are beautiful. Our negative brains can mess with us, so we need to remind ourselves. Print out some favorite affirmations and post them up by your mirror where you will see them every day.  

I am not saying you need to try all the things I have done. Find your own things. Find your own people. Find a space and find the people that you feel comfortable with. If you enjoy cooking, join a cooking class. Meetup is a great resource. Get out and meet people. Focus on socializing, finding friends and having fun. Be confident in yourself.

You are enough; Stop feeding your negative thoughts.

This summer, many of us have been enjoying the weather, going on vacations, enjoying the beach or the pool. As Fall is approaching, we can enjoy pumpkin spice and Halloween parties. Year round, there are lots of opportunities for getting out, socializing with friends and making new friends.

What about those of us who deal with body shame? Those of us who are afraid to get into that bathing suit or afraid to go out and mingle, even though we might be feeling lonely and we really want to get out there. We see everyone else’s fun posts on Facebook and we sit with our envy and we think we can’t enjoy those same things.

This summer, I was busy recovering from surgery which meant no pools and no beach, but I made the best of it by socializing with friends and chosen family. I enjoyed reading outside. I chose to write. I chose to call people. I chose to focus on the positive and do as much as I am physically capable of doing. I haven’t always. I used to focus on the negative. I used to tell myself I couldn’t go swimming. I realize there were a lot of summers I spent cooped up on my couch instead of being outside, by my own choice, due to my own negative thoughts about my body, my body shame. So I started this writing.

 In this post, I want to discuss where this body shame comes from and how body shame affects us all as a society and how it affected me personally. I would also love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Where did your body shame come from? How has it impacted your life? What have you done to overcome body shame?

Sometimes negativity about our bodies comes from family. Sometimes negative thoughts are cultural or from society in general. For me growing up, I was told from family members that I had inherited those “Car family thighs” when I was a little girl. I also received a lot of mixed messages around food from my family.  I was being told over and over again, “You need to lose weight” or “Don’t eat so much”, “Try this diet”, “Try that diet”. Then I was told by the same people, “Finish your plate.”or “Hey here’s a piece of cake and some cookies.” In my Italian family, pasta was included in every meal. It was also often implied that it was rude to say “no” when offered more food or dessert.

Another source of body shame, unfortunately, is the society we live in. Society and the media can have a huge influence our own thoughts about our bodies.  Think about what society tells us is sexy. Most of the time we see models or actresses who are young, extremely thin, tall, with huge breasts, perfect skin, long flowing blonde hair. We see these images and we think that these images are the only image of beauty, of sex appeal, etc. We start comparing ourselves to the images that we see in the media. Who can really live up to that? I would dare to say no one.

What effect does this body shame have on us a a nation? In the U.S, we have a growing obsession with getting cosmetic surgery because we feel we aren’t enough. As a society we are paying tons of money now on liposuction, botox treatments for wrinkles, labiaplasty and other cosmetic surgeries. Body shame can also affect any one of any gender. This idea that women should look a certain way or men should look a certain way can create damaging body shame not only for those who are cisgender but also for people who are trans or non-binary.

What effect does body shame have on us individually? It stops us from living. It stops us from doing the things we love and enjoy. It stops us from getting into a bathing suit and hitting the shore in the summertime. It stops us from getting into that fun, sexy Halloween costume in the Fall. It stops us from wearing that sexy outfit for New Years Eve. It affects our interpersonal relationships. It stops us from calling or texting that person we are want to go out with. It stops us from being intimate with our partner(s).

So what do we do to improve our body image so we can enjoy our summer, the fall and the rest of our lives? Here’s something I’d like you to consider that I have learned. It’s not always our imperfections that are keeping us from enjoying life. It is our negative thoughts about our imperfections. This has been my experience.

The two biggest things I had shame over have been my weight and my disability, particularly my feet. When I was young I loved swimming. Swimming is one of the few beneficial exercises I am able to do with my disability. As I got older, I missed many years of swimming, because of my body shame related to my weight and my feet. I didn’t miss out because of the fact that I am overweight and that I have a disability. I was physically capable of swimming but it was my negative thoughts that stopped me from swimming.

We often start with just one small negative thought that we keep repeating to ourselves or even repeating out loud about ourselves to other people. You know the phrases I am talking about here. “I am too fat. I am too skinny. I have too many pimples. I walk funny, etc.” Then we feed this negativity and it grows. The more you entertain negative thoughts, that is, the more you say these negative statements, the more negative your other thoughts become. It is a downward spiral.

I started off in college with this simple belief that I couldn’t wear a bikini until I lost weight. These negative thoughts continued and grew worse over time. Soon, my belief turned into “I can’t get into a one piece bathing suit until I lose all the weight. So for a while, I would wear a tee shirt and shorts in the pool. Then my negative thoughts continued to grow and all of a sudden I was too embarrassed to even get into the pool. The more energy I focused on the negative thought, the more destructive the negative thoughts became.

I also never liked to be seen barefoot. My feet are very small. As a result of Spina Bifida, I cannot move my feet or my toes. One toe sits on top of the other on my right foot. I have had many surgeries on my feet. I never wanted anyone to see my feet. I would keep shoes, my leg braces and socks on at all times without realizing that other people at the pool don’t care about my feet. They are having their own fun. This negative thought grew and eventually affected me when I would have sex with a new partner. I would be comfortable getting naked but I would still be uncomfortable taking off my socks. It wasn’t until a partner pointed out to me, that I realized how silly I actually looked being naked with socks on in bed. Fortunately, I can laugh about that today.

As I am getting older, I can no longer walk barefoot. That is something I wish I would have done more when I was younger. My biggest regrets have not been the things I have tried and failed, but the things I didn’t try and the things I missed out on..The relationships I missed out on… The pool parties I missed out on…. The intimacy I missed out on. Why did I miss out on these things? I missed out on them, not because of my weight or my disability, but because of my body shame and my negative thinking.

Think about when you get older or about when you are no longer here. Do you really want to be remembered for your perfect body or do you want to be remembered for the things you did with your time on earth. When you are older, do you want to have regrets of the things you missed out on because you felt too embarrassed to get out and try? If you are able to get out there and go swimming, go for a walk or roll in your wheelchair outside, go to an event and socialize, then today is the day to do it. Don’t wait for some day because some day may never come. Today is the day to get out there.

Although I have some regrets, I refuse to dwell on them. Today I am enjoying life to the best of my ability. I have learned to love myself. I have learned that I am enough. As I begin to have positive thoughts, the positive thoughts grow. I am wearing sexy dresses. Next summer, I will be in my bathing suit ready to go swimming, no matter what my scale tells me my weight is. I am planning my next tattoo which will be a tattoo of a tea cup with the expression “I am enough.” Instead of feeding my negative thoughts, today I choose to feed positive thoughts, starting with this simple one. I am enough.

My professional background

I am Angela Car, a sexual health educator and advocate for people with disabilities. I am 44 years old and I was born with Spina Bifida. I have a M.A. degree in Criminal Justice and a B.A. degree in Psychology.

In graduate school, I became interested in working with people with disabilities who were either victims of crimes or alleged offenders. I worked as a graduate assistant doing research and I found there was a huge need to support people with disabilities involved in the criminal justice system.

Although there was a huge need, I could not find full time employment specifically in criminal justice and disability. So over the past 15 years I gained experience in a few different areas; from providing substance abuse prevention education for people with disabilities, advocating for access to housing and education, to counseling incarcerated women with mental health issues and addictions.

I became a Pure Romance consultant and received additional training in sex education. I realized that while I am not a great salesperson, I have a passion for educating people. So I no longer sell products. I am grateful for my experience as a Pure Romance consultant because it reminded me of what I am passionate about and gave me confidence to go after my goals.

My focus now is on education, advocacy and sharing my story to help other people. I created #DISIRability to start this important discussion of sexual health and sex positivity for people with disabilities. As people with disabilities, we have the same basic needs as everyone else. We desire intimacy and connection. We are desirable.

I have now been providing sexual health education and sharing my personal story for the past two years at local disability agencies and sexual health forums online and in person. I hope you will take the time to read my blogs. Most of them are about sexual health and disabilities. Others are on different topics I share about my life, such as family relationships and addictions. I look forward to connecting with you.