Posted by Lisa Meade
A poet, a writer, a social activist and a powerful voice in the beauty madness conversation, Natalie E. Illum brings a much-needed perspective to beauty and disability. According to Natalie, there is little representation of those with disabilities in the media or beauty industry. Sharing a recent purchase of a bathing suit she noted the package having a copy line that said, “Swim-wear for all”. The package design had a photo which represented 18 different body types, sizes and shapes on it, but no one with any kind of disability. Her awareness of the fact that people with disabilities did not make the “cut” for the advertising left her with familiar disgruntled feelings. Her shock and disappointment was huge, and yet it also affirmed what she sees on a daily basis in our beauty standard promotions.
Advertising tends to use more physically recognizable disabilities, when and if they are used at all. Natalie shared that society still appears to have trouble with recognizing that the disabled have beauty, that they are not invisible. “We teach our children to appreciate our differences, but it does not seem to lend itself to the disabled community”, she shared.
Further explanation from Natalie, “Disability is the one thing we can all become, it does not discriminate by anything such as income, age, gender and so on.” According to Natalie, this terrifies our society and perhaps the subtle awareness of this fact creates this avoidance of combining advertising, beauty and disabled. Beauty is all about perfection in our society, thus the disabled, who are viewed as not perfect, by beauty standards, do not fit in.
Having struggled with being seen as a person, it was surprising to Natalie that as she matured and developed physically into a woman that people recognized her attractiveness. It took her a very long time to realize that she has beauty and can be seen in this way. For so long her focus was on how people were viewing her as a disabled female and not on her femininity or beauty. She has since then embraced her curves and celebrates them as they bring a recognition to her presence that she was at one time unaware of, but now enjoys and celebrates.
When asked how do we as a culture shift the beauty emphasis on perfection so that it is more inclusive Natalie shared the fact that within the last couple of years the fashion industry is embracing the disabled and using them on their runways for their clothing lines. But it is not indicative of main-stream society, but she is hopeful that it will become more so. Her wish is that it will begin to normalize beauty standards for the disabled.
Natalie stated that she experiences beauty as a disabled woman, not being in the typical beauty conversation, quite differently. Having been raised in a culture that states she would not be homecoming queen material, Natalie instead uses ways to feel beautiful that do not include being just being gazed upon. Her poetry is one example as her words share her beauty perspective. Her performance of her poetry allows her to bring her voice to that. It is here that she found her beauty.
When asked what she would like women to ask themselves about beauty and disabilities, “Why do we spend so much time on this beauty madness? How much time could we instead spend on doing something else? Why is it so bad to be with someone who does not meet the traditional beauty standard?”
To learn more about what Natalie is saying on this conversation and all the ways that she brings her beauty and voice to the world visit her website, http://natalieillum.net/