I wasn’t raised to be conscious of my disability. I had a big pack of friends in elementary school, and I wasn’t bullied. But in middle school, when everyone was obsessing about their changing bodies, it occurred to me that even after I eventually filled out, I would never have the “perfect” body. I didn’t get a lot of romantic attention in middle school, which may have had as much to do with my loud feminism as my arm, but it made me nervous. Even after I started dating, I was always surprised to find people attracted to me. After all, if someone has an asymmetric face, people tend to label them as ugly and find them unattractive. So why would my asymmetric body be any different?
I’ve gotten more confident over the years, and I’ve realized that my confidence itself has made me more attractive, at least for serious relationships. In the crowded college party scene, I can’t take attraction for granted the way my friends do. In some ways, knowing that I can never be bodily perfect, no matter my weight or my makeup or my clothes, frees me from a lot of the pressure other girls feel. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I can’t have any other imperfections in my life, because my arm is all the allowance for imperfection I’ll get in society. It’s made it harder for me to accept my queerness, because there’s a part of me that wants to prove that I’m attractive to men, since men are the ultimate arbitrators of worth in a patriarchal society. My deepest fear is seeming undesirable, pathetic, and worthless.
I don’t consciously accept the ways those concepts are all linked together with conventional standards of beauty, but I also can’t get them out of my mind. When people tell me that I’m attractive even with my arm, I’m happy, but my larger point is that we need to divorce beauty and worth. Serious disfigurement, or simply being born with asymmetric or “unattractive” features, doesn’t need to be a tragedy if everyone is given respect for their inherent worth as humans. That’s what I’m hoping for, Pollyannish as it sounds.
I want the possibility of being ugly and still having worth, not the reassurance that I’m pretty and don’t have to worry about it.