Depending on who you ask and which country you ask it in, “beauty” is as fluid as the tide in the ocean. And when you add disability to the mix, it gets a lot more complicated. Some people just can’t see someone with a disability as beautiful, even if it’s Cindy Crawford or Brad Pitt in that chair. They just can’t see the pretty.
Wendy Crawford, a C5-6 quadriplegic from Toronto, Canada, understands this all too well, which is why she was asked to give a speech for TEDx Traverse City this past May. A former runway model in the ’80s, she was injured in a car accident while on her way to the airport to Japan for her first international gig. They were hit from behind on an off-ramp by an intoxicated driver. She was 19.
It was a ‘tragedy’ that the media ate up, and they would do the same today, sadly, positioning Wendy as the “tragic pretty blonde whose life has been utterly ruined.” People eat this stuff up. It makes them feel better about their lives, even if they won’t admit it.
Society and the media have not changed much since the ’80s, and even the fashion industry enjoyed using her story at events in the beginning. Wendy was hopeful she might still have a shot at modeling, but it didn’t take long for Wendy to realize that was wishful thinking. No one was interested in hiring her. The Attorney General’s Office of Ontario, however, was interested.
The office ended up hiring Wendy for several years to be its spokesperson to warn others about drinking and driving. And because of her work in this area, Wendy was awarded the Ontario Crime Prevention Award — twice. She is also the woman behind mobileWOMEN.org, a great resource for woman with disabilities that she founded in 2002, with the help of a $50,000 grant from the California Endowment (a private fund).
This website, much like her TEDx talk, is all about empowering woman with disabilities. While her TEDx speech questions the very notion of beauty, mobileWOMEN gives practical advice that can be just as uplifting. Advice on fashion, health, pregnancy, dating, sexuality — all geared for the woman with a disability — is offered on the site.
The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation are now supporters of the site, and it’s thriving. One of my favorite things you’ll find are Wendy’s gardening videos, a hobby she discovered post-injury. She’s also been married twice, currently married to her second husband, and has some great step-kids, including a stepdaughter who also uses a wheelchair.
In the speech she gave for TEDx, “Solving the Beauty Equation,” Wendy challenges the audience to question why their brain views one face as beautiful, and the other not. The brain having a preference to symmetry, what we are taught growing up … all of this comes into play with our perception of beauty, and she has you re-think it.
It’s always a good idea to cast a critical eye on our brain’s default reactions, especially beauty. Everyone should watch Wendy’s 20 minute video. It has the power to change how millions of women with disabilities view themselves in a much-needed positive way.
What have you re-learned about beauty while on your disability journey?