Get Real
Now my self-esteem is very high, but if you had asked these questions a few years ago, the answer would be totally opposite. The media do not present a true image of any woman in society, disabled or not. And the people with disabilities that they present to the public are only the “good-looking” ones–they’re never overweight and never, ever have more than one impairment at a time. The thing that helps is remembering who I am and what is really important.

Kathy Hoell, 42
Graduate student
Omaha, Nebraska

If Looks Could Kill
When a disability robs you of your body, it robs you of yourself. You are what you see in the mirror and what you feel like when you get up in the morning. If these two perceptions are agonizing, then I would venture to say that self-esteem is no more than self-loathing.

Looking at television, with its pretty young things, is just too painful. Magazine articles on weight loss, exercise and health lead to a frustration level bordering on toxic. What would help? If mass media would use more people with disabilities, we’d likely lose some of the freak appeal. If someone would be my friend instead of me being their mission, maybe I’d feel more like a person. Possibly, the mirror would not be so warped, and the pain would be only physical.

Shan Lizotte, 49
Neuromuscular disability
Houston, Texas

Ignore Irrelevance
For some reason, I feel just fine about my body. Mass media has little impact on me, except for the harm I see it doing to my female students. I try to make them aware, as I am, of the manipulation going on there, and of its total irrelevance. What helps? Being busy, happy, having children and good friends, a satisfying job–all those make appearance a lot less important than it might otherwise be.

Anne Kelly, 41, T9 para
High school counselor
Nacogdoches, Texas

No Spoon-feeding
I don’t really have issues with self-esteem now, as an adult, but I did as an adolescent. As I got older and became more aware of how the media spoonfeeds images, I was able to take a more critical look. When you get out in the world, you see we don’t all look the same. You have to think: My woman-ness is not all wrapped up in what you see on the outside. Do not judge your value by other people’s standards.

Yomi Wronge, 25
Osteogenesis imperfecta
Santa Ana, California

In TV Hell
My disability has affected my self-esteem a great deal. Actually, not so much the wheelchair, but the fact that I’m a quad and can’t get enough exercise to lose the fat I’ve gained since my injury. I look in the mirror and I hardly recognize myself.

I know a lot of my low self-esteem comes from society’s expectations of what a beautiful woman should look like, and even though I disagree, I can’t fight the negative fe