Mirror, mirror on the wall

One big advantage of being in bed a lot of the time is that I don’t see myself in a mirror very often. Recently we were on holiday in Dawlish at a convalescent hotel, it works really well because the rooms have call bells and a nurse is on duty. Two of the rooms are accessible enough for my use. I can even wheel my wheelchair into the wet room. Unfortunately they don’t have a wheeled commode I can use to have a shower. For our efforts in that direction read my blog “An unusual request from Amazon.” But I can wheel in to the sink to wash my hands, a small thing you might think; not to me.

Above the sink is a mirror, I don’t usually get to see myself in a mirror. So imagine my shock when I saw the face staring back at me. Is it the youthful, rugged, handsome face I picture in my mind? Of course not. It’s a fat old guy with hanging jowls and wrinkles, little hair and what there is being grey. Chubby little cheeks and generally a worn looking old face. Who is this! Oh, it’s me. At least when I’ve seen photos of myself they are either distant, poorly lit or retouched automatically by the phone. A bathrooms harsh light and big mirror does none of that, it just shows truth. The unvarnished, glaring, literal truth.

Mirrors are useful things, they reflect back at us the things in front of them. They don’t judge or modify, so they tell us the truth and we can work with that. But we are so used to our modern tech that we probably don’t even realise that most modern phones automatically adjust photos by type. So a face is recognised as a and the phone automatically treats it as a portrait which is then enhanced, softened and beautified. Even when that isn’t automatically done, often people do it themselves. The the image we end up presenting to the world via social media is a mask. We don’t do reality any more.

I have looked at some peoples social media photos against the person in real life and wondered who they hired for the social media photo. Mind you people probably think that about me. No, reassurance kicking in, I have been recognised from my blog photo by people who don’t know me. Image is so important to us, how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen.

What a lot of people may not consider is what a wheelchair user thinks about their image. Don’t we care what we look like, because after all don’t we look like dorks anyway, wrapped up in all sorts of coverings, all sorts of bags on the side and back. Supported seating, special controls. Yes I can call myself a dork, it’s only discrimination if you do it. Have you ever wondered what Stephen Hawkins must have thought about how people viewed him? A brilliant brain in a broken body. We do have feelings about how we look, we just don’t have a lot of choice. I was saying to one of the wheelchair technicians how lacking in style wheelchairs are. He said “they are NHS after all.” What’s that got to do with it. The NHS pay wheelchair companies a fortune to make them wheelchairs, they just need to specify ‘make them look nice too,’ it wouldn’t add cost if done at the design stage. It’s all about motivation and political will.

I obviously cannot speak for every wheelchair user. Apart from anything else, some of them look very cool, in their swish wheelchairs. I can only really speak for myself. I know when I go out on a summers day, wrapped up as if it’s winter, because I feel the cold, I look naff. I don’t know what the weather will do later and I can’t update some things, so I dress for the coldest possible. Plus I don’t wear shorts, partly because I don’t believe in inflicting my legs on unwary passers by and partly because of the conveen leg bag that would then be on full show. I know some wheelchair users have got beyond such embarrassment, I haven’t.

I think that fully supported, tilting power wheelchair user and cool looking are mutually exclusive terms. So I am thinking there needs to be a new perspective on this. We need to be the trend setters. After all, why not? If it can be fashionable to have your underwear showing and the clothing ripped and worn, why can’t fashion become visible urine bags, inappropriate clothing for the weather and all the other indignities we have to put up with as wheelchair users. Yes, I think I can cope with being a fashion icon. Wheeling down the cat walks of Paris and London:

Imagine the scene a Paris cat walk, cameras flashing, TV cameras following every move, crowds packed in, a commentator announces:

“Mike is sporting a baggy pair of sweat pants in fetching blue, the sweeping flow of blue nylon with inner liner checked cloth is actually a cunningly disguised waterproof cover, that flash of red is the inner hood of his coat, highlighting his head. You will notice the sky blue bag draped at a jaunty angle on the rear, and the way Mike’s legs are wrapped completely within the faux fur lined foot snuggle and yet the zip is left open to show some of the interior white fur lining. Adding to the whole effect we have thrown in a smattering of alternating colours and textures by adding padded cushions on the headrests and hanging brightly coloured bags on the sides. These side bags, which we have called “multi purpose fashion panniers” are available in a range of colours and styles to suit your tastes. As a humorous and yet functional addition Mike is now demonstrating the water bottle holder attached at a slanty angle on the side arm. As Mike spins round at the end, oops careful there Mike, there’s no sides on this stage, I think you’ll all agree this is a fashion we will be seeing in the high street chains soon. You will be jealous if you have no wheelchair.”

Some of you know me well enough to know what a joker I am. But I am making a serious point. Being in a wheelchair you can feel like a Wally and you don’t see yourself very often in a mirror to really judge. But we are aware of it and I for one do like the idea of looking a bit more stylish. Even if such a thing is impossible, even before I was in a wheelchair. So maybe we should set the trend for a new fashion style. Who knows maybe wheelchairs will become the new must have fashion accessory, just like people who wear glasses just for style reasons.

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Author: Mike Nevin

I decided to write about the funny side of being cared for. I am a full time wheelchair user with daily carers. It's my experiences with my carers that inspired this blog.

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