The Value of Labels

As a fashionista I know the value of a label - even if I can't afford to purchase the article of clothing it's attached to. I have certain expectations when I see names like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Donna Karan. I will forever associate the infamous Little Black Dress with Coco Chanel. I know that Alexander McQueen's aesthetic is going to be vastly different from Donnatella Versace's or Louis Vuitton's. Although it generally takes a while for the haute couture influences to make their way into the pret-a-porter world it is the shapes and colors that define the major labels that morph into what we everyday fashionistas lust after in the stores.

Yet, when I label myself a spaz, a palsy, or a cripple the reactions I get are very negative - especially among my peers.

"Don't say that!" They tell me. "You're differently-abled," or, "you're physically challenged," or, "you're handi-capable" - my personal favorite.

While I truly don't wish or intend to be offensive or injurious to anyone else I refuse to dilute or diffuse the specifics of my disability by reducing it to a politically-correct, technically flaccid, feel-good phrase. I have not arrived at this position unthinkingly. I think it's safe to say that anyone whom society deems as different gets ridiculed as they are growing up by other kids for their differences. We can spend the next 20 minutes debating the cruelty that all children at one time or another display towards one another, how wrong it is, how they're bullies, etc. I'm not going to bother with that. Righteous indignation doesn't neutralize pejoratives.

When I was in high school - a Catholic high school - I suffered no end of taunts and torments. To be perfectly fair, some of those were well-deserved, but the ones pertaining to my disability were beyond any actions on my part. There is no need to give an itemized list of the slights I had to endure but there is one incident that turned the tables and made me understand how to deal with verbal abuse. One of my classmates used to get infinite pleasure in calling me "Paul" every time she saw me.  Of course, her friends found this hilarious and she thought I was too stupid to understand that she was making fun of me. After hearing this for the better part of six months one day I'd had enough. "I'm not Paul; I'm Palsy," I spat back at her.

She froze. Her friends were mute. They all turned red and looked away. None of them bothered me again.

Oh, so I just have to be open, honest, and proud of the Outer Spaz? Aha!

No, I didn't arrive at the "aha" overnight; but I did arrive.

Nowadays if I'm approached by a curious child - the kind that run right up to me and ask, "What's wrong with you?" - I tell them. The way I deliver the answer depends on the child's age, but in general I explain that I was born this way and can't walk so well by myself so I use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. I'll answer even the snottiest kid's questions in the hopes the kid learns early in life that taunting a handicapped person doesn't faze them. Most kids aren't sure what to do, but even the shyest child generally warms up with a smile and a wink.

I've met many kind, gracious people that are simply terrified of doing or saying the wrong thing. This is one of the negative repercussions of too much political correctness. I can't tell you how many times I've been approached with an offer of help by someone petrified their assistance might be misconstrued as offensive.  My "labels" let them know that I'm very secure with who I am and they don't have to walk on eggshells around me. However, just because I'm comfortable with my Outer Spaz I never assume others are at ease with theirs. If I see other handicapped people when I'm out and about I do my best to make eye contact with them and smile - because I get it. Our journey is not an easy one but our path is not made easier by the averted eyes and nervous whispers that are not much better than stares and name-calling. My attitude, along with my wardrobe, makes my disability much less important, much less prominent, in the eyes of others.

After all, everyone has something they find physically challenging, and we're all differently-abled. I have Cerebral Palsy, and I wear it well.

Fashion Friday: Cuba Libre

Last Friday we went to France. This week I'll tap into my Cuban roots to bring you an outfit cool enough for the soaring summer temps yet hot enough to make you look like a million bucks.

Remember to keep it referential, not literal. The eyelet dress can look matronly if you don't pair it with fresh, modern accessories like the bangles and the fedora. If you're unable or unwilling to pull off a strapless dress pair it with a white 3/4 sleeve lightweight bolero or shrug - belt it if it won't stay put. The sandals here, very reminiscent of tropical resort trendiness, sport a modest heel and a secure side buckle. Can't do a heel or a sandal? A T-strap ballet flat would work just as nicely here.

You can also check out this outfit and others I've created on my Polyvore page.

Please give me your feedback. Is this something you'd wear? What is it lacking to make it work for you?

We Can Work It Out

And we should work it out.  I don't care how mild or how severe your CP is we Palsies deserve to look as good as anybody else.

The way you dress reflects how you feel about yourself. It doesn't determine your worth as a person, but it does determine your estimation of your own value. It lets other people know how much or how little you think about the package you're presenting to the world. I think it's really, really important for those of us with Cerebral Palsy to understand that we have the potential to be as valuable as anyone else. It's equally important to understand that we are being judged for our physical appearance far more critically than our able-bodied counterparts. It's not because people are jerks - although some people clearly are. It's because as human beings we are physiologically hardwired to notice differences in our environment and that includes people who look or move in a way that is radically different from the norm. In other words, people are going to notice you because you are handicapped. All the political correctness in the world isn't going to change that. It's just going to make others that much more hesitant to approach you for fear of saying something offensive.

Do you want someone else's first impression of you be of nothing but your disability? Are you so nicely wrapped that people are staring at you - in a GOOD way - because they'd like to interact with you? Or do you look like you either think little of yourself or wish you owned Harry Potter's cloak of invisibility?

Why deny anyone the opportunity to get to know you? Change their preconceptions with that first glance, that first impression. You can do it. I have done it, and I know that for a fact because people I've met that have become friends have told me so.

It took me far too long to come out of the shadows. Don't waste another day of your life waiting for the world to change. Change your world - today.

I want to get to know you! I want to start a movement with you. I want to recruit you as a fellow Spashionista. I want us to help each other look like we're worth our weight in gold; because we are!

The Warm Color Palette: Smokin' Hot or Oh-So-Not

I'm going to start with this color group because it is the easiest to explain. If you need to wear Warm colors you are easy to spot and the right colors on you make a very dramatic difference for the better.

Most people who fall into this category have reddish undertones in their hair and muted eye colors. As I said in the "Blank Page" post if the Warm palette is the one for you your skin tends towards golden tones and if your hair has started turning gray that gold cast will also be present in those strands of hair. In other words, your graying hair will look like dirty dishwater instead of silvery white.

In terms of your wardrobe the colors you wear need to be yellow-based and warm. Cold and bright is not for you. Icy blues and pinks make you look like you are coming down with something. Navy blue and black make you look tired and grey makes you sink into the background.

"Yes, yes, but these are all just words." You're probably saying, out loud even. "How about some visuals, please!"

But of course.

Here are the two most important colors in determining whether this is your scene or not.

If you look fab in these then Warm colors are all you. If you look drab then move on immediately.

Here are some more examples that fall into the Warm range of colors.

Notice that browns and burgundys are the neutrals of choice for this group.

I compiled all of these examples using Polyvore.

Are you a Hot Tamale or a Pallid Princess in Warm tones? Do you hate these colors even though they suit you? Do you love them but can't wear them?

Step Two: Wake Up Sleeping Beauty

Your life starts today.

My thanks to those of you that added your Outer Spaz list to "The Good, the Bad, and the Palsy" . We all share a common thread. Nobody likes the hand they were dealt. Too fat, too thin, too tall, too short. Not good enough. Why bother trying?

Because who you are is beautiful. Because the most important thing you can wear is your own acceptance of your inner beauty. Think of it in terms of the zen that is a Tootsie Pop. Perfection is a hard candy coating. It's the tootsie roll at the center that everybody wants to get to. Without that you are nothing but a mannequin. With it you are a queen.

No more excuses

If you've been alive for more than 20 minutes you've made mistakes, you have regrets, you want do-overs. Every day is an opportunity to atone for your past by leaving it in the dust. Wake up, Sleeping Beauty, to the fact that this is it and you're amazing. Don't wait until tomorrow; no more excuses. Practice wearing that fabulous outfit until it feels like a second skin. The real work is about to start.

The Good, the Bad, and the Palsy

It would hardly be fair of me to ask you to scrutinize your Outer Spaz and honestly evaluate your apparent flaws without me doing the same. The difference is I'm going to do it here, publicly, for the whole world to see. Or at least the handful of you out there reading this.

So here we go.

Let's start with the non-Palsy related issues. At just 5' tall I am short even by petite standards. I'm also short waisted which means I look heavier than I am and my body type resembles an apple. To call me voluptuous would probably be an understatement.  My hips aren't tiny and I wear a G cup - yes, I said G - and even though I'm an apple I do have some hourglass curves. Unfortunately, I have 150 lbs worth of curves. I'll talk about weight issues later, but I would like to assure everyone that I am healthy insomuch as I don't have hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, or any other weight-related health condition other than guttus enormous, and I'm working on that one. I'm also working on my flabby arms and thighs, but  I gots 'em so I'd better cope with 'em. At the end of my thick ankles I've got really wide, Fred Flintstone feet, too. Oh, and I'm almost 51 so the amount of work required to attempt to keep my body in check, let alone get in better shape, conjures images of Sisyphus.

On the plus side I have a nice, long neck, decent hair, a good smile if I can keep from spazzing, delicate shoulders, and great cleavage. My husband says I have a great behind, too. Unfortunately when I'm in public it's usually planted in a wheelchair so I can't really count it as an asset; pun intended.

These are the body issues that I have to consider when I shop for clothes or put together an outfit. This is the part of my Outer Spaz that I can most effect. But we Palsies and others with physical disabilities have to factor those things into our physical equation.

I think the Palsy deserves it's own post so I'll tackle that next time. In the meantime if you made your list and all you saw were flaws look again. While we're on the subject of your list, since we're in this together, how about sharing it with me? I really, really want to hear from others who undoubtedly have different issues on their list than I do.