Shifting

A couple weeks ago I went to my first therapy session in years. I cried many times. I told my story. I told her my life. I asked for help. We talked about my goals. What I want to get out of my time. One of the things addressed was identity. Who am I? Outside of motherhood, cancer, disability… who am I really. Who am I? It’s been the question on my mind constantly since that session.

Soon after I noticed something on my Instagram account. My engagement had plummeted. I looked into it and found  I had been shadow banned (meaning I can still post but only my current followers can see me, no one can find me under my hashtags) I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions as to why and at the end of the day IG is a business so I tried to play their game so to speak. I changed my hashtags, I never used the same hashtag more than once and yet nothing changed. I started noticing others had been shadow banned  too and were speaking out on it. What’s interesting is it wasn’t my friends posting about food that were affected by this, or the people showing pictures of their kids. It’s the straight or abled bodied people.  It’s people with disability. It’s trans people. It’s queer people. It’s advocates. It’s people who are trying so damn hard to bring awareness. It’s people who are making a difference. It’s people who NEED to be heard. Their voices are being taken away.

I’ve been away from IG for a week. Processing and reflecting on this. Do you know how gross it is to be censored just because you’re different? To be told we don’t want to hear your voice? Want to know what exclusion looks like? This is it. What to know what ableism looks like? This is it. It’s our society telling us again, we are not valuable. Our voices shouldn’t be heard.  No one should hear you. No one should see you. They don’t even tell you it’s happening either. Just one day they make you disappear and you are none the wiser. Was it the mastectomy pictures that were too much? Was it real pictures of my prosthetic and my amputation? Was it my call out of ableism or the use of the word fuck? I don’t know. All I know is how I feel. I feel tired. I’ve worked so hard to be heard and they shut me up. I’ve worked hard to bring awareness and they shut me down. I’m exhausted fighting so damn hard.

When people say that instagram is fake. It’s not just people with their filters and photoshop. It’s not just because people will show you only what they want you to see. It’s because even when you try so hard to be real, to be vulnerable, to be authentic the big forces stop everyone from seeing you. You only see what social media wants you to see and that’s fucking scary.

One thing this has done is helped show me who I am. I am strong. I am an advocate. I am a force. I will not be stopped. For now I am walking away from IG. I will not be a part of a system that continues to shut down and censor the people who are actually trying to make a positive difference in this world. I will still be writing. My voice will still be loud. My passion will not be dimmed.

The good news is this has helped me on my path to find my identity. I invite you to follow along here.

My Story….in pictures

When Kendal first reach out to me a year ago about her idea to start documenting I honestly didnt know why. I was very up front and told her that the story was mostly done. I had had my double mastectomy, chemo was done and while I was still mostly bald hair was definitely making a come back. While I still had a couple surgeries ahead I was already feeling the pressure to get back to normal. The rush to put cancer behind me. I really thought I had nothing to say and she wouldn’t have much to document. These last few months have very much proved otherwise. 16 months since I lost my breast  (has it really been that long?) Over a year since chemo and things are…different. They haven’t gone back to before. In some ways things are much better and in others I still struggle… a lot actually. Cancer will never be in my past but ingrained into the very fabric of who I am and I’m excited to share that and more. The more because I am so much more than cancer, so so much.

Check out the start of Kendals project here

My story through Kendal

 

Why I don’t hide.

I try to take my girls swimming once a week. 

I take them in the Womens change room when I could use the family one or even the disability rooms. 

I get changed with them in the middle of the room instead of behind the privacy curtains. 

 I’ll be honest though, this is hard. It’s one thing to take off my leg at cancer camp or when I am speaking to a room full of middle schoolers. It’s one thing to show my reconstructed breast to other women going through it or through a photographers lens. In a locker room where the people around me don’t know me or my story and have to come up with their own narrative is a lot more scary.

 I have no idea what they think when I take off my prosthetic to drain the water and change my wet stump sock into a dry one. Do they wonder if I was born like this? Do they think it’s gross or weird?

I have no idea if they look at my “breast” and wonder why I would get fake boobs. Or what thoughts they have about my “boob job”

It takes some deep breaths, some telling myself I am safe, some telling myself that what they wonder or think doesn’t matter. But I  go through this process each and every time I go to the pool, each and every time I get changed in a room of strangers. 

I know I am making a choice to do that. 

My choice in changing in a room full of strangers is intentional. 

It is intentional. 

Me dressing and undressing right in the open where other women can see me. I do it because I want to show my girls they don’t have to hide their bodies. I do it because I want them to grow up knowing what body positivity looks like. 

I am making that choice for me, to build my own confidence. To hope that one day I won’t wonder let alone care what others think about me. I hope to raise strong and powerful girls who can say “if my mom can love her body scars, amputations and all then so can I”

Today though the hard was harder than usual. Today a mom was nursing her baby. My girls are not shy and they engaged in a conversation with her. Soon it was talk about boobies. K made an observation “you have boobies.” The women looked at her and said “all mommies have boobies.” I could feel my heart in my throat. I wanted to cry because no, not all mommies have boobies. E piped up “my mom doesn’t, she had hers cut off” The women looked at me confused and half naked in a pool change room I told a small part of my story. Without preparation. Without wanting to. 

It will come up again. My children will make conversation and it will come up that mommy had cancer. It will come up that mommy had her boobies cut off. That mommy has a robot leg. They will hear their mom tell her story and one day they might now how hard that is sometimes and in knowing how hard it is I hope they see my strength. I hope they know I could have hidden but I chose not to. I hope it gives them the strength not to hide either. 

A night of Burlesque

I’ve been to a few burlesque shows. I have loved the glitz, glamour and art of seduction. I’ve always sat in the audience happy with my view from my seat.

Something happened last year though. A shift. A friend asked me to come to the local burlesque show with her. I was still recovering from my double mastectomy and about to start chemo and honestly I was on the fence because I didn’t know how I would feel. The night came and I just wasn’t ready to be out and about. I didn’t want to have people tell me I looked good or ask how my surgery had gone (I live in a small town, going out means being ready to see a lot of people you know)

A few months later my best friend asked me if I wanted to go see Dita Von Teese with her. You can read about that here. It’s what led me from being unable to even go to a show to being on stage a couple weeks ago.

As I practised my solo (honestly who the fuck does a solo their first time doing burlesque) I was so nervous. So many thought went through my head. “Why am I doing this. What if I mess up? What if I throw up” The first time I did my routine in front of all the other dances my heart was beating so loud I couldn’t hear the music. My timing was WAY off, I messed up, but I heard our leader say “keep going!” so I did, I kept going and it was ok. The world didn’t collapse and no one told me I was horrible. I came home that night and practiced over and over. I listened to my song on repeat. The next time we had rehearsal I was better, and the next time after that even better. With each practice my confidence grew, my heart was beating less. I could actually hear the music.

One night after I had practiced in front of my partner he has asked me why I was doing this. My first response was that I’m doing it for other women. That I wanted women in the audience to go “if she can love her body with one leg and reconstructed breast than I can love my body too”  Since then I’ve thought a lot about why I’ve entered this world of burlesque and here are my so many reasons why.

I do it because I don’t just want to find beauty in normal, I want to find beauty in all bodies period.

I do it because I’m told over and over again that disabled people are less worthy and I’m tired of it.

I do it as a fuck you to all the men who told me they would date me “if only you had 2 legs” and anyone else who has shown my pity because I only have one leg.

I do it because I love my body.

I do it because I love to dance.

I do it because I needed to take ownership of that this new body is in fact mine and mine alone.

I do it because I LOVE seeing people with disabilities challenging peoples perceptions of what we can and can not do.

I got on stage and I was addicted. The music, the lights, the audience. I went into another world. I got off stage after and it was all I could do not to burst into tears from the rush of emotions. I did it and trust me I’ll do it again.

 

Introducing…..Ms Eileen Wright 😉

Kendal Blacker PhotographyKendal Blacker PhotographyKendal Blacker Photography

 

 

All photos credited to Kendal Blacker Birth and Photography. Please do not edit or alter in anyway.