Katie Farley, fashion writer and stylist, gives her personal account of the challenges of living with physical disability, and explains how she knows it won’t stop her reaching for her ultimate fashion goals
Fashionista, shopaholic, Vogue worshipper, beauty addict, ambitious, happy-go-lucky, creative, positive, hard working, determined and, oh yeah, my life package arrives with a few little added extras. By this I mean I have a somewhat rather annoying condition that is comparable to perhaps another woman having an inconvenient and unwelcoming beauty spot that refuses to pack its bags and take a permanent holiday – I have Cerebral Palsy, a lifetime physical disability, affecting all four of my limbs, muscle control and the inability to always speak in my preferred manner.
Does this type of disability dramatically impact my life? Well, as much as I would like to say no and pretend it’s only as frustrating as the beauty spot analogy, it’s slightly more perplexing. Although I remain positive and have obtained a good level of confidence and drive – never being able to escape from a disability can sometimes bring my self-esteem down a notch; with the constant feeling of being physically trapped in a strange body that prevents me from achieving important and everyday less significant tasks. For example, walking from one side of the room to the other. The only logical way to attempt to relate to this is, for every step you take, it is like learning to walk all over again for the very first time, with a constant sense of unease, vulnerability, feeling very unstable, and an injection of startling spasms thrown in for good measure. How very kind.
As a young woman who typically adheres to dress fashionably, have hair styled in a particular way, and apply the all-important make-up effectively, by not having the physical ability to achieve such outcomes independently is a bit of a bummer – to put it politely. To most young women, and without sounding somewhat superficial, appearance is everything, and although with assistance I am able to create my close to desired look, it’s not quite the same or as effective as doing these everyday, personal, imperative tasks independently. (Though, speaking from a slightly selfish point of view, when feeling a tad lazy it is something of a luxury to have your own personal dresser, hair and make-up artist on site to help you out, but that is beside the point, right?)
Aside from all the girly elements, other daily challenges that frequently occur when you are disabled are almost never ending. From entering a building and needing to get to the second floor and being informed that there’s no lift; needing the toilet and realising there’s no disabled facilities; unable to squeeze oneself into a stupidly small-sized dressing cubicle, and the big one – regularly being spoken over as though you don’t exist, or, of course, being spoken to by a person who is clearly under the impression you have the mental age of a five-year-old, when obviously you look completely normal and probably, no, definitely, have much more of a brain than they do. People who approach you on the streets can have a tendency to condescendingly praise you for getting out and about. I know they probably mean well, but after all, disabled people are not aliens who need to be treated like they’ve never before seen the light of day, or ever negotiated an actual conversation.
Challenging and sometimes exasperating – yes, yet despite this I’ve personally thrown anger to one side and concentrated on what I am indeed able to do. I’ve opted to fully demolish the ‘dis’ and rather put more emphasis on the ‘able’ aspect. As the saying goes, ‘life is what you make it’, and this could not be anymore applicable to an individual living with special needs, where you absolutely have to make the most of what you have, and ultimately channel your ambitions to surprise and succeed.
When faced with a disability, you fundamentally feel you have a point to prove in life. Well, I certainly do anyway. Working as a freelance fashion trend journalist, my ultimate career aim is to be a successful fashion editor for a top, worldwide fashion publication. Essentially, I’m striving to be the next Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and The City), working for Vogue and known as the ultimate fashionista. I’m completely aware that I’m entering one of the world’s most competitive and cut-throat industries, where image is vital and the pace is rapid, but the thrill of delving into the latest, luxury international collections, emerging trends and attending annual fashion shows entices me to keep up the persistence of hard graft to one day achieve this ultimate personal life goal.
The fashion industry is almost alien to disability, but I aim to change this. Previous experiences of mine include writing for an array of national fashion and beauty websites, blogs, local and worldwide style publications, as well as working as a personal celebrity stylist, where I dressed my client for several high profile red carpet events, including the Cosmopolitan Awards.
My journey to reach the top could well be a slow and steady process, but with determination, desire, and maybe a sprinkling of talent, I believe this will be achievable, regardless of any disability.
Let’s view disability as an ultimate challenge, never an impossibility.