I spent most of my twenties in pyjamas, leggings, and cosy jumpers. My hair was mostly unwashed, tied up in a bun on the top of my head, and I’d be lucky if I could wash myself properly more than once a week. Before that, I’d always been interested in vintage style and vintage fashion, but I felt so uncomfortable and insecure in my body that a handful of cute dresses were the limit of my ‘personal style’. As I got older, and my chronic illnesses took hold more and more over my life, any sense of fashion (bar a slash of red lipstick whenever I’d go out) went out the window.
It was difficult to see ‘Ill Natasha’ staring back at me every time I looked in a mirror, and even though I couldn’t figure out any ‘style’ I always tried to look as put together as possible whenever I did leave the house.
A few years ago, when I was tucked up in bed and obsessively reading everything that was trending in the chronic illness community, I stumbled across an article about a hashtag where people were glamming themselves up and taking selfies when they were at the hospital, both inpatient and just generally for appointments. They wrote about how taking the time to focus on how they looked cheered them up, made them feel like themselves, and just gave them a sense of control during an extremely difficult time where control is often something that feels so distant. ⠀
I scrolled down to the comments and, of course, it had turned into a competition of 'well they're obviously not as ill as I am. I don't have the energy to do that etc etc etc'. I remember how much that pissed me off because it was one of those things where taking the time to focus on outward appearance was seen as a 'shallow' act, a waste of energy, and proof that these people obviously weren't as ill as they made out to be.
It seemed unfair that people in our own community were judging others for choosing to do something that made them happy and feel more comfortable during an obviously difficult time. The sad thing is, we know that the more effort you put into your clothes, hair, and makeup, how much less seriously non-disabled people often take you and your illness. Because if you just look SO DAMN FABULOUS you can’t be sick. Duh.
Since getting my powerchair, I learned that the so-called 'shallow' stuff (I don’t think it’s shallow) plays a VITAL role in making me feel like myself. It was definitely a time where my sense of self was shaken, and I had to really solidify who I was with this new outward sign of my disability that I’d never really had before.
Chronic illness takes a lot from you, and there’s something, for me, in finding a style and a sense of self that’s entirely outside of that. I’m not just Ill Natasha. I’m Natasha with the fabulous dresses and lipstick. I put on one of my vintage-style dresses and I honestly feel so much more like myself than the greasy Natasha in leggings and a giant jumper. Even if it’s only something I put on for an hour to wear at home or going to an appointment. It’s also why I’m probably always overdressed compared to everyone else when I go into the office. But I don’t care. ⠀
When you can't go out and do all that much, you have to find small things that make you happy. I think there's a reason why vintage-style fashion & general glam is prevalent in the chronic illness community. It’s a way of expressing something inside of us that we can struggle to do with our health the way it is.
And if that doesn't do anything for you and you don't want to spend your energy that way? That's fine as well. There are plenty of non-chronically ill people who literally couldn’t care less either.
I think what it ultimately comes down to is not judging other people for how they choose to spend their energy or present/express themselves. It honestly shocked me how much joy all of this bought me - I just wish I could afford to buy all the fabulous dresses I find online!
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