Is this what it feels like to feel absolutely beautiful? I look at my reflection in the mirror, studying every nook and cranny of my face, blushing slightly while everyone and everything in the room completely disappears. I see the mixture of love, sacrifices and ancestry it took to make me, Me. In that moment, I didn’t want to be anybody in the world but me. I felt nothing but self-love and gratitude.
In my lifetime, I am going to break barriers. To change the stereotypes people think of when they see me — stereotypes of what a “perfect,” “beautiful” or “powerful” woman looks like. I want other people with disabilities to see me and know that it is okay, to feel that it is okay, to believe that it is okay. To have a disability and just live.
Society is hard on women. We are encouraged to be glamorous but down to earth, to always prioritize male feelings over our own. We are taught that if we dance, we must dance to appease men, and if we wear flattering clothes, it’s because we want attention. I dress how I do because I want my style to reflect my emotions and my personality. It’s not for other people. I own my body. It is mine.
This is for my roots. For Brooklyn. For the Bay Area. For my family. For Afro-Latinas everywhere. The fire that burns inside of me burns inside all of us and can never be put out. We have survived and will continue to survive. We will build and continue to love and appreciate each other. We are glorious.
“I love myself” is the Quietest. Simplest. Most powerful. Revolution. Ever.
This is for the people who send my body messages of prayer And think I openly receive it — I do not. “Believe in God and He will heal you!” they say. As if I wasn’t created with Grace for a purpose. They believe I would not choose this body, if given another chance.
Oh, but how wrong they are: I worship my body and accept my disability. Neither are a burden to me. Glory to the twisted, the unbroken, the not mangled. Glory to those of us who know what it’s like to live with a disability and be thankful.
I want to bring all of me to the forefront. I want to talk about being black, being Latina and being disabled. I want to talk about poverty and history and forgiveness. I want to talk about intersectionality, magic and injustice. May we continue to create a world where all of us can and will survive.
This is in homage to Donyale Luna. Donyale Luna was a fierce woman who became the first black model to appear on the cover of Vogue. She was rebellious, defiant and distinctly beautiful. We share the same almond shaped eyes and long, spidery fingers. We are daring. She inspired this photo-project and I feel an immense amount of connection to this beauty who unapologetically created her dreams. Donyale Luna, thank you for being from “the moon.”
“Break the rules
And never regret
Anything that makes you smile”
Society says that people with disabilities are weak. That we want to be pitied or we’d rather be dead. We are “inspirations” when seen out in the world. Because society tells us that we are not beautiful, “normal” that we need to be fixed or cured. Because we aren’t white and abled-bodied with perfect bodies we aren’t deserving. Deserving of love, sex, respect and everyday lives. But, does it look like I give a care about what society says?
Director: Hazel Streete, Her Resilience
Photographers: Nicholas Lea Bruno, Nathan M. Benzschawel
Model: Gigi Giscome’
Location: Ashkenaz, Berkeley CA
Video: Qian Zhou, Daisy, Bo Yan, Vesna Zhou