Disability & Advertising: The Independent

In case you missed it (though I have to confess I did excessively self promote on Twitter & Facebook) I wrote my first blog for The Independent last week.

It was written in response to the publicity surrounding designer Dolores Cortes’ decision to feature a young girl with Downs Syndrome in the catalogue for her children’s clothing range. In the piece I applauded her choice and discussed the potential positive changes that could occur in society if mainstream advertising acknowledged people with disabilities and their families.

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/07/26/if-you-judged-the-world-on-advertising-you-wouldnt-know-disabled-people-exist/

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Disability in Drama

I’ve read two great blogs this week discussing the portrayal of disability in drama and the lack of accurate and positive characters. It’s frustrating both as a disabled actress and as a disabled viewer to see inaccuracies and stereotypes on screen so it’s very much welcome that broadcasters and scriptwriters are finally engaging with this issue with some enthusiasm. I’d like to try and assure any script writers reading this that it’s not so daunting to write characters with a disability; you write them just as you would any other character, the same range of human emotions, just with a limb missing or paralysis or reduced hearing or sight; it’s incidental not integral. The plot shouldn’t focus on their disability, if you ask most of us we’ll tell you it’s not the centre of our daily lives.

If you still need proof that you can ignore a disability on screen I urge you to watch ‘Game of Thrones’, Peter Dinklage is bloody brilliant as Tyrion Lannister; the writing and his performance  strip away any preconceived ideas about disability and capability.  (He reminds me of JR Ewing, the dynamic, unscrupulous bastard with a sexy twinkle in his eye). It proves how simply the physicality of disability can add a layer to the scenes, any challenges to staging or screening can be overcome with the assistance and input of actors with disabilities; we’re professionals who know our own disabilities and their nuances and we’re well practiced at overcoming dramatic and logistical challenges.

Below is an article I wrote in 2009 for the BBC in house magazine ‘Ariel’ discussing this same topic and also I’ve attached links to the other blogs I mentioned so do please take a read, they make excellent points.

Blog by Katie Boyles:

http://nuttynatterchatter.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/script-reader-gripes-3-why-arent-we.html

Piece by Lisa Hammond on Stella Duffy’s Blog:

http://stelladuffy.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/writing-the-invisible-visible-and-doing-it-well/

Image

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BBC3: Cherry Healey: How to Get A Life

I generally try to avoid blogging when I’m feeling particularly charged about an issue, I know that it’s best to allow time for the fog to clear and think about things before putting fingers to keyboard.

However tonight I want to write while I’m still feeling so frustrated.

I’ve just finished watching Cherry Healey’s How to Get a Life, I was looking forward to this episode addressing issues around prejudice because I knew they were going to feature an interesting piece on disability and sexuality. ( I had been asked to contribute and really wanted to but I was away in the US during filming).

Cherry was very honest about her own experiences (or lack therof) with disabled people, I appreciated her asking the questions that most people are secretly dying to ask but are unlikely to unless they know someone with a disability. She interviewed a young woman who is paraplegic and participates in pornography and was totally open about her own surprise that disabled people have the same sexual desires as anyone else.

I was expecting frank and forthright conversation about disability and sex from a confident and sexually positive young disabled woman who would be able to dispel a few myths about disability and perhaps change a few prejudiced attitudes.

Instead we saw a young woman who clearly hasn’t adjusted to life as a wheelchair user yet; she struck me as still being quite raw and full of emotions that are still yet to be resolved. I’m loathe to make assumptions about someone I’ve only watched on television but I’m fairly certain she’s got pretty low self esteem, her own opinion of herself and her body were so harsh and negative it doesn’t require PHD in psychology to gather she’s neither confident nor positive.

I actually felt rather concerned about the emotional welfare of the woman herself; appearing in porn while clearly battling psychological issues is not the path to confidence and happiness. This woman has her entire life ahead of her, she is a bright, sparky young woman; she is totally independent, she is only paralysed from the waist down, not the neck down and that in itself is one hell of a gift. I hope she eventually realises this….

Anyway, what pissed me off is that rather than challenge stereotypes the programme has simply confirmed them.  There was too much focus on how miserable she is in the chair, the things that frustrate her, what she misses from her previous life and how much she thinks about walking because it’s easier to do things. (Do I spend time wishing I could walk? Honestly? Maybe a total of 90 minutes per YEAR.) All that does is confirm what able bodied people think life is like for a paraplegic.

So why does this piss me off so much? Because this programme will in some way inform how some people react to me and to other wheelchair users. I continuously strive to change attitudes towards disability but thanks to portrayals like this there will be people who will mistakenly assume that I’m bitter, aggressive, unhappy, sexually unsatisfied and physically unable to enjoy sex and I’ll have to spend time convincing them otherwise. Thanks for that.

The media has a large role to play in educating people about the realities of living with a disability and they are still falling short of that responsibility. It’s a depressing fact, but attitudes can be changed or confirmed based on television programmes.  What did the programme show that others haven’t? Nothing. It almost took a step backwards when considering the issue of wheelchair users dating each other; are we still so blinkered that people believe like must date like? Would I have dated a paraplegic before my accident? I don’t know, but I like to think that if I had met a guy that I liked, his wheelchair wouldn’t have been a deterrent. Would I date another wheelchair user now? No, but purely because it would be so impractical to have consider the logistics of 2 wheelchairs every time we went out. Have I fancied other guys in chairs? Yes, I’ve met good looking, funny, confident guys in chairs but the it’s the practicalities that deter me, not a prejudice against their physical disability. I felt disappointed that the choice to not date another wheelchair user was portrayed as based in prejudice when in reality it’s about more than that. There was a real opportunity to open people’s minds to the abilities of disabled people, to the normality, to the sexuality but I guess it was easier to conform to the stereotypes.

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The Undateables

Love it or hate it it’s coming back to our screens and the production team are looking for new people with disabilities to take centre stage. 

I know some of you felt quite strongly about it, that it was patronising, that is was the wrong approach or didn’t feature a disability relevant to you, (it’s impossible to represent all disabilities in one programme), but I felt that sometimes it was too easy to focus on the contributors with learning disabilities, it makes for a cute package that gives an audience a warm, fuzzy ‘aww’ feeling. 

I think the challenge is to explore the dating world of those with physical disabilities and the preconceived ideas some able bodied people have about dating someone with a disability; perhaps even change their own attitudes about dating a man or woman with a disability?

So rather than grumble about it why not apply? Be the funny, vivacious disabled man or woman that we all know isn’t featured on TV enough, show another side of disability! 

So if you’re single and looking to date why not let them do the ‘legwork’?

Contact Betty Productions: undateables@betty.co.uk

Or check out their Facebook page to find out more:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Undateables/434923796521048 

And if you didn’t see it but want to, catch the last series here:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-undateables/4od

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Fashion on Wheels

I’ve been thinking that as a model and woman with an avid interest in fashion I should probably include a few more posts about fashion and beauty products. (It’s too easy to only write when feeling all fired up and political).

As a disabled woman it can be quite difficult to find fashionable clothes that suit, my main concerns when buying clothes are a) how will the item look when in a seated position and b) is it long enough for my 6ft height?

(Then I have the same concerns as many other women, what is the quality, is it worth the price, is it too on trend so will be consigned to the charity shop next year?)

It’s too easy as a disabled person to believe that style and image have no relevance in our lives, but I believe the opposite is true. Making the extra effort to look good does in turn make you feel good, it gives a little lift of confidence and it also alters the manner in which other people react to you and your disability. It’s sad but true that people subconcisously  judge each other within the first 30 seconds of meeting each other, not much time to get your sparkling charm across, so appearance does matter; especially if you’re trying to get people to see beyond your disability. Whatever your own personal style is, think brighter and bolder with bells on!

My mum and my grandmother were both trained tailors so the importance of good cut and quality fabric have been impressed upon me for many years. This also meant that after my accident I was lucky to have my own personal tailor to alter clothes to fit my body and my seated position till I figured out what worked best with my body. My mum used to make me elaborate evening gowns with discreetly built in corsetry for college balls and glam parties. (Thanks mum!)

Anyway, I’m going to kick off with a quick post about a gorgeous dress I bought today from Whistles.

I’ve bought it to wear to a wedding this weekend, it’s been a long hunt for a dress that is colourful but not pastel, demure but not a smock, sultry but not skanky, short but not revealing and most of all…has sleeves!

I shan’t bore you with how many shops I scoured both here and in the US but it was tedious. And ironically the biggest issue I have finding smart dresses now is my size. For years when I was a size 10 I bought anything and everything I wanted (seriously, I have many friends who will testify to my habit); however, my new found curves have made shopping much more of a struggle, it seems I have a long checklist of ‘wants’ in a dress.

Is it gaping or revealing too much cleavage? Can my upper arms fit in the sleeves? Does it hide or accentuate my tetra belly? Ah, yes the blight of the cervical spinal injury; as if paralysed legs weren’t enough, biology / neurology dictates that one’s stomach muscles are also affected, meaning no tight abs on me. What I wouldn’t give for a toned washboard stomach! This seems to be made worse in a seated position and gives me a delightful little belly exactly where I don’t want one. But thankfully there is one item that can make a difference and for that reason I’m happy to contribute to Sara Blakley’s ever growing billion dollar Spanx empire. Spanx Higher Power, I ♥ U. http://www.spanx.co.uk/shop/

So back to the dress, it’s bright pink (other colours available) it’s lace, it has half  sleeves (but not the dreaded cap sleeve) and best of all it looks like a two piece. As a result when I wear it seated scalloped edge of the top tier hangs perfectly from breast to waist and the lower tier sits neatly like a pencil skirt. It’s got a little give in it which makes it super comfortable. 

Best of all it’s currently in their sale. If you’re a woman in a wheelchair looking for a posh frock I suggest checking out your nearest Whistles and trying it on (or order online if leaving the house is complicated).

http://www.whistles.co.uk/fcp/categorylist/dept/Outlet?resetFilters=true#ID=id_903000057794__GBP

I promise to make future fashion posts much more brief!

 

Postscript: Here’s a quick self snap of me in the dress:

 

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Where Are The Disabled TV Presenters?

So where are the disabled television presenters?

We’re doing whatever odd jobs we can, we’re trying to pay the bills, survive the Governments benefit cuts, negotiate TfL’s lousy access and develop creative ideas that might appeal to a production company, a commissioner and an audience.  Like most creative people, we’re hustling for the work where we can get it; sadly what were not doing is appearing on your television screens in mainstream programming.

Whenever there is a talent search for a disabled presenter my inbox is flooded with friends and colleagues suggesting I should apply; I have fairly extensive experience on television and would love to have more frequent and regular broadcasting work but so far, presenting on mainstream television has eluded me; though I have to confess I fucked up royally on my last audition and sometimes I fear that perhaps I’m just shit and no one has told me….

Frequently I’m asked to contribute to programmes, both on and off screen, asked for ideas and to share experiences but receive no credit or acknowledgement. Often it’s for programmes that aren’t presenter lead,  (so I can’t try to land that gig) which tend to be voyeuristic, observational documentaries, falling under the umbrella of factual entertainment (reality TV), but the focus has to be on the contributor’s ‘story’ (which is the PC term for their disability), I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard production execs say, “it’s all about the journey”. (Pass the sick bag please)

I don’t want to be on TV exposing my private life to all, it’s private. I’m not about to turn my life into some pity party to which viewers are invited to watch and then post comments on Twitter and Facebook. I’ve turned down work that involves filming my home and family life; I would like to be a broadcaster not be the curious subject of a modern day freak show.

Too often it feels like we’re not on a level playing field with able bodied presenters, when we audition we are expected to be as perfect as Davina McCall, well that just ain’t gonna happen on day one, and neither did it happen for Davina, she was able to work her way up from late night shows like God’s Gift paying her dues to get where she is today. No one would have expected her to present live prime time entertainment shows from the get go. We need to be able build a career in incremental steps, starting with brief slots on magazine shows and news reports, as guests on panel shows, being allowed to grow and develop potential talent just like our able bodied peers.

Will I keep on pursuing it? Probably, yes, but now that I also work behind the camera, I have other goals to pursue but I’d hate to give up entirely without thinking I gave it my best shot.

This piece is in response to this article in the Metro:

http://blogs.metro.co.uk/olympics/london-2012-where-are-the-disabled-tv-presenters/

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Dating with a Disability

Here’s a quick link to a piece on dating with a disability which features a few soundbites from me, written by the lovely Damon Rose (BBC Ouch!) for the BBC News website. It discusses the C4 series ‘The Undateables’ and the varied experiences of disabled people embarking on the world of online dating. While chatting to Damon I realised just how many stories I have on the subject, probably enough for book, but I’ll try and keep it short and sweet for a future blog!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17584953

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Independence Today

Here’s a quick link to an interview I gave to a US online magazine, Independence Today:

http://www.itodaynews.com/february2012/Shannon_Murray.htm

 

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The Conversation

Last week I was beyond excited to get one of my pieces published on a new US website, The Conversation. It’s a piece I wrote about my relationship with my legs, how my body image has evolved since my accident and how I deal with uncomfortable feelings thrown up by being a disabled woman.

The Conversation is a brilliant new network set up by Amanda de Cadenet, it originated as a website for guests to contribute personal experiences to share with the readers and this week it also launched as a an interview series on TV in the US, The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet. It features interviews with great women such as Jane Fonda, Gwyneth Paltrow, Zoe Saldana and Sarah Silverman all discussing what it means to be female in 2012 among many other personal issues.

It’s a great place for diverse, interesting and inspiring women to share their stories, just as I did in the piece below. As I said, I’m really delighted to have been featured amongst such great contributors on the site so you’ll have to excuse the blatant self promotion!

http://www.theconversation.tv/truth-wisdom/legs/

Accompanying photo by Gemma Greaney

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Big Bra Hunt

Ok….

I’ve a confession to make, I buy way too many bras.

Some women have an insatiable passion for buying shoes but for me it’s lingerie.

Possibly because as good as a shoe might look on my foot, I’m never going to strut down the street with a little sexy wiggle, so whilst I can appreciate a gorgeous stiletto I can often resist the urge to splash the cash; though to be honest I do still have lots of shoes, I just don’t have to spend additional money on getting them re heeled!

Anyway, I think my love of lingerie is also attributed that part of me that likes to rebel against the stereotypes of disability and knowing that underneath my fairly innocuous clothes I might be wearing some gorgeous and clashing bright colours in silk and lace.

I have literally dozens of bras in boxes in my attic, I have bought so many that I’ve never worn, saving them for a special date. As I got older I realised that saving clothes for ‘best’ is stupid, wear them and feel special on any given day; problem is when I realised this I had put on about a stone in one year, and none of my pretty and delicate B cup bras fit me anymore. I went off and was measured in M&S, bought a bunch of new bras but found that once I wore them for a day or 2 they were really uncomfortable and quite painful, so they too were consigned to join the other boxes in the attic. (Tip for wheelchair users: always push your chair about the changing room to get a real feel for the bra, nothing worse than later realising your gorgeous new bra has wires that dig right up into your armpit as you push).

I have since been remeasured by the brilliant women at Bravissimo and know which size to buy in which style, and still love purchasing the brightest, prettiest and sexiest bras I can find – as well as the all essential, comfortable nude t shirt bras. Finding a simple basic and really comfortable bra can be nigh on impossible! A good friend of mine has her own company designing swimwear for larger bosomed women, she so adored her favourite everyday bra that when it eventually fell apart, she examined all the components to try and understand what made it so special, (sadly it has been discontinued). So many women wear the wrong size bra, resulting in double boob, squidgy back fat, painful wire marks and this can all be easily avoided by wearing the correct size; most women seem to wear bras that are too large across the back and too small in the cup, through my own experiences of trial and error I think I’ve developed a skill in guessing other women’s correct bra size!

So what exactly  is the point of this blog post other than to talk about breasts?

To tell you about the Oxfam Bra Hunt in the hope that you’ll donate generously without it costing you a penny! I currently have about 30 bras stashed in a box, most unworn in sizes ranging from 34a to 36e (I’m neither size now, happily somewhere in between) and finally I have somewhere I can donate them to and feel a little pleased that they won’t only be consigned to textiles crushing machines but will actually be sold, bough and worn by other women in Senegal thanks to Oxfam’s social enterprise, Frip Ethique.

Please take a little time out to rifle through your drawers and pop down to your local Oxfam with the bras that no longer fit, the ones that never did and the ones you just don’t like anymore.

If altruism isn’t incentive enough then think about the new ones you could buy to fill the empty space in your drawers!

https://www.oxfam.org.uk/donate/shops/bra-hunt_hunt.html

Below is a photo of the box of bras I sent off to Oxfam: Au Revoir Bras!

All these bras and more have all gone to join the Oxfam Big Bra Hunt.

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