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Finding fashion after paralysis

ebirchebirch Member Posts: 1 Listener
edited November 2019 in Guest blogs

Hi, I'm Emma. After a third storey fall two years ago, I was paralysed from the chest down and completely lost function in my hands.

I lived alone in London and work in a museum. In my spare time I loved to draw and paint, cook and sew. When I realised that I couldn't walk anymore I was devastated, but when I realised that I'd lost the use of my hands I thought I was worthless.

I shattered my pelvis, so for the first few months I couldn't sit up or turn and I had a tracheostomy so I couldn't speak. I felt I was no longer a person. My family helped me do everything, they encouraged me and even brought my dog to the Intensive Care Unit window so we could see each other. During this period of complete loss my boyfriend broke up with me.

Bit by bit I was allowed to raise my head, move my arms and start to talk again. My trache was then removed. This meant I was allowed to eat, with all of the other tubes also being removed from my body. As he liked to encourage me to eat, my dad brought all his camping gear to the hospital to cook me food such as carpark steak.

I was moved to Stoke Mandeville and began rehab, I couldn't sit up for more than ten minutes without passing out. Clothes, make-up and shoes were the last thing on my mind.

Things changed when I started to adapt. I had make-up splints made and worked hard to learn how to dress myself again, as well as typing and writing. I have never been a very sporty person, so I found the physiotherapy hard, but I was able to rediscover my personality through art and fashion. I felt like an idiot the first time I wore red lipstick to the gym, but so proud I'd applied it myself.

During my stay at Stoke Mandeville I met people who inspire me, and I will love for the rest of my life. We shared gallows humour during the darkest of times and were there to celebrate each other's small achievements. When a friend and fellow patient was able to open his packet of biscuits entirely without help, we coined the phrase ‘biscuit moments’ to describe the daily victories many would take for granted, but to us were monumental.

After leaving hospital I started posting on Instagram about my experiences and how I coped. I got so much support from other wheelchair users and other disabled people. Each person's story is so different, but we have all found ways to cope and grow in life-changing circumstances.

When I began to model I did it with the intention of building my confidence and helping anyone else who was in a similar situation. I was so flattered when Zebedee Management wanted to take me on! I now have realised it is not all about how others see you, but how you view and respect yourself.

I've gone back to work, got a new flat and a very new perspective of how to live, respect others and being comfortable in myself. I have had very uplifting experiences as a disabled person and some crushing ones. I think my perspective of living with a disability is to just keep striving to make the best of each day, celebrate the small wins, and try not to sweat the small stuff.

Here are few fashion tips that have helped me along the way:

  • I was really disappointed after my accident that I couldn't wear silky skirts as I slid everywhere. So, I tried sitting on a small bit of silicone mat when I'm in slippery bottoms and it worked.
  • Buy everything you like in a size up, clothes are made to stand and walk in not sit in all day, this makes it easier to get them on and off but is also flattering.
  • I wear a corset for stability and blood pressure, but they'll also give you a great hourglass figure. I've enjoyed wearing new clothes I wouldn't have worn before that accentuate my new shape. Don't compromise, fashion is an amazing way to express yourself and feel comfortable in who you are.

I will never be a Paralympian and I'm comfortable with that, I have accepted who I am and how others see me.

Can you relate to Emma’s story? Was fashion hard to think of after your recovery? How did you feel when you had those small victories? Let us know in the comments below!


  • April2018momApril2018mom Posts: 2,869 Member
    So inspiring! I have no experience with your type of paralysis but good luck Emma. 
  • Ami2301Ami2301 Community Co-Production Group Posts: 7,764 Disability Gamechanger
    Although different causes, I went through something similar and I too have 'biscuit moments'. Recovery is hard but incredibly worth it. Thank you for the tips, I can definitely relate to the slipping one! All the best to you Emma :)
    Disability Gamechanger - 2019
  • BethgoespingBethgoesping Member Posts: 1 Listener
    Love this post, thanks for sharing. I got into fashion a lot more since I've become ill. Finding my personal style has helped me own my situation and feel more powerful and in control. I don't go out as often as I used to so when I do go out I take the opportunity to dress up. And I hope people see my style and personality rather than my crutches.  When I have the energy I'll be getting awesome stylish crutches as well :) 
  • TopkittenTopkitten Member Posts: 1,263 Pioneering
    I'm sorry, I must be getting really really old. After seeing what my children wear and what people on TV seem to wear and, even worse, what some wear on adverts for reality TV channels I wasn't aware that fashion even existed any more, lol!

    Sorry if I seem a bit off but another night without sleep always leaves me a bit weird by the 3rd or 4th night in a row.

    More seriously though I have always worn what suits me whether fashionable or not. When I bother to dress in Summer I still wear cut down jeans as shorts, for example. When men didn't wear hats I was wearing american style caps (peak front ofc). Now that men are also wearing them I have gone back to Trilby's and other old fashioned style hats (see profile pic). Mind you, if I wear a coat it's almost always leather (I have 8 or 9 leather coats/jackets), lol!

    Who am I to give fashion advice, lol!

    The moral (if there is one) wear what suits your figure and that is easy to put on / take off and forget fashion. I have completely lost count of the number of women wearing leggings who only make themselves look worse, not better. Leggings only make around 1 or 2 percent of women look good.

    "I'm on the wrong side of heaven and the righteous side of hell" - from Wrong side of heaven by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • pollyanna1052pollyanna1052 Member Posts: 2,032 Disability Gamechanger
    Hi Emma, what a remarkable young lady you are! And may I say, you do have a resemblance to Ricky Lake (UA talk show host). She`s pretty too!

    Your story is much to fight for and re-gain. Your resolve and stamina are to be admired.

    I am many years older than you (67) but being paraplegic like you, I can identify with a lot of what you say. I am experiencing a new symptom which involves my I have been thinking how devastating it would be to lose the use of them as well as my legs. I`m getting it checked out soon.

    I also like to dress up and make an effort when I go out. I still colour my hair and refuse to grow old gracefully.

    More power to you Emma and my very best wishes for your
  • CressidaCressida Member Posts: 841 Pioneering
    @ebirch I just wanted to post to say what an amazing person you are. Your strength of character shines through your post. Very very inspiring.
  • BirdsnbeesBirdsnbees Member Posts: 75 Pioneering
    Hi Emma @ebirch I think you are amazing and this is wonderful.

    I think fashion is an important part of claiming who you are disabled or not and for me it took a long time for me to value and accept myself that although i was suffering from chronic pain and a disability i still deserved to look and feel good and feel beautiful.

    When in a lot of pain or stuck immobile it can be really hard to feel beautiful (I find thats what matters, not the 'looking' beautiful because no matter what you wear you'e got to feel good about it and comfortable in it)

    So comfort is key.

    I've started now getting comfy loungewear sets in nice fabrics like velvet with a comfy cut yet still some shape

    So I'm not compromising on fashion still looking and feeling comfy and cosy

    Feels good and feels better to go with what feels good for you

    A lot of fashion I find sometimes is too revealing/have to pull it down sometimes

    In a lot of circumstances mens clothes are actually thicker warmer/better quality I mix mens clothes with womens and layer them appropriately so I have some femininity to my outfit yet still practical and warm :smile:

    I love your ideas and wearing a corset sounds good. I used to wear tight skirts all the time, not possible for me now as it restricts my leg movement, however have discovered i'm much more comfy wearing a nice pair of luxury soft trousers than a skirt. so there are ways to look and feel pretty without having to go to standard social norms.

    good for you please keep us up dated dont be a one post wonder

    best wishes
  • EmmaJaneEmmaJane Member Posts: 32 Courageous
    Hi Emma, I've just found your most interesting and useful post :) I too wear a corset, I'm a wheelchair user and it helps me sit up straight, and the right one feels good and can look good too. Thanks also for your other fashion tips which I will be following from now on!
  • saggybagpuss6019saggybagpuss6019 Member Posts: 10 Listener
    your so cool and strong , and i wish all the very best for yr future 
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