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Learning To Be Body Proud When You Have A Disability

I will wear what I want and my confidence will go through the roof too, and I think everyone should be able to think like this. So walk, roll if you're a wheelchair user, or like me, waddle slowly with a big grin on your face, wear what you want and be body proud.
Martin Hywood

If truth be told we all like to be liked, it's a great feeling to be complemented on our physical appearance or how we are dressed. I'm definitely part of that group of people, and I'm not bothered who knows this. I'm metrosexual and proud of that fact; a self-confessed, dedicated follower of fashion.

I like shopping and making the effort to look good but it's not always been for the right reasons. I used to buy designer labels and expensive clothing to mask my disability. I would hope that people would see my desert boots, expensive jacket or Italian jeans rather than my obvious, physical disability.

My abdomen sticks out due to my limb girdle muscular dystrophy, this is to help with balance due to weaker muscles. Again, this is something I used to try to cover up with clothing as sadly some people associate the look of someone being overweight as lazy and greedy. I'm neither of those things and despite my condition I try to stay as fit as I can for as long as I can.

But my attitude has changed over the years. I'm no longer worried about what people think of my physical appearance at all. I've matured and learnt to live with myself quite comfortably. That said, I am still very conscious of how I am perceived by others in front of my family. I don't feel the stares anymore but I know my wife does.

I waddle when I walk and I sometimes trip over quite dramatically because of my disability. This is fine by me but not by others, apparently, who will stare or make comments. I'm also conscious when doing the school run that my daughters have had to deal with other children asking them, "Why does your daddy walk funny?" and luckily they are very knowledgeable and impressive with their answers. I've noticed their friends accept the explanation too, confirming that children do not discriminate unless they're taught to.

Just going back to my wife and her opinion... I usually ask someone to read what I've written as I'm writing it, and my wife Michelle read up to this point and said that I used to be very worried and conscious of my body when clothes were not around and we were together. She told me that she's always loved me, completely, for all that I am, muscles wasting or not. She also explained that lots of people are not confident about their appearance, disability or not, and actually I have grown into someone that walks with a lot of pride, albeit very slowly and sometimes painfully.

So if you're reading this and thinking you'd like to explore further with clothes and fashion but doubted yourself because of your disability, who is out there to inspire us? What disabled role models are out there for us to look up to? Well the truth is, not many at all!

This is something I've been looking into for a while now and especially from a male perspective. 18% of the population in the UK are disabled and this is not represented in industries like fashion and media and that has to change, it's very unrealistic and unfair. There are some great stories out there but you have to go looking and dig deep.

If we look at the USA there is the great story of Jillian Mercado. Jillian took the fashion industry by storm in January 2014 and was part of a new ad campaign by Italian clothing giant, Diesel. Remember those expensive italian jeans I was talking about wearing earlier, can you guess my favourite brand? That's why Jillian's story struck a chord with me AND Jillian has a form of muscular dystrophy. At the time Jillian was quoted saying "Anyone can wear Diesel - You don't have to be a supermodel, you don't have to be a millionaire, you can wear it no matter who you are and what you look like" That's exactly what I tell Michelle now as we pass the store in Carnaby Street and I feel the need for a new pair of jeans or a new top; so thanks for that!

So what about representing the UK or the male population? I've found just the one man, that's all I've found, just the one disabled man that has a dedicated job as a model on the catwalk. That man is Jack Eyers. Jack is a physical training instructor and the very first amputee to take to the runway and debut at New York Fashion Week back in February 2015 for designer, Antonio Urzi.

But this isn't good enough - we need more disabled models, male and female, in the public eye to help change attitudes about disability.

To touch on what Jillian said, anyone should be able to wear the clothes they choose and be comfortable. Disabled men like me shouldn't be railroaded into 'tracky bottoms' or comfy pants if we want to strut our stuff in piped jeans and tight tops. I certainly won't be dictated to like that.

Personally, I still probably spend too much on my wardrobe but that's for practicality rather than the high street catwalk. I spend £90 on a pair of jeans because they fit the best, stay up around my waist and last for years. As I previously said, I fall a lot and I've put my knee through cheap jeans on more than one occasion. I work hard and if I think I deserve a treat and want to look good, I do not have any concern what others think.

I will wear what I want and my confidence will go through the roof too, and I think everyone should be able to think like this. So walk, roll if you're a wheelchair user, or like me, waddle slowly with a big grin on your face, wear what you want and be body proud.

Martin Hywood is an Advocacy Ambassador and fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy UK, the leading charity bringing individuals, families and professionals together to beat muscle-wasting conditions.

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