“When you don’t fit in, you become superhuman. You can feel everyone else’s eyes on you, stuck like Velcro. You can hear a whisper about you from a mile away. You can disappear, even when it looks like you’re still standing right there. You can scream, and nobody hears a sound. You become the mutant who fell into the vat of acid, the Joker who can’t remove his mask, the bionic man who’s missing all his limbs and none of his heart. You are the thing that used to be normal, but that was so long ago, you can’t even remember what it was like.” -Jodi Pilcoult, Nineteen Minutes.


“There’s no such thing as normal”

This is what Mummy told 10 year old me, as I watched baby brother in the throes of an Autistic rage, the judgement of passerby’s stinging my cheeks. Even then I knew she said this as much for herself as for me.

Even back then, when Dollies and Barbies were still of the highest importance, I understood that despite what political correctness said, not everyone is created equally. Society has always been quicker to believe that the jigsaw pieces fit perfectly together, creating the pretty picture on the box, than to admit that someone got it wrong. Rising lumps of mismatched cardboard never were popular.

But the truth is, we aren’t all the same. Some of us are the mutants, the jokers, the bionic men. Some of us have to be the freaks, so that you can have your circus. And you don’t let us forget it.

I remember a time when my eyes were still young, my body not yet tired. A time when I understood that wheelchairs were for old people, that tubes helped Daddy connect the hose to the sprinkler, and that Pirates had wooden legs because they lost them in a battle at sea.

Sometimes I close my eyes, and try to see things as I once did. But every time I close my eyes, I just see my hands on the wheels, the tubes in their noses and the prosthetic leg propped up next to her makeup and silky scarves.

No matter what I do, they still look perfectly normal.

I remember the first day I realised I was a freak. My body was slowly but surely drowning in its own destruction, and was taking me down with it. I refused to give in, and was determined to make it to school. The only way this possible was in a wheelchair. I had never been so scared in my life. But really, how bad could it be?

1000 pairs of eyes on me. Whispers had never been so loud. Their comments and sniggers filled my eyes with salty weeps. I had never felt so small.

‘What’s like, you know, wrong with you?’

‘Why don’t you walk? You look normal’

‘Yeah so like, you can’t come on the shopping trip coz like…yeah’

Every single day, thousands of Chronically Ill and disabled teenagers and young adults face these same questions, this same pain, the whispers, the stares, the sympathetic smiles. It does not occur to society that just because we may have deformed facial features, missing limbs, use a wheelchair to walk, have tubes snaking into our noses or drag oxygen tanks behind us, that we are still normal young adults. That we are still beautiful.

 Soon, I learnt to joke, to even put people in their place.

‘Oh, didn’t you hear? I was attacked by a shark. Awful stuff. But I have its head mounted in the lounge room now, so that’s pretty cool’

‘Oh nothing is wrong with me, I am just you know, too lazy to walk. I looked into a Segway, but wheelchairs are cheaper. And you can’t get fined for drag racing in them either’

People were now incredibly rude, or incredibly friendly. Never in my life had shop assistants been so eager to assist me.

 ‘HI!!! HOW ARE YOU TODAY?!!!!!’

I also discovered that being in a wheelchair means you can’t actually hear, so everyone must speak louder and more slowly.


I had always taken pride in my appearance, but now that I could no longer walk, my makeup routine stretched into hours. Soft Sand, First Kiss, Pretty in Pink. Each of these shades was swept over my lips, lids and lashes. I had complete faith that by wearing these brands with the happiest of labels, I too would have first kisses and be pretty in pink, running along the sand.

My hair was cut, coloured, curled. Mum pulled the sweetest of dresses over my wilting bones, and slipped kitten heels on the feet which ceased to work. And still, I never felt pretty.

I remember as the beautiful Hollie happily pushed my wheelchair through the gardens around the hospital. We were just two more teenage girls wearing short shorts and poorly applied makeup. There were boys playing cricket on a nearby oval. ‘Do you want to go and perve on them?’ She giggled.

‘No, not today’. My unspoken words hung between us.

Who would look at a girl in a wheelchair anyway

Until one day, I wasn’t so sick anymore. And I could walk. People took notice of me. I was tall, thin, and blonde. I look healthy. Wolf whistles, mates jabbing one another as I walked past. Girls sent daggers and boys sent kisses.

The most beautiful girl I have ever seen was my best friend. She was a model, before the evil snaked through her bones, and later her lungs. It took her leg. She was, is, breathtakingly beautiful.

Tayla, you look stunning, I whispered, as I  pushed her wheelchair through the shops. Never in my eighteen years had I seen any girl so beautiful. Vogue was created for faces like hers. It was impossible to notice anything but those eyes. A man stopped us. ‘You are beautiful’ he smiled to her. I agreed, and we kept walking. ‘He wouldn’t have said that if I wasn’t in the wheelchair’ she whispered. I promised her he would have, and one day, she would see for herself.

She never did get to see for herself. Two weeks later, she went to heaven.

I often wonder that if people didn’t look twice, didn’t whisper, didn’t point, and didn’t send upside down smiles to all of us with broken bodies, then maybe she could have believed me.

I am dancing. I am 19 years old and 3 days. I look like everyone else. I am a little drunk. I see a girl. Her looks take my breath away. She is a 5 foot 10 glamazon, long blonde locks float down her tiny frame, her teeth perfect. She is different to the other girls, the ones with too little material and too much breast. She has a class that they can only dream of. She is completely unaware of how stunning she is. I glance at her arm. From the elbow down, it is missing. I barely notice. And yet she notices nothing else. She continues to lean against walls, to tuck the curve behind her back. She tries to become invisible.

I walk over to her. I hold her shoulder. You are beautiful, I whisper.

She tries not to cry. Thank you, she smiles, blinking back the tears.

I look into her eyes. I mean it.

And I walk away. Later on, I see her once more. She is dancing. Her arm is not hidden. For tonight at least, she knows she is not a freak. She knows she is beautiful.

From a very young age, I have known that not everyone is normal. Some of us  have scars, burns, tubes, and prosthetics, wheels, tracheotomies, no hair and oxygen tanks. Some of us can’t walk, breathe or even eat like you can.

But we can still hear your whispers, see your pointing tips, feel your stares, taste your smiles of pity.

For once, pretend that we look like everyone else. Treat us as you would the giggling girls in high heels, the boys with their hats on the wrong way.

Next time remember that we aren’t freaks, or someone to pity.

So that the next time we are told we are beautiful

We can believe it.


11 thoughts on “Beautiful

  1. What a powerful post, beautiful not only in looks but in words, your beauty shines out and will light up the world. I am so glad I found your blog. xxx

  2. Thankyou so much, these words mean so, so much to me. I am so very unwell this week, but your kind words and appreciation have given me great hope, this has truly made my week, you are all such beautiful people, thankyou. Jess xx

  3. Wow. You’re not just beautiful. You’re stunningly beautiful, on the inside and out. At the risk of sounding patronizing, I think when you are older you will see this more and it will all matter so much less. I have a birthmark that covers most of my right leg and part of my back. I felt like a freak growing up. Now, I barely give it a thought. I feel beautiful because I know I am a strong, loving and compassionate person and truly, when it comes to relationships, that is what matters. People who have been through the grinder, as we all have by the time we’re in our 40’s, know and value this. You have a depth of soul and a compassion that shines through your writing; others will see that in you. Perhaps not other teenagers, for they haven’t lived as much life as you have. But adults will.

  4. Such beautiful words coming from such a beautiful person. Everyone is beautiful in their own special way and like you say- the hardest part is trying to believe that when you feel so out of place. This post seems to have resonated with me stronger than any other and deep down the truth of it really hit me. I don’t mind being a freak- without freaks there is no “normal”- even if such thing were to exist. For now I have my oxygen and sometimes as hard as it might be- I have to accept it is a part of me- something that has made me who I am. Having known what it is like to be “on the other side of the fence” as such, I think we appreciate the gift that is life all the more 🙂 – once again, incredibly beautiful and eye opening post- Thankyou. xx

  5. This is such a truly beautiful post and as are you! Your beauty shines through every word you type here and I feel so incredibly lucky to have found your blog and to be able to read all your words. I am a new follower here and I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to link this post on fb and share you on my blog this week :). You are wonderful

  6. Jess, I tried finding an email link on your blog but couldn’t see one? I have just blogged about you and the impact that this post and you as a person and blogger had on a group of my students a couple of weeks ago when I read this post out loud to them. You touched each and every one of them Jess and you changed the way they see their world by letting them into yours. They loved you Jess. It’s scheduled for publish tomorrow at about 5.30am on my blog xoxoJen

  7. I have come here from Jen’s blog.

    Your words are the most wonderful I have ever read, you make my heart leap with hope – hope that the generation of today still see beyond the facade, still have heart in that not “perfect” in a so not perfect world.

    I have a child, a child many consider flawed, yet this child has always seen beyond the skin into the soul, this child speaks of what he sees in people, the good and the beautiful, this child believes beauty is within every one of us. Thank you for showing me his voice is not alone, that others sing along side him.

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