Chronic illness

Fashion, style and beauty with chronic illness

A diagnosis changes a lot of things about daily life. One aspect many aren’t prepared for is how it impacts beauty and personal style. Check out some insightful perspectives people with chronic illness have shared on the topic.

Jessica posts fashion shots on Instagram. Follow her @jessicaoutofthecloset.

Taking care affects the way people treat you.

Jessica Kellgren-Hayes blogs about fashion, food and film, as well as disability. She also posts tutorials and vlogs on YouTube.

Here’s a reflection about why she prioritizes beauty even in the hospital.

The way we look isn’t just important in terms of our own identity, it also impacts on how others see us. I continued to curl my hair whilst I was living in hospital—even when I barely had energy to read. Or eat.

It was not only a refusal to give up on who I am (technically a girl with straight hair but that’s never felt very “me”!) but a realization that taking care of one’s outside also affects the way people treat you.

Your disability shapes your masculinity.

Jamison Hill describes the way his fashion went from overtly masculine to what he believes is truer masculinity after an unexpected chronic diagnosis on The Good Men Project. He writes:

The other day, my mom told me that years of being sick and disabled have changed me.

“You are a man now,” she said with a proud smile on her face.

I told her it was probably just my receding hairline. But in actuality, I think she was right—I am more of a man now as a disabled person than I was as a healthy person.

Finding solutions to new obstacles.

Lindsay writes about how haircuts are one of the many typically simple things made more difficult by chronic illness (in her case, dysautonomia):

Getting a haircut becomes an ordeal, on multiple levels. … Tilting my head in certain directions can easily result in vertigo without any warning. … Next, salons often have those fluorescent doctor’s office bright lights overhead. I tend to have light sensitivity—for some reason it causes lightheadedness and visual disturbances. … Normally head massages while getting shampooed are wonderful, but with random head nerve pain, not so much.

Ashley Boynes-Shuck addresses multiple issues with illness and beauty such as dark circles, weight loss, hair thinning, scars, rashes and more on her blog. She writes:

[C]onditions can certainly age you; all the while “stealing your pretty.” I used to get mad about it, and now I just learn to adapt. There are so many ways to still look and feel your best even while living with rheumatoid arthritis or other similar conditions. . . . Let’s make our outsides match our beautiful souls … !

Many other people in the spoonie community want to help each other through the challenges of fashion, style and beauty with chronic illness. Check out:

Find your style niche.

Your style preferences can even be a connecting point in the chronic illness community. Do a few searches to find one that suits you. The vintage niche is a popular one in the chronic illness community—with a blog devoted to it.

The site addresses some common issues that many don’t think about in fashion needs with chronic illness: garment strictness, ease of wear, material sensitivity, sizing beyond the number, ease of dressing while seated, and general minimization of frustration. The vintage style advice offered reflects those issues.

And you don’t have to look far to find hairstyles and very many tattoos inspired by or otherwise personally expressing strength in the midst of chronic illness. Samantha Reid describes her own motivation for outward expression beautifully for The Mighty:

So if you have a chronic illness of your very own, might I suggest treating yourself to a new foundation that makes you look more glowy than you feel? … Try whatever trend makes you happy. Because in the grand scheme of control over your body, you’ve got to take it where you can get it. I may go to bed at 8 p.m. tonight, but at least I’ll do it with sparkly new nail polish on, and that was enough to make me feel like me today.

Lizzie Velasquez giving a ted talk
Lizzie Velasquez giving a TED talk

We’re more alike than different.

Lizzie Velasquez is perhaps the most public person to talk about this struggle. After experiencing bullying online because of a rare syndrome marked by accelerated aging and the inability to make and store fat, she decided to devote her life to anti-bullying and motivational speaking. She’s made guest appearances on news or talk shows, she’s given hundreds of speeches including a TED talk, documentaries feature her and she writes books. In one called Be Beautiful, Be You, she said this:

We are each unique—from the color of our hair to the tone of our voice, we’re different from one another. Even identical twins have some differences. The trouble is, our differences are all some people see, which is kind of funny, because I think we’re more alike than we’re different.

I’ve spent years wanting to look like everyone else, but it didn’t happen. Instead, I had to learn to love and accept myself just as I am. I stopped listening to what other people said and started making a life for myself.


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