A few weeks back, someone told me off for calling myself short. She said I should never say that, because it implies a deficiency. I was quite taken aback by this - one because it’s really awkward to be told off by a complete stranger and two, because I didn’t even kind of agree with what she was saying. To my mind, the only way calling yourself short can imply a deficiency is if you actually believe being short is a deficiency, and… well… honestly? If you think that, it is entirely your issue not mine. To give you some context to this situation, I’d called myself short while accepting an award (because I couldn’t reach the microphone) so I really had no reason to be feeling deficient in that moment. I’ve never seen my height as a negative, and I think trying to avoid using the word “short” would make me start to have issues about this, rather than resolve any imaginary ones she felt I must have.
This conversation did make me think about some of the other language things that come up. Sometimes people will try to tell me not to say I have a disability, and give some waffly explanation about how we’re all unique and that it doesn’t make a difference. After the “short” conversation, I had a bit of a light bulb moment as to why these kinds of pronouncements leave me feeling worse about myself, not better as I’m sure the person making them intends. Firstly, this is actually incredibility patronising. Having a disability makes quite a bit of difference to your life - it changes the way you do... pretty much everything - but not necessarily all in a negative way. While I do have some self-esteem issues about my health problems (which I'm working on!) I’m not putting myself down when I say I have a disability; it’s just a description of the situation. Secondly, people telling me not to say this implies that they do believe that “disability” is the equivalent of “deficient” and something that should skirted around or kept hidden. The message I come away with in this situation is “Disability does make you deficient, but let’s not talk about it because I, the benevolent able-bodied person, am kind enough to treat you as an equal anyway”. That's probably not what's intended, but it's how it feels.
Not using the word “disability” doesn’t make the disability go away. I should be able to acknowledge that this is a part of my life without the incorrect assumption that this is a derogatory thing to say about myself. I admit, some of the language I use towards myself probably does seem harsh. I’ll say things like “I’m a bit bung” and I have been known to describe myself as an “evolutionary f**K up” when the question of how many diseases I have comes up. After I posted about the problems I run into sometimes with talking to “healthy” people, a few of my friends told me that me saying “I should have been weeded out by evolution by now” made them uncomfortable. I kind of get where people are coming from with these ones, but again, I’m not actually saying these things to put myself down. I’m saying them because… well they’re funny, they’re true, and acknowledging that generally makes me feel less deficient, not more.
I guess a lot of this stuff comes down to personal experiences and preferences, and perhaps the relationships between people in these situations makes a difference too. I do appreciate it when friends call me on it if they think I’m putting myself down, especially as I do that a lot when I’m in a bad space and it ultimately feeds into negative feelings about myself. The key thing here though is that they are my friends, and know me well enough to be able to make that call. Deciding that you know what’s best for a complete stranger, especially when it comes to neutral terms like “short” and “disability” (which are only negative if you chose to view them that way) is interfering at best, and straight out offensive at worst. You can think these things if you like, you can even say them if really you want to, but perhaps turn them into discussions not lectures. After all, the person you’re talking to is the expert on what it’s like to live their life. Not you.
Thanks for reading,
Little Miss Autoimmune