Guest Blog: Cherry Rae

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This month we start introducing more members of our broad IZ community through guest blogs. The first in our ongoing series is an amazing look at self expression and fashion from the point of view of a new wheelchair user. The writer, Cherry is an artist currently living in Vancouver, Canada.
 
"I love how good clothing makes me feel. When clothes fit well, both to my figure and to aesthetics that interest me, it makes me feel solid, real, empowered and of course me.

I'm a relatively new wheelchair user and as any of you will know, using a wheelchair creates new challenges when it comes to fashion and clothing. At times this can be frustrating. Perhaps the most obvious: what fits well and looks good while standing, often doesn't have the same impact while seated. Things fall in the wrong place or interesting details and shapes are lost underneath my bum or crumpled in my lap. As for fitting well, even people who don't use a wheelchair will know that sitting in some garments can be restrictive around the waist and hips, ride up or simply fall down.

Of course, none of this makes mention of how various impairments and situations can affect the way we wear some items. I probably don't need to go into detail here, but disability is vast and complex; different adaptations are needed for many different individuals.

When it came time for me to use a wheelchair, I had been mentally preparing for almost two years as my situation is degenerative. In a way this provided me the luxury of intellectual contemplation of where I would need to make my life adaptive. I call it a luxury because not everyone gets that forewarning and I do so love some intellectual contemplation. Of course all of the 'thinking about it' in the world doesn't prepare someone for the actual lived experience. I was well aware that fashion would be different ­ things obviously look and feel different while seated but that was as far as my forethought went. 'Oh, I'll just have to find things that look good sitting down', I naively thought. The reality is always more complex. Just one example, using my feeding tube with dresses while standing/walking wasn't so difficult; while being seated is a completely different situation.
My experience has also been somewhat comical. Sometimes I have to frantically and stealthily stuff cool looking skirts or dresses into my side guards so they don't get damaged or even become dangerous in the process of being caught! The first time wearing my favourite jeans (that, of course, are designed to sit low on the hip while standing), I proclaimed loudly "THIS is why wheelchair users need adaptive jeans!!!", as the top of my exposed buttocks caught a nasty winter wind.

I live in Vancouver BC, which, outside of the summer months, is rightfully known for being quite wet. Now, let me tell you, people here like to complain about the rain. I come from the UK where it is much, much wetter and I always (proudly) stated that they didn't know true wet weather like the Brits do. I now have a whole new perspective; no one knows rain like wheelchair users know rain. There is something about being seated that means you catch roughly a thousand times more rain drops than you do if you are standing and walking. I tell you, my first outing in a wheelchair in the rain and I was concerned my legs were going to grow gills and become webbed together in some monstrous and thoroughly unwanted evolution. I rushed to the Internet to try and find protection for my poor little legs. This is when I remembered IZ. A friend had told me about them some months before and I'd periodically browsed the store making a mental shopping list. On that mental shopping list was the parka lap blanket. Prior to using a wheelchair full time I was well aware that I would get colder and so would need a blanket. As a fashion conscious 34 year old with a penchant for futuristic cuts and lines I dreaded the idea of wheeling around like the stereotypical image of the elderly with a picnic­ blanket style bulky fleece wrapped around my lower body. Of course, if you love your picnic blanket keep doing your thing; you do you.
My new lap blanket came and it was beautiful, well made; perfect lines. I adore how it wraps so closely around my form, but is easy to get into while seated and with limited leg control. It was warm too and as a bonus it matched my winter parka. Then the rain came. I crossed all of the fingers I could and headed out into a downpour in the park to test it out. I was out there for a couple of hours and my legs were wonderfully dry and toasty at the end.
There are definitely challenges to making fashion work when using a wheelchair. Adaptive clothing goes a long way to overcoming those challenges. Beautiful, stylish and elegant adaptive clothing goes even further. I write here about a few of the challenges I've faced so far, but beyond this is how much fun I've had adapting my wardrobe and honing my fashion tastes. It's refueled my passion for looking good and molding my wardrobe to fit my darker, futuristic interests and tastes. I've also found myself using fashion to break through people's preconceived (and ill­-informed) notions of what disability means and what it looks like. Fashion is fun, exciting and empowering."
 
You can follow Cherry on:  Twitter @cherryrae Instagram @cherryperson and at cherryperson.tumblr.com
All photographs provided by Cherry.

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