This Video Will Change Your Perception of Beauty—and Disability

The 'Raw Beauty NYC' photography project challenges viewers to see physical challenges in new ways.
Oct 13, 2014·
Nicole Pasulka is a writer and reporter who lives in New York City. She has written for Mother Jones, BuzzFeed, The Believer, and the New York Observer.

When Christy Cruz was a child, she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and later suffered spinal cord damage from an allergic reaction. She uses a wheelchair and leg braces to get around, but that hasn't stopped her from getting her associate's degree in early childhood education and working with several advocacy groups in New York City. She's one of 20 women who have modeled for Raw Beauty NYC, an inspiring photography project in which women with a range of disabilities pose for glamorous photographs that challenge notions of beauty and strength.

In this video, some of the women who have been photographed share what makes them feel attractive and talk about being part of the project.

"You see me in a chair, and you're like, 'Oh, she's pretty for a girl in a wheelchair,' " said Andrea Dalzell, who has transverse myelitis. "Don't add the wheelchair. Just [say], 'She's pretty.' "

"We're constantly having to put people at ease," said Kitty Lunn, a former dancer. "Because if I'm not self-conscious about it, then perhaps they won't be self-conscious about it."

This isn't the only endeavor that aims to challenge prevailing ideas about women with disabilities. The Ms. Wheelchair USA pageant happens every year. The crown doesn't go to to the most conventionally attractive contestant but to the "most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities."

Projects like these offer a glimpse at women in wheelchairs rarely shown in mainstream culture. In the words of Raw Beauty model Sara Tabor, "Being comfortable and loving myself—when I do that, then I am beautiful."

Danielle Sheypuk, 2012 Ms. Wheelchair New York, told the New York Daily News about her work as a psychologist specializing in dating and relationship counseling for disabled people and about her experiences hitting New York City nightclubs with her friends. "Not everyone is frumpy," Sheypuk said. "We can have good haircuts, wear high heels, and are sexy."