The society we live in today is heavily influenced by the idea of an ‘ideal’ body image. The media, fashion magazines, celebrities, popular music and films all surround us with examples of ‘beautiful people’ and images that are unrealistic and unattainable for most of us. These images teach us to be conscious of our body size, shape, weight and physical attributes. There is a great deal of pressure particularly on young people to conform to these ideals, and if they can’t, they may face rejection or ridicule.
Sexual images and ideals are continuously used in the media and advertising. These may represent a look or a lifestyle that we should all be striving for and can make us feel inadequate if we fail to do so. Difference is too often viewed negatively and can be used as a source to insult the person who is different in some way.
How we feel about ourselves is an essential part of our self-esteem and influences how we are in our relationships. Knowing about our bodies and how they work is an essential element of sexual health. We should have full and appropriate information and education that is free from stereotypical and negative perceptions and biases. We all have the right to dignity and respect in our sexual relationships and equal treatment in society.
Disability challenges notions of perfection and beauty as defined by popular culture, and it is important to continually reinforce these differences as exciting and full of opportunity. Disabled people are not exempt from the influences of what is seen as desirable and attractive within society. These messages can be internalized and have a profound effect on how people see themselves. The concept of body image as it impacts on disabled people is crucial, especially when looking at situations where body parts function.