Gorgeous Photos Give 'Beach Bodies' the Middle Finger

April 10th 2016

Kylie Cheung

Earlier this week, Refinery29 released photos from an epic summer photo shoot with differently-abled women. The inspiring photos featured women at the beach or pool who were in wheelchairs, used prosthetics, or had lost limbs due to accidents or health problems. It dug deeper than just about any body positivity campaign, shining a light on how ableist society's standards are for something as everyday as going to the beach or flaunting one's "beach body."

Comedian Danielle Perez lost her legs after being hit by a car more than 10 years ago in an accident.

"I'm not paralyzed; the only thing really that happened was I lost my legs and my pelvis shattered. Now, I'm an amputee below the knee," she told Refinery29.

"I used to love going to the beach," Perez added, opening up about how her use of a wheelchair has made going to the beach "a lot more difficult," despite living an otherwise very independent life. Still, Perez told the site she tries not to let the perspectives of strangers bother her. "I'm not really concerned about what other people think or what they're looking at or the questions that they have. I'm there to enjoy the company of my friends."

Lacy Henderson, a professional long jumper for the U.S. Paralympics, lost one of her legs to cancer when she was 9. Despite not going to the beach very often prior to her amputation, Henderson told Refinery29, "being an amputee at the beach in general is just a struggle."

Still, Henderson opened up about how appearances took the backseat to health. "The bigger question for me wasn’t what my body looked like or how it appeared. The bigger question was how it was functioning and maintaining its health," she said.

Caxmee, a program manager at the office of the mayor of New York City, lost her leg to bone cancer in 2005. She recalled going to the beach and pool and feeling insecure even prior to losing her leg, and though she does occasionally get pangs of insecurity now, she aims to squash those feelings in herself and others. "I want to tell women to focus on how you perceive yourself. If you think you're beautiful enough to be at the beach and to be yourself and be comfortable, then do that. Don’t think about anyone else. Because at the end of the day, it's really about comfort. If you're comfortable and you feel beautiful, then nothing can stop you. You can feel confident in a bathing suit or whatever else you're wearing," she said.

Body positivity campaigns still lack differently-abled individuals.

While there's been no shortage of protest when it comes to the sizeist standards for what a "beach body" looks like, unfortunately many body positivity campaigns have failed to be inclusive of disabled women. Even prior to this photo shoot, disabled women have been fighting both misrepresentation and lack of representation.

In December 2015, ATTN: reported on how one disabled woman responded to a photo shoot featuring Kylie Jenner in a wheelchair by recreating it and showed the realities of life in a wheelchair. "I tried my best to create a more authentic version of Kylie Jenner’s Interview cover, given that I’m, you know, actually disabled and a real life wheelchair user," Tatum wrote. "I can barely get people to make eye contact with me, let alone land a cover shoot. If being in a wheelchair is trendy now, I’ve apparently been a trendsetter since before Kylie was born."

Body positivity campaigns are working to include models of all shapes, sizes, and races are evidenced by brands like Aerie and Target Australia, but differently-abled women are still no where to be seen.

Refinery29's brilliant images are just the latest victory in the fight for better and wider representation of women with disabilities. It's time to let all women reclaim what it means to have a "beach body," and sharing the beautiful photos and even more beautiful stories of just a few differently-abled women is a step in the right direction.