May 30, 2017
Way before I got injured and before I ran my first fundraiser, my dream job was one of two options: a professional tennis player, or a fashion magazine editor. I loved the ability to describe myself in clothes, to layer and accentuate how I wanted to look and feel in a moment. And as I’ve grown and life and RSD illness has happened, I’ve expanded my interest in philanthropy out of a pastime and into a career but that love of fashion hasn’t changed. As a teen, in my early years of RSD, I saw the way my physical health altered the way part of my body looked differently.
Sometimes that was physically different and other times it was my medically-assistive equipment. I was determined to control the way I looked to use my love of clothes to accentuate, alter and hide my RSD symptoms at my control. And after years of being asked, “how did you do that?” or “I didn’t even notice you were sick,” I decided to give up some of my big spoonie fashion hacks.
(*These are all fashion tips that have worked for me based on my chronic illness affecting my physical limbs, where my medical equipment was usually on my body, and not separate material*) So now, let’s share what’s been my strategies to being fashionable and medical:
Since I’ve lived with RSD, it’s spread to the entire left side of my body, and with that has come a lot of different braces and bandages that I’ve had to wear. When it went into the left side of my leg and foot, I had to wear all different types of ankle braces, compression leggings and bandages/tapes. Some of them…not the most attractive medical-assistive equipment if I’m honest. There were lots of times when I couldn’t fit my foot or leg into pants, thus, making my love for dresses and skirts to skyrocket! When the color didn’t match, or I was attempting to disguise my braces from other people.
One big way to do this is by wearing maxi dresses or skirts, long enough that the fabric covers what’s underneath. An easy way to cover this up, and give you easy access to change bandages or adjust braces, is to wear dresses with slits or scalloping. This way, you can always move your dress to cover, or show it off, it’s all under your control. The longer the dress, the better the control of coverage or exposure.
#2 The Looser the Fit, The Better the Disguise
Naturally, my personal style always goes for the loose-fitting, all-American taste. This works in my favor since my injury and subsequent illness because it gives me the luxury of dressing the way I like without compromise. I do not have to wear different clothes because they cannot fit with my braces or bandages or fabric pieces; everything fits underneath. Also, a big issue with RSD is hypersensitivity and pain with touch, so having blousy fabric works well because I don’t have to worry about pain from fabric gripping onto my skin, and I can control pushing the fabric so it doesn’t sway around. Another advantage is that if you’re having a self-conscious day, and I often did when my illness symptoms was visible, the oversized look could disguise more. Big Tip: I always will add things like belts, or tie up a sleeve, or toss a jacket on my shoulders so that I can give shape to my outfit, and adapt it to my medical needs.
#3 Color Pops Can Make a Look
There are so many different medical accessories out there (and for me, and the entire InvisiYouth team, there is not enough promotion or charity-company partnerships out there yet (and we want to change that IMMEDIATELY!) that can make fashionable medical equipment common knowledge and accessible)? It is a vital tip to learn now…research, research, research when it comes to medical accessory styles and colors.
But back to fashion hacks…when you have the knowledge that different medical accessories and the colors they come in, you give yourself fashionable options. I would also search and research what colors different braces or isotoner gloves came in so I could get different options. One best example is KTTape and all of the color options. I would always buy black tape in bulk, but also get red and blue because I loved mixing the colors and matching outfits. KTTape is a prime example because the patterns you have to make for physical assistance are also creative and look cool with different colors.
#4 When in Doubt, Add an Accessory
After a while, I was tired of constantly trying to hide my RSD symptoms and other braces were to bulky to disguise. So instead, I began to try and embrace what was my current medical status to be able to do so I could fashionably experiment again. Once I accepted the fact that I had to wear medically-assistive equipment on my body, and accepted that there were going to be days I had to wear them, I tried to find ways to adapt with it. I would wear high ankle boots with socks that would accentuate the coloring of braces, wear patterned fabric tights so I could also wear my compression stockings or sleeves, anything to highlight and morph with my braces.
One major way I would accessorize is with all the gloves, braces, tape and bandages I had to wear on my hand during my RSD prime days. I would wear oversized chunky bracelets so my braces and tape were colored. I would where overly-long sleeves and tied on to the braces so that they were able to be hidden and shown depending on my mood. And I would even take scarves and fabric pieces and tie them around my braces on my hand in different designs, tying knots or bows. Since I had issues with pain and swelling, or muscle spasms, I found it beneficial to add different fabric textures, so I would do what my physical therapists called “interim PT desensitization” during classes.
At the end of the day, there was a point I made by embracing my illness and fashion. It was and still is never about the disguise or hiding the illness.
It is about empowering yourself to choose how you want the world to see your illness. Truth is, when you need to use adaptive equipment, young people do not get a choice because it is medically necessary to use them, whether it be items like canes or wheelchairs, PICC lines or braces. When you don’t get a choice in using medical equipment, the power lies in how you use it or wear it, and that is what I began to embrace with my fashion love.
Give the power of choice back to yourself and defy what the media claims are beauty norms. When you embrace what you need to wear and use, and have fun with fashion, no one else’s opinion matter because your empowering yourself and your day!