Rachelle Freidman strips down and shows the world that being defined as any number of labels: “paralyzed,” “disabled,” “handicapped,” “crippled,” or “broken” does not mean we no longer feel sexual, desire sex and intimacy or, to be frank, can please our partners in bed.
“When my story hit the media, people were so impressed that my fiancé would stay with me ‘like this,'” Chapman said. “Sure, it affected my self-esteem, but most of all it made me sad for my fellow wheelchair users who are still looking for love. We are smart, courageous, funny, beautiful and yes… sexy.”
Revolution Studios did an outstanding job in bringing out the demure, sexy, enticing and sensual woman that Rachelle is—in skimpy satin and lace lingerie—and a leg bag strapped to her thigh.
My male friend’s reaction when I showed him the photos? Well, his mouth literally dropped open and didn’t close until I did it for him. I felt the same, she is hot! Leg bag and all.
Rachelle and I have been friends and supporters of each other’s work for some time now. Both night owls, I have been up with her in the wee small hours and was even subjected by association, to the incessant messages and attack from her online stalker—a woman in Canada who also has an SCI (Spinal Cord Injury) and who is so hateful and angry at how Rachelle lives her life that she has made it her sole purpose to harass, slander and attack her in every public forum that she can.
It takes a lot of strength to be subjected to the viral judgment and ridicule. Some have spurned her way of doing things over the years. They have chosen to pour hate on her for raising money through her notoriety, for not working, for choosing a surrogate, for having a baby, for getting public attention and, yes, for the ability to get funding for the things she needs to live comfortably. She is certainly not living in a “preacher’s mansion,” off donations from the public but with the teacher’s salary of her husband and $600 per month in co-pays for her care and urinary supplies alone, she has done what she can to survive. So, judge away…
If Rachelle can make her “tragedy” catapult her into the limelight as a public figure (with 16,000 Facebook fans!) who speaks for those with SCI—helping to eliminate stereotypes, while talking about pain, love and sex, then more power to her.
Live your own life and let her live hers. I’d say that, so far, she’s doing a pretty good job; with a happy marriage and a new baby, and friends and family who love and support her. The haters should go and look in a mirror and ask themselves what is it they are projecting onto her that they actually hate about themselves. Or is it that they simply feel envious of her fame and attention? Rachelle is open and receptive to legitimate and constructive feedback and, like we all are, growing and learning each day to be the best that we can be.
Of course, not everyone has the benefits of fame, her beauty and a love by her side, but why the hate? She understands the struggle for equipment, pain relief and medical care. A cure and inclusion are real issues for so many and being in the public eye as much as Rachelle is (including being regularly featured on the Today Show and in People Magazine and the Huffington Post), it actually brings about more focus on these issues.
But the public reaction is revealing, and partly why it is valuable that she is brave enough to put herself out there to be scrutinized, as harsh as it can sometimes be. The insights gained are important because we still need to fight for equal rights and acceptance.
Here are some of the diverse and valuable perspectives voiced by the public in response to her recent photoshoot in her underwear:
“I fail to see how posing in your underwear for the world to see is newsworthy for ANY woman. She is a beautiful girl and everyone can see that. Save the underwear for your husband.”
“The first picture looks great and yes… sexy. No need for the underwear picture. Don’t put yourself in the category with the other people who feel the need to take their clothes off. It’s not necessary to look sexy.”
“Most people without the use of their legs would see this photo and feel really depressed they aren’t that young and pretty — not to mention happily married and happily parenting.”
“She absolutely makes me feel better about all of my surgical scars, and more willing to let people see them, people outside of those in my immediate family.”
“And this one which really does drive home the issue of how beauty and sexy is defined in our culture…and how many, paralyzed or not, cannot hope to achieve the societal definition of it.”
“how about “…poses in lingerie to prove that disabled people too can pose in lingerie.”? That’s all it proves. As for being sexually desirable, anyone can; but this photo does nothing for people without beautiful eyes and hair (like hers) or makeup skills, or nice skin, nice breasts (many people have none at all) or….it doesn’t uplift UGLY people (and we know what the definition is, it isn’t a slur, it is a literal definition of atypical features, asymmetry, absent features; and I think the focus on beauty is really unfair to ugly people, what is wrong with being ugly???? Ugly people should not have to hide)!”
“Yes, there are people with ileostomies and catheters and stents and trach tubes and severe burns and missing noses/lips and Proteus syndrome and Progeria. The aware among us know this. No one begrudges her the right to post anything she wants, but….the headline is to me erroneous. The picture “proves” only what this woman looks like, and she looks nice.”
“And being sexy proves your worth because why?”
“Not sexy at all.”
“I think it’s fantastic! As a woman who has a neurological disease and doesn’t fit into the traditional ‘sexy’ mold anymore, it really reaffirms that sexy is more than just how you look; it’s confidence and how you carry yourself. I think you are amazing!”
“You are beautiful, and you are right, the people you inspire with your photo shoot will never, ever forget. Thank you for your openness!!”
The overwhelming reaction of those in the world of SCI and disability is giving a big “Hell, yeah!” and also a high five for her courage at being this open.
Now, it is important to note, for those who are wondering or considering dating a woman or man with a similar disability that not all, even with a similar level of spinal cord injury, are the same. Some wear leg bags like Rachelle and they can be connected inside the urethra or via an external hole located above the pelvic area using what is called a Mitrofanoff procedure. Many more do a form of intermittent catheterization where a small tube is used to empty the bladder when full, or on a schedule. Others have the ability to feel, pee, orgasm and get an erection. Don’t assume that sexuality is not a big part of the life experience for people with disabilities and write them off as being potential love interests, wives or mothers, husbands, fathers.
As Rachelle states, part of why she is doing this is to help “…my fellow wheelchair users who are still looking for love. We are smart, courageous, funny, beautiful and yes… sexy.” She is right when she says that so many after an accident feel like she did; incapable or undesirable.
I remember Rachelle being painfully conscious of her catheter and leg bag in the discussions we had prior to her “A Paralyzed Life” photo shoot with the amazing photographer Ira Goldman. She said it was really hard for her and made me guarantee that we would not show her bag in the images. She didn’t even want the photographer or assistants to see it. So much thought, worry and energy went into this insecurity.
Boy, has she come a long way. Posing with the bag freely visible and confidently stating, “The big thing that I am self-conscious about is the catheter I have to wear all the time. I have to accept it, and I wanted to show people that just because you have this, just own it. It doesn’t have to be the focus of what you are, what you look like.”
“This was the first summer I put on a bikini since the accident,” she says, “and I want people to know you don’t have to hide; you can still be sexy.
“I’m hoping it will inspire others to just focus on the things they love about themselves and not be so critical,” she continues. “I’m encouraging everyone to get on social media and mention something they love about themselves with the hashtag #WhatMakesMeSexy.
“#WhatMakesMeSexy – My ability to overcome negativity with positivity”
That pretty much sums it up. I have learned a lot from Rachelle about how ruthless and hateful people can be towards those who shine their own light, and how her not letting them get to her is a lesson in how much power and strength we have to overcome not just paralysis and disability, but those who will try to hurt you. And the power of giving back; being a friend and supporting others in a spirit of love and genuine good will.
See Rachelle’s PhotoAbility.net modeling portfolio
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