To Post? Or Not to Post? The Weird World of Online Dating for a Woman in a Wheelchair

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To post? Or not to post? That is the question. It is a question that might occur to anyone with a physical, visible disability when they enter the weird world of online dating.

Back when Tinder was a brand new toy, I tried it out, thinking that maybe this could be a good option for me to start dating. For those who have never used Tinder, you have an option to upload a couple photos to your profile to add that visual bait for people to scroll through your info. This option stressed me out. Should I upload pictures that showed my chair? Or should I do some clever cropping to focus all on my face?




I eventually chose a balance of both, two with the chair, two without. The response was interesting. I saw a lot of messages from guys who told me I was pretty with that ever delightful follow-up of “it’s a shame you’re in a wheelchair” because apparently, the two are mutually exclusive. I got many similar responses that implied my wheelchair cannot add to beauty or simply be beautiful in itself.

And then, of course, I got some straight up odd responses, my personal favorite being “So are you actually in a wheelchair or are you just about that wheelchair life?” (I wish I was making this stuff up) Once I had pictures of me in my chair on my profile, the odd and pity-expressing messages piled in, which made me feel like taking those photos down.

At the time of my Tinder adventures, I was still harboring a lot of self-hate about my appearance. I didn’t think that I was pretty because even if I put on a shit ton of makeup, did my hair, dressed in the coolest clothes, I was in a chair and in my mind, the chair always got in my way of feeling attractive. I treated my disability as a flaw that I would never be able to cover up.

Fortunately, I had a friend who urged me to keep the pictures on my profile. He encouraged me to lean into the discomfort and self-doubt I was feeling, to revel in it and to address it head on. Why couldn’t I see myself as beautiful when in a chair?

What I eventually figured out is that there are a lot of factors which contributed to my feelings; media, childhood experiences, etc. but in the end they didn’t really matter. What mattered was that every day I made a conscious choice to not feel beautiful. I was absorbing negative media about people with disabilities and believing it. I was remembering traumatic experiences from childhood and holding on to them. And every day when I looked in the mirror I was telling myself that I wasn’t pretty because I’m disabled.

So I decided to be bold and embrace the living hell out of my disability. Every mirror I passed, I told myself I was a beautiful woman in a wheelchair until it finally stuck.

It’s not abnormal for people to feel down about their appearances but it can be incredibly difficult for people with disabilities who rarely see others who look like them in magazines or runways.

So…to post? Or not to post? If that is your question, I encourage you to post the photos that represent you, your whole self. Love yourself first.

Alexandra Stoffel

Alexandra Stoffel is a 22 year-old living in her hometown of Sacramento, California. Paralyzed due to a rare spinal cancer at the age of six, she has been a wheelchair user ever since. Alexandra strives to open up dialogue about the different systems of oppression that affect people with disabilities in an effort to eradicate those injustices. She has a passion for working with people from all over the world, specifically those with disabilities. Alexandra recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from Seattle University and hopes to attend graduate school to obtain a Master’s Degree in Global Communication. After graduate school, she plans to research the experiences of people with disabilities in different parts of the world, opening up cross-cultural communication.

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