Disabled People Deserve A Hot Girl Summer, Too

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse/Instagram

The first time I wore a two piece to the beach after my diagnosis was definitely intimidating. After all, I was already scrutinized every time I put food on my plate or checked my blood sugar. People would tell me they could “never” give themselves an injection and blood made them queasy. I was constantly asked if I could “eat that” when they peered over my shoulder at the food on my plate. I was fully convinced that my disease would once again be on full-display for all to see—er, judge—when I was at the beach or pool.

The alternative was to not go to the beach, wear a full-coverage suit with some sort of magical pocket for my insulin pump, or wear a coverup over my two-piece. None of these options seemed appealing. I sucked it up and headed to the surf with my family, my pump tubing freely hanging off my hip. Yes, I got some second-glances and even a few questions, but at least I wasn’t working hard to conceal who I was. Showing up as my true self, which includes my chronic illness, was freeing. Here I am fifteen years later, and hot girl summer is for disabled people, too.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a young adult. I was ill for over a year, losing thirty pounds, dealing with chronic hunger and thirst, and battling constant fatigue. I contracted a virus, and it all went downhill from there. Despite seeing five different medical professionals and having over twenty medical appointments, I wasn’t properly diagnosed until I was on death’s door in the emergency room.

Being told you have a forever and ever autoimmune disease is a big deal, let alone all the education you’re slapped with. Type 1 diabetes doesn’t play. It’s literally a do or die disease. Because my body doesn’t make its own insulin, I needed to administer insulin via injections or an insulin pump. I was also testing my blood sugar ten times a day and learning to count every single gram of carbohydrate I consumed. It was overwhelming.

Diabetes technology and education has come a long way since the day I was diagnosed, thankfully. I still have people tell me their diabetes horror stories or make off-handed comments like I have the “bad type of diabetes,” but I’ve built up some serious resilience. When someone tells me all about their grandma’s foot amputation, I just brush it off. If I got hung up on every single comment or question, I would be miserable.

There’s really no hiding type 1 diabetes for very long. Multiple times a day, I bolus insulin from the insulin pump I wear at all times unless I’m in the shower or pool. My gear is usually attached to my abdomen or flanks, so if I’m wearing a swimsuit, you’re going to see it—prominently.

I no longer worry what someone will think about my insulin pump clipped to the outside of my dress, on the waistband or pocket of my shorts, and not even on my swimsuit. I also couldn’t care less about my stretch marks, my mastectomy scars, or anything else. Caring takes effort, effort that’s better spent enjoying an activity.

Despite what our culture likes to tell and show us, there’s no list of qualifications that make any person more or less worthy of enjoying the shore, pool, or any other summer activity. Whether your mistakenly perceived “flaws” are medical gear or physical features, you deserve to show up and have fun. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect body.

I don’t care who you are, how much you do or don’t exercise, what you do or don’t eat. We all have body image issues to some degree or another. Some of us perseverate on that awful thing said to us in high school. Others of us have invited self-loathing in with the media we consume. Maybe a doctor made a rude comment about our weight that we can’t seem to shake from our minds. I dare to think, no person shows up to the beach not having a thought about their own bodies. Though certainly, those of us with some accessories or obvious differences in ability face more scrutiny.

I wonder if we all choose to collectively show up as we are, in what makes us comfortable, if we will start to show each other that it really is okay that pool time is just pool time. It’s not a runway, a magazine cover, or a social media photo shoot. If we show up as our true selves, that’s the best way to put “you do you” into the air and encourage others.

Plus, newsflash, it’s summer. It’s too damn hot to wear extra layers of fabric in order to conceal whatever we don’t like about our bodies. I truly think each person is concerned far more with their own bodies than consumed with judgmental thoughts about others.

In fact, when I see someone show up with their medical gear, I want to high five them. Ileostomy bag, mobility aide, insulin pump, whatever, I want to high-five them for their courage—and not in a weird, tokenism, ableism type of way. It takes some serious confidence to show up just as you are, with a glaring siren that says “disability” or “special needs,” and still have a good time. Exposing our medical gear invites an extra level of attention that can be difficult to navigate.

I realized that I truly had a choice. I could worry about what others thought of me, their assumptions and stereotypes, or I could spend my energy enjoying my family at the beach. There’s really no in between. It certainly took some practice—showing up several times with my diabetic gear exposed—before I was finally able to focus on having a good time, but I did it. To be cliché, practice does make perfect—or close to it.

I refuse to cover up to make others more comfortable. My rules are, I need to be able to access my pump, as well as adjust it to protect it from the heat. I wear a swimsuit that I like. Yes, that’s it. My hot girl summer is in full swing—and I hope yours is, too.

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