Dating and Relationship Advice

One refreshing trend in dating advice is discouraging the focus on the physical appearance of potential dating partners. Physical attraction will, of course, always be important, but people of all genders want to be known and loved for who they are, not just their bodies—and they are speaking up more and more about it.

This can work in the favor of the disabled community. It's common to receive stares in public, however inadvertent they may be, when your body is outside normative expectations. It's a great relief to hear the advocacy of perhaps unwitting allies that human beings are more than their appearances.

But this can also backfire for disabled folks on the dating scene. It's true that human beings are more than their bodies and that sustaining healthy love for the long term has very little to do with physical attraction. But it can go too far: some say or can sound like they're saying that bodies don't matter at all.

No one wants to be judged solely for their bodies, but eschewing physical attraction can recreate the ableism that is already so rampant in our broader culture. It can de-emphasize the body altogether, which can create an environment in which disabled people are shamed for asking for their physical needs or don't feel supported in speaking up about their bodies at all.

In the new world where prioritizing physical appearances is more and more seen as shallow and undesirable, those that stand up for physical needs can be lumped in with those that shallowly judge people by their physical appearances and whether certain body "types" or appearances meet their "needs."

But this is exactly backwards. We are right to move away from focusing on the body for the ways it can meet our "needs," but physically disabled folks have every right to focus on meeting our body's needs. We're not using the body to meet our needs; we're meeting the needs of our bodies. Thus, it is okay to focus on the body—your own body. You know what your body needs; you are the expert on how best those needs should be met and what support you need.

It doesn't mean you are "shallow" or "only care about looks." You are balancing out the (mostly) positive shift in focus away from physical attraction as one of the main "needs" in a romantic connection with the reminder that, while we shouldn't judge people for their bodies, bodies do matter and have needs that shouldn't, indeed cannot, be dismissed.

The good news here is that advocacy works. People have successfully begun the shift away from seeking out dating partners solely for how much they like their bodies. With the right kind of advocacy, we can refine this stance further to focus on our bodies for the right reasons: respecting their needs and limits while understanding that we are more than just our bodies.