Disability and Beauty: Here's What's Missing from the Conversation

As a neurodivergent and mentally ill beauty content creator, being in the beauty space can be hell. The ableism in the industry and lack of consideration given to disabled people during beauty discourse are astounding. It's become clear no one but disabled people are thinking about us and our very real difficulties.

Beauty rituals are often touted to be basic hygiene, from taking showers to doing your skincare routine to even washing your hair. People who don't do these activities consistently are called dirty without considering they may be dealing with a physical or mental disability. In my experience, depressive episodes can eliminate my ability to perform any task.

How Physical and Mental Disabilities Can Affect Daily Activity

Teona Studemire, a disabled content creator who constantly discusses their difficulties with various daily activities, says the online community leaves no room for grace regarding hygiene. "My disabilities make it extremely difficult to stand for long as well as maintain strength in my hands," they say.

Lily Njoroge, a New York licensed esthetician, suffers from long Covid. "From a financial perspective, [long Covid] made me realize how much more expensive it is to perform beauty rituals and take care of your skin when you're disabled." The inability to carry out some tasks for months means beauty products expire and are rendered useless and unsafe.

Studemire also says it's important to recognize experiences are not a monolith, and a lot more consideration must be given to individuals in the way we speak about these practices. People often cannot fathom the pain disabled people face, from chronic pain to being physically unable to carry out tasks. The least anyone could do is be considerate and realize your experience isn't the only one that exists, and neither is it the only one that matters.

How the Online Beauty Community Can Be Ableist

There is a lot of unforgiving advice in the online beauty space regarding beauty rituals (especially skincare routines). I've seen people blame chronic skin conditions on inconsistency and poor hygiene, which is a myth skincare professionals have debunked.

"We still have a long way to go in the skincare space with people shaming others for lack of consistency," Njoroge says, adding that a lot of the language used during discussions about consistency is inherently ableist. "It's not as easy as just doing it for millions of disabled or mentally ill people, myself included," Njoroge notes.

We still have a long way to go in the skincare space with people shaming others for lack of consistency.

It's been interesting seeing people push consistent beauty rituals as mandatory online while simultaneously referring to skincare routines as self-care. To me, this philosophy seems contradictory.

"The downside of consistency being pushed as a non-negotiable in skincare is it can result in harmful practices with routines that mimic obsessive-compulsive disorder," Njoroge says. This is true for a lot of people, myself included. I began developing an unhealthy relationship with my skincare routine and berated myself when I would be unable to due to mental illness.

This is why careless discourse surrounding this topic must be eradicated. You cannot call beauty routines self-care in one breath and in another shame people who can't partake for whatever reason. Many of us who have disabilities wish we could just do our beauty routines, but we can't. The online space must be kinder and more understanding of how various conditions may affect ability.

Balancing Having a Disability and Performing Beauty Rituals

It's important to set realistic expectations and be kind to yourself to find balance in this situation. "Be realistic on hard days and don't try to convince yourself you absolutely will do your routine," Njoroge says. "I don't have to give myself grace if I never set an expectation in the first place."

In terms of practical advice, I try to find the shortest possible way of performing my routines. Here's a rundown of what my skincare and hair care routines look like:

Skincare

I recommend finding multifunctional products and stripping your routine down to the bare minimum. For example: In the morning, I cleanse, rinse with water, and apply SPF. In the evening, I cleanse and moisturize.

If I have to treat acne or hyperpigmentation, I'll add in serum when I can. If I can't, I remind myself it is not something I'm in control of and try to let it go. The other option is to find a cleanser or moisturizer with activesfor example, a benzoyl peroxide cleanser and a moisturizer containing hyperpigmentation ingredients. This way, I can skip the serum step.

Hair Care

Because of my ADHD and breathing difficulties, hair care is difficult. Here's what has helped me navigate: I shortened my hair care steps to shampoo, conditioner, and a styling product (a tip I learned from Jennifer Rose, an NJ- based licensed curly hairstylist). I also take breaks in between steps and drink water, which helps when I feel breathless and dizzy in the shower.

Shopping for Products

When purchasing products, we should be mindful of how useful they will be in the long term. "Be realistic when purchasing products," Njoroge notes. "[Ask yourself,] Do they demand extra steps or time? Are they multifunctional?"

Final Thoughts

While some people may view beauty rituals as relaxing, it is clear a percentage of the population finds these tasks more stressful. The constant shaming and strict views on what is considered socially acceptable in terms of cleanliness are inherently exclusionary and ignorant towards disabled people and our difficulties. To everyone reading this: consider disabled folks before making statements that could be ableist and continuously work toward being anti- ableist. It makes all the difference.

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