My Journey From Low-Self Esteem to Blogging About Disability and Fashion

Lainie Ishbia
Lainie holding her AFOs.

To say it has not been easy finding myself is an understatement. I put my parents through virtual hell from age 10 until my early 20s. I’ll spare you the details for now, but let’s just say delinquent, depressed teenage girl plus mom fed up and near nervous breakdown equals shipped off to boarding school far, far away.

Like many teenage girls, I was insecure and wanted to be accepted so badly. I literally cried out for attention. Everything was black and white, and I remember worrying constantly. What if no one saves me a seat at lunch? What if I never get invited to Homecoming? What if no boy ever really likes me?

I wanted to have the “perfect body” and “perfect boyfriend” just like Seventeen Magazine told me I could have and should have. There were no Dove “Real Beauty” campaigns back in the 80s. When Kate Moss said, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” I believed her, and so did millions of other girls.

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And if having a positive body image wasn’t hard enough, the fact I had a physical disability I didn’t understand put me (and my poor parents) over the edge. After a painful nerve conduction test in second grade, I found out I had a neuromuscular disorder called Charcot Marie Tooth disorder (CMT).

I didn’t want to learn or talk about having a neuromuscular disorder; especially not my feelings about it. If someone asked me why I couldn’t run or jump, I’d say “I was in a ski accident” or another lie involving a sport I wished I could do. I had fears floating around my terrified teenage brain that I never talked about with anyone.

What if my drop foot trips me and I fall down the stairs? Since I can’t run, how will I get away if someone tries to grab me? What if I get worse like my mom? What if no one wants to date me because of my disability? All that worrying about “what ifs” prevented me from figuring out who I was. I hid my body under baggy clothing because I felt damaged and ugly on the inside.

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There was no epiphany or spiritual awakening. I just grew up and decided I was over worrying about the things I could not control, and I focused for the first time in my life on the things I could. After getting a Master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, I learned my passion was helping girls and women with self-esteem related issues from my first job as a therapist and teen empowerment educator at a social service agency in Chicago.

I got married. Had kids. Got married again. Added step-kids. I try to exercise every day (mostly).

It’s hard to move my muscles sometimes. I do it anyhow.

I discovered I love fashion and expressing my personality through it. I love helping friends and family find clothing that fits their personality, regardless of any disability. I find that a perfectly fitted outfit, new lipstick, or accessory illuminating your eyes and/or personality has the power to also boost confidence, ultimately allowing people to feel better.

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Fashion for people with invisible physical disabilities is nearly non-existent. There are some brands designing for disabled people, but their focus is on visible disabilities. As an AFO (leg brace) wearer, the shoe catalogues geared toward people “like me” feature smiling grannies on the cover, wearing ugly black Velcro “comfort” shoes that are definitely not my style.

I started to wonder if there are other women out there with invisible disabilities who want to look and feel their best but settle for shoes or clothing because they fit. I spent hours researching other invisible physical disabilities, reading online support groups and talking to women with MS, arthritis and lupus to name a few. These women share similar feelings and challenges. So I started Trend-ABLE.

Trend-ABLE is a way for perfectly imperfect women with invisible physical disabilities to meet, hang out, share tips, and inspire one another to look and feel our very best. I hope you will join me in the newly formed Trend-ABLE community.

Read more stories like this on The Mighty:

How to Get a Grip When You Literally Can't

My Tough Yet Rewarding Life With Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease

5 Cocktail Party Tips for Unsteady Girls