‘My body works hard for me – I’m so proud of it’

Alex Cowan is de­ter­mined that by living life to the full, peo­ple will see be­yond her wheel­chair and recog­nise a sexy woman

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Inspiratio­nal Women -

Be­fore I had mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, I didn’t re­ally think about my ap­pear­ance. I was pe­tite, with a rounded tummy and a curvy fig­ure, and while I was by no means per­fect, I was al­ways happy about how I looked. In some ways, I think I took my body for granted. Then that be­gan to change.

It started with small, al­most in­con­se­quen­tial things – walk­ing over flat ground felt bumpy to me, like cob­bles, and pa­per was furry be­neath my fin­ger­tips. Around that time, I went for an eye test where the op­ti­cian spot­ted a problem with my op­tic nerve and rec­om­mended I see a doc­tor.

Aged 25, I was di­ag­nosed with MS. I’d al­ways

been quite in tune with my body, and I’d known some­thing wasn’t right. I had no idea how the con­di­tion would progress. Over the next 15 years, I ex­pe­ri­enced a se­ries of losses. I be­came a full-time wheel­chair user, lost move­ment in my limbs and con­trol of my blad­der and bowel. My con­fi­dence as a sex­ual woman was di­min­ished. I was 33 when I mar­ried – my hus­band was a long-stand­ing friend and knew about my MS. I trusted him im­plic­itly. He was kind, loyal, and con­tin­u­ally as­sured me that he found me at­trac­tive, but his words brought lit­tle com­fort. The grief and dark­ness was buried deep in­side me. Only I could pull my­self out.

I couldn’t change what MS was do­ing to my body, but I could change how I re­sponded to it. I de­cided to set my­self a se­ries of chal­lenges. The first was a para­chute jump. Float­ing 10,000ft above the ground, birds soared around me and I felt ex­hil­a­rated. Af­ter that, I had a photo done sit­ting naked astride my wheel­chair. I also put on a bur­lesque show with two friends, both wheel­chair users. We per­formed in front of a pri­vate in­vited au­di­ence. I never imag­ined I’d be able to take my top off on stage, but when I did, it was the most lib­er­at­ing feel­ing.

From that point on, my at­ti­tude changed. I wanted to be out in the world again, con­nected with life and with peo­ple. When MS changes my ca­pa­bil­i­ties and I have to ad­just to an­other form of loss, it can dent my con­fi­dence. How­ever, re­mind­ing my­self of my achieve­ments helps me to remember that even the small­est tri­umphs can bring the great­est joy. I’ve learnt that what seems im­pos­si­ble is very of­ten pos­si­ble.

Taking off my clothes... Phys­i­cally, I can do very lit­tle for my­self these days. I’m un­able to stand or use one of my arms, and I need some­one to dress and feed me. But with as­sis­tance, I still lead a rich, full life. I also have a per­ma­nent catheter, which I’ve never shown to any­one ex­cept my hus­band. Taking part in the Good House­keep­ing photo shoot felt like the next step on my jour­ney. As I posed in front of the cam­era, I told my­self that it was an­other ob­sta­cle, an­other bar­rier to break down. My body works so hard for me. Look­ing at it fills me with grat­i­tude.

There is so much stigma around dis­abil­ity and body con­fi­dence – but it’s im­por­tant to remember that dis­abled women have the same de­sires as ev­ery­one else. I want to feel at­trac­tive, I want to look sexy, and I’m thrilled that the pho­tos cap­ture my spirit and love of life. One look at my smile and it’s ob­vi­ous that I’m feel­ing great.

‘What seems im­pos­si­ble is very of­ten pos­si­ble’

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