‘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
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’