Growing up with cerebral palsy and a twin sister known by peers as “the pretty one”, brought Keah Brown face to face with the uphill battles of self-hatred and stigmas of modern society. Though she doesn’t let disability and other’s perceptions define her anymore.
In her latest memoir, “The Pretty One“, Brown shares a collection of essays which showcase her growth as a writer, disability activist and ultimately, her 27-year journey to achieving self-love.
We asked Brown to dive deep into her truth to answer questions on smashing stigmas and empowering communities to coping mechanisms for insecurities.
Responses were edited for space and clarity.
Q: Growing up with an able-bodied identical twin, how did this experience change the trajectory of your life?
I love being a twin. There is something very comforting about knowing that wherever I am in the world, my sister, Leah exists in it too. I think it formed my life trajectory because I went from the angsty jealous teenage sister to the adult woman who sees and appreciates her beauty, but also, my own now.
Leah was always supportive and loving toward me and now I feel like I deserve it and can genuinely give the same back to her. With all that is going on in my life and career, having Leah in my corner is a true gift and I won’t let it go to waste.
Q: What are your go-to coping mechanisms for moments when you feel insecure?
Saying four things I like about myself to the mirror, like “I love your eyes, your nose, your fashion sense, your eagerness.” Helps remind me that there is always something. I also surround myself with music. Music allows me to really remember who I am and feel everything I need to feel.
A great thing to remember for anyone on this journey is that self-love and the like is an ongoing process. It isn’t a linear journey.
You do have to work at it and it’s worthy of being worked on. Be kind to yourself while you do though. You are doing the best you can.
Q: In your book, you discuss your (sometimes) unrequited love for pop culture. Do you find there are more people like you on TV nowadays?
I am not seeing people like me in TV or in film. The only character I can find similarities with who’s disabled on TV right now is Garrett on NBC’s Superstore.
Pop culture has an issue of making disability narratives white centric, trauma and self-hatred focused.
NBC’s Superstore doesn’t do that. Nothing is perfect because the character is played by a man who is not actually physically disabled in real life, which I believe takes jobs away from disabled actors. Though I truly hope to change that someday even if I’m the one to create those characters for others to see.
Q: What do you think of the media’s distorted view of disability — and why did you decide to write your own narrative?
The media’s view of disability is both heartbreaking and harmful.
It is often telling disabled people that the only narratives we deserve are the ones where we are either sacrificed or kill ourselves because we hate living in disabled bodies.
I won’t say that disability is a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination, but I will say that I’m tired of dying in our mainstream media. We deserve love and happy endings and to live too!
I decided to write my own narrative because I wanted to offer the world a different view, idea and reality of disability. I wanted to show people who are often othered for being different that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. By sharing my stories, I’m rejecting the idea that a disabled life is not a life at all because I’m living my best life now and they can too. Writing my own narratives wasn’t easy but it has been worth it.
Q: Why is it “wrong” to say we’re inspired by successful people with disabilities?
It’s not wrong to be inspired by us but you should interrogate why you’re saying you are in the first place. If someone is inspired by my work, I welcome that.
However, if you’re inspired by me simply because you don’t have a body like mine and think it’s amazing that I get up every day and live my life, I reject that. That is the definition of inspiration porn and it not only reduces disabled people to only being valuable when they can achieve something, but it’s also rude.
I won’t be anyone’s worse case scenario or relief that they aren’t like me. I will be someone that someone else looks up to or enjoys for being all that I am not despite anything.
Q: How can others smash stigmas and empower their communities?
By telling their own stories and championing others. It really is as a simple as that- understanding the necessity to stop and listen, and to do so by letting the most underrepresented in the communities speak first. That is using your power and privilege even within community, for good.
Q: Why did your hashtag #DisabledAndCute go viral and become so important for disabled online users?
I think the hashtag went viral because people could tell that both it and I were genuine. I’m celebrating myself and my excitement to be alive for the first time in my life. I wanted people to do the same and they did!
I think it became important because it was for us and by us. It is for everyone who identifies as disabled and chronically ill. It is for both visible and invisible disabilities. It’s a movement of inclusivity and that’s why I believe it matters.
Q: What would an ideal modern society look like for people with disabilities?
Because I can’t speak for everyone in the community and I won’t pretend to, for me the ideal modern society is accessible — meaning I can enter spaces and get around with ease. There are places to sit and rest, the elevators are working and the railings on stairs aren’t broken.
It also means that we are given all of our rights, harmful policies are gone, and that we have great, affordable access to healthcare. The ideal world has a plethora of us in both TV and Film where we are properly represented. The ideal world gives us what we deserve, and that’s the right to live however we see fit and with what we need in order to do so.
Keah Brown is a journalist, freelance writer, and activist. She has written about living with cerebral palsy in Teen Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other publications.