Embracing your differences

I have one arm. I was born with just below my elbow on my right arm and it’s all I’ve ever known.

I work behind a bar. Tiny humble brag, but come to me and you’ll be served your favourite drink in no time. However at least once a shift, I get a – I’m sure, well-meaning – comment about how ‘clever’ I am, or how I’m ‘doing really well’ for having poured their drink. My all-time favourite is ‘So you’re not just a pretty face then!’

I find myself getting irritated by this culture of sympathy and patronisation, but then I find myself tweeting things like this:

‘Just saw a guy on the underground with a broken arm and immediately thought “Damn, travelling must be difficult with one hand”….’

What’s that all about?

If you watched the Great British Bake Off last year, you’d have seen Briony Williams take the tent by storm right through to the semi-finals. She made some incredible creations and deserved every moment of glory she received.

She also had one hand.

Faced with challenges others may have told her she couldn’t do, she found a way. Some things needed adjusting, some things needed adapting. But so what? It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to need support to achieve – in fact, it’s encouraged! But don’t let the opinions of others take away the fact that it is you who’s achieving.

Lauren Steadman, a Paralympian with a very similar arm to mine, got to the semi-finals of Strictly 2018. Yes, there was the chance for the public to project their sympathy and amazement on her journey, but you know what? It was amazing. Not because she managed it with one arm, but because she did it despite having one arm. She worked with it, embraced it and achieved.

And ultimately, it was her emerging personality throughout the show and die-hard grit and willpower which made the public love her. She was engaging, funny and it was actually quite moving watching her come out of her shell as the competition progressed. That’s what shone through, be it affected by her disability or not – it was her personality which caught the attention of so many.

Embrace your talents and gifts, regardless of your potential challenges. Have confidence in yourself. You’re built the way you are because you’re meant to be that way; it’s no mistake. The things that are unique to you are the things which make you the person that your friends love. You’re talented both because of and regardless of those things you may feel hinder you.

Briony met so many others online who have the same hand as she does. She’s found a community. Lauren inspired endless people, young and old, to believe that they can dance despite their physical differences. Neither of them was less talented or less deserving because of their arms. Instead, their confidence in their ability meant so many more were encouraged that they could achieve too.

I think that when I tweeted about the man on the underground, I hit two levels of confidence in one go. I was sky-high positive about my own ability that I completely forgot I was in the same position as that guy. But I also had a crisis of confidence watching him: that actually, having one arm was restrictive and a struggle was to be expected.

Confidence is a funny thing, eh?

We can’t get it right all the time. We can’t succeed immediately every time we try. But that is true regardless of our story; regardless of whether you feel you’re disadvantaged or different or unable. Don’t let the little things define you, embrace your uniqueness and run with it. Have confidence that you’re enough.

It’s a work in progress for many of us, but most definitely a worthwhile journey to go on.

By Ellie Blackley

I’m Ellie, and I’m a Bar Supervisor
at a super cute restaurant in Luton.
If I’m not watching Netflix or spending
time with my step-kids, you’ll find
me under a blanket napping!”

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