Voice Rising: The Accidental Advocate
By Guest Blogger Xian Horn
My cerebral palsy gives me a not-so-secret weapon: ski poles for balance and flair. Over the years they have come in a variety of colors: electric blue, hot pink, jet black and for prom: wrapped in black satin to match my dress! They have become part of me and my persona, or as the kids call it, “swag.” I’ve been the girl with ski poles and I’ve been secure in it and my disability. My body and womanhood are another story.
For the first two decades of my life I hated my feet. My first boyfriend never even saw them and he knew not to ask. When I started giving self-esteem classes, I vowed to get a pedicure once a month, to “honor the temple” or at the very least, my toes. Now, I can say I like them – and they haven’t changed. I have.
At first, I had no intention of advocating. That was the obvious thing to do and didn’t my funny name that starts with “X” and ski poles make me obvious enough? I thought the best I could do was live my life as happily as possible. But, just like my body, my road to advocacy involved peeling away layers of wallpapered denial. Telling my story required risk and the possibility of rejection. And nothing could have been scarier to the old me.
Ten years ago, I was just a nice girl with stage fright, and worse: I was a people-pleaser. I loved others and their acceptance too much; I saw beauty in everything and everyone, and it shrank my own sense of beauty and made me idle. After I was fired from my first job, I didn’t look for a new one for 10 months. Not because I was lazy, but because I was scared. I doubted my ability to make an impact. I was too afraid to make a difference, even if deep down it was what I wanted most of all. I was afraid to say yes or no and to share my own, as it turns out, very strong ideals. Fortunately, people-pleasing is exhausting and not a viable profession.
As my backbone grew, so did my integrity, purpose and advocacy. My renewed faith in God solidified what I always suspected: that we all have beauty, gifts and a calling, if we just take the time to listen and act accordingly.
People often mistake my joy for boundless confidence, but in truth, that confidence is something I reclaim daily – and it’s a new spiritual victory each day.
I run workshops on beauty and self-esteem for women and girls with disabilities through New York University’s Initiative for Women with Disabilities, not because I’m the most confident woman in the room, but because I understand insecurity and the enemy certain lies are to our minds, our actions and our lives. We lie to ourselves ALL the time: I’m not good enough, smart enough, tall enough, pretty enough. Some self-help gurus like to call these traitorous thoughts “stories,” but some stories are true. So, let’s call these traitors what they truly are: bold-faced lies that have to go!
The first thing we do in any of my personalized Give Beauty Wings workshops is give these serpentine lies a left-hook. Then, we do our best to shine a mirror onto what’s truly there and what gifts we would like to see grow. And like we would for any greenhouse flower, we turn up the heat. We blow away the clouds so our sun(s) can shine without shame.
I learned that the very things we or others see as weakness can be the very same place we find our strength(s). My ability to see the beauty in people around me was once a liability to my taking action – and is now essential to my job description. My multi-colored skis empower me and help me cut lines, and cut through many busy New Yorker hearts. My skis have made me many unexpected friends in a supposedly unfriendly city.
Even if our differences make us stand out, make us seems like oddballs or unforgettable, or are invisible to the naked eye, I believe our true power lies not in how well we stand, or even what tools we use to move with; but in our beautiful uniqueness, what we choose to stand for, and how we choose to move or roll through life; we don’t need to move muscles to move mountains or shine brightly. Existing in our raw human beauty is enough – but taking action and being of service – that is even better.
Take it from this accidental advocate who was once afraid of her own voice: your voice and story matter more than you realize and no one can truly speak for you and who you are but you.
I’ve been so honored to share a bit of my story with you!
Now feel free to share below: how do you serve? And if you’re not there yet, what would you like to do?
About the Guest Blogger
Xian Horn is a joyful woman with cerebral palsy who serves as teacher, speaker, beauty advocate, blogger and Exemplar for the AT&T NYU Connect Ability Challenge toward the creation of Assistive Technology. Xian’s Give Beauty Wings’ Self-Esteem programs originated and continue at NYU’s Initiative for Women with Disabilities, the Jewish Community Center Manhattan, and M.S. 131 in Chinatown. Xian’s programs have also been presented at United Cerebral Palsy, the Standing Tall school (a school for non-verbal children), and her alma mater New York City Lab School, where she was the first alumni commencement speaker in 2014. She has also spoken at the Apple Store in Soho, the UJA Federation’s Task Force on Disability, United Cerebral Palsy, The ReelAbilities Film Festival, the Naples Daily News, and the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, among many others. Xian has also run vocational workshops for the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities for their annual Disability Mentoring Day. Her work has been featured in The White House Blog, Fast Company, NPR, NBC News, Fox 5 and NY1 among others. Lastly, she is a blogger for Positively Positive – an online community of over 2.5 million readers worldwide.
Want to learn more? Have more you wish to share? Connect with me on Twitter at @XianForBeauty83 or Facebook.