The recent show Britain's Missing Top Model has challenged perceptions about disability and attractiveness perhaps for the first time in the main stream media, but away from the spotlight many of us confront those perceptions as part of our everyday lives.
After struggling for ages with what to say and how to say it, really it comes down to this. Disabled people are not supposed to be attractive. We equate looking physically attractive with qualities such as youth, vigour and good health, whereas disabled people are supposed to be tragic unattractive figures. Even better if they drool or lick windows too. We all know where we stand with that.
Of course it's not that simple. What is? Disabled people come in all shapes and sizes just like anyone else, and just like anyone else disabled people cover the whole spectrum of physical beauty. The difference with disability though is how that challenges our innate perceptions and fears.
People are afraid of disability and disease, almost as though some primal instinct to keep us safe from contagion is in operation. Fear breeds prejudice and confirms such negative perceptions by ensuring disability remains something slightly secretive and shameful, kept away from the mainstream where unfamiliarity continues to breed contempt.
Disabled people being physically beautiful challenges all those perceptions and forces us to think about issues we'd perhaps rather not. Instead of comfortably being able to see disabled people as on the margins of society, as less than equal objects of pity, looking at beautiful people who just happen to have disabilities confuses and forces the uncomfortable thought that disability can and does happen to everyone.
Once that thought is placed it's but a short step to many more unpalatable truths. The biggest one being just how far we all have to go before equality is even a tangible concept.