I'm Going to Fly to Catch My Dreams!

"I'm going to fly to catch my dreams!" exclaims Manijeh, 35, in a short documentary film about her everyday life. As an Iranian woman who has lived with multiple disabilities for decades, dwarfism being one of them, she doesn't let her physical limitations get in the way of going after her dreams. One of those dreams is to become a fashion model despite that modeling is forbidden for women in Iran, and she's not exactly like the typical tall/thin/leggy "Barbies" that you see marching up and down the catwalks in Paris and Milan.

I recently discovered this very funny and delightful woman after reading an article about her for The New York Times' publication, Women in the World:  "Disabled Iranian Woman Who’s Overcome Tremendous Hardship Mocked for Aspiring to Be a Model."

Unfortunately the video link on the website doesn't work, but I found a copy of the video on Facebook with English subtitles that you can watch:  Manijeh Facebook Video.

Manijeh has been breaking taboos and defying people who have told her that she can't do things in life. She drives her own car, she rides horses, she swims, and she's working hard to fight against ableist, ageist, and sexist stereotypes to be a model in a country that heavily discriminates against women. Instead of listening to the negativity of others who tell her that she can't do this or that, she defiantly adds those things to her "to-do list." And then she does them.

According to the Women in the World article, Manijeh wants to help others to accept and love their non-perfect bodies by showing them that it is possible to smash gender and disability stereotypes in the modeling world and elsewhere.

“I don’t think that one needs a beautiful and perfect body to be able to model," says Manijeh. "Nor does one need to be a Barbie. By entering the modeling world with my disabled body, I would like to tell my disabled compatriots that they should accept and love their own bodies. For society to like you, you should start with liking yourself first. Although some people mock me and put me down I am not going to give up.“

Drawing inspiration from those without RA

So what does all of this have to do with RA? Manijeh doesn't have RA or an autoimmune disease (that I'm aware of), yet she's spent years being forced to live with the heavy burdens of chronic disability. I think many of us with RA, RA-related disabilities, and physical limitations can relate to her in some way. I know I certainly can--especially the challenges I feel regarding my own body image and self-esteem.

As a woman who has lived with the chronic pain and disability of RA for 20 years, I have struggled to hold onto self-confidence and to raise my pitifully low self-esteem. Decades of living with RA has also physically transformed my body in ways that I don't like. Ok, honestly, it's changed my body in ways that I absolutely hate. Years of prednisone medication has made me balloon from a healthy, normal weight to a sluggish obese person. And multiple joint surgeries over the years have left my body scarred and ugly.

RA even attacked my eyes in my early '20s, forcing me to throw away my contact lenses forever. I remember being so upset when this happened. Maybe it sounds a bit vain or shallow, but I hated the fact that I was losing control over how I physically looked. As a young woman trying to navigate through college and find her way in the world of friendships and dating, being stuck in a pair of dorky glasses was a major blow to my self-confidence. Luckily, I changed my opinion on the attractiveness of glasses years ago and quite like wearing them now!

When I watch the video of Manijeh singing and bopping around in her car, I'm instantly filled with hope and happiness. She isn't whining about having to wear glasses or brooding because her body doesn't look like everyone else's or isn't skinny enough. No! She can barely walk yet she's riding horses and hang-gliding, for God's sake. When asked about being a model she replies, "Why not?"

Why not indeed! I really dislike the overuse or the "sappy use" of the word "inspiration," but I can't help using it right now. Manijeh is an inspiration. I want to be more like her in how I view life and cope with my own disabilities and disease. I also want to "fly to catch my dreams."

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