Pearl has bow legs, severe scoliosis and restrictive lung disease which affect her breathing. Being conscious of her appearance led to her feeling “genderless” while growing up. The insecurity affected her health too as she stopped menstruating for eight years. Determined to improve her wellbeing, she embarked on a healing journey in recent years. This International Women’s Day, Pearl shares her journey towards overcoming self-doubts and societal perceptions to lead life her way.
For many singletons, being bombarded with questions like “got boy/girlfriend?” during festive occasions is a situation far too common. But for 35-year-old Pearl Lee, it was the exact opposite.
“My relatives tend to skip asking me such questions when we gather for Lunar New Year,” shared Pearl. “This led to awkwardness as they were probably unsure if I was open talking about it.”
But Pearl was more than receptive to discussing relationships and womanhood. Growing up in a time when there were limited diverse representation of female persons with disabilities (PwDs), she used to struggle with body image issues.
“I felt lousy and ugly. I even felt like a medical specimen as I had check-ups in hospitals so often,” she said. The insecurity grew to a point where she felt like removing all her female body parts.
Seeing how her peers coupled up in secondary school was another emotional hurdle. Believing that love was not possible for her at that time, she distanced herself from all possibilities.
“I was no competition to the girls and boys do not see me as a girl. So, I started acting more ‘tomboyish’ and told myself to be strong,” said Pearl. “I think I inadvertently held myself back from being able to receive love as well.”
It was only in recent years that Pearl mustered the courage to face her insecurities. Enlisting the help of her mentor, Pearl started uncovering the false beliefs she had about her womanhood, and healing from the experiences with people in her life that led her to feel “genderless”.
“Little did I realise that the denial of my womanhood was what caused me to lose my menses for eight years,” shared Pearl. “I always thought it was just stress.”
On learning to embrace herself
Some women with disabilities may not appear as feminine or have distinct female body types which may have discounted them of their female identity, shared Pearl.
“And I feel that sometimes as women with or without disabilities, we have self-doubts and place certain bias upon ourselves based on societal notions.
“For example, it is a misconception that women are not good in science or technology. But if we internalise it, we are limiting our capabilities and potential. It may deter us from even trying and just letting it be,” she added.
These self-limiting perceptions are what Pearl sought to let go as she works on embracing her disability and reclaiming her voice.
Even if love remains elusive for now, self-love is what we could start focusing on.
“Be compassionate, forgiving and embrace ourselves for who we are. For those who feel that they were not loved by those around them, past and present, we can still learn what love is like, how to receive and give love. This is also where we seek support from the community as well,” she added.
Having benefitted from her mentor’s guidance, Pearl seeks to pay it forward by being the voice for fellow persons with disabilities. She was among one of the newly inducted SPD Inclusion Champions this year.
On being an advocate for persons with disabilities
Not a stranger to the volunteering scene, Pearl has constantly found ways to contribute to the community.
Leveraging her baking and newfound public speaking skills, Pearl has also participated in SPD’s Charity Bake Sale and emceed at various SPD events, including the APB Foundation Scholarship Ceremony last year.
“I’m grateful to be able to give back to the SPD community since receiving their support through the APB Foundation scholarship during my university days,” said Pearl.
While exploring a new challenge for the next phase of her career, Pearl has also been active in her advocacy endeavours as well as business consulting work.
Exciting plans lie ahead for Pearl as she works on an initiative to empower PwDs to live their dream lives by recognising their hidden potential and sharing the infinite possibilities available to them.
“It’s not true that PwDs cannot do a lot of things. We are not defined by our disabilities, and we can live happy, meaningful and fulfilled lives regardless of what others say.”
Cover photo credit: Lylight Organisation