Nadia Ibrahim
Age 44, Cerebral Palsy
Photographed by Tanzin Smith


I always had this idea—although I’m not sure where it came from—that one day I would wake up and my disability would be gone. My family viewed CP as a normal part of life: an additional consideration, not a limitation. When I was a teen, a realization stared back at me as I looked in the mirror: my body and life are not average. I spent most of my teenage years and early 20s hiding my body. When I started work, I came to two additional realizations: I had to be a self-advocate, and I needed to “look the part.” Relying on others for assistance with daily activities meant that I did not have the ‘luxury’ of spending a lot of time on my appearance. Getting help with activities of daily living took priority over spending time on hair and makeup.

Even though I had made efforts to improve how I looked, I still wasn’t entirely comfortable with my appearance and lacked self-confidence. It wasn’t until I received my first service dog, Tullis that this changed. Tullis gave me greater self-confidence when interacting with others, but I continued to struggle with my body and self-image. I still did not feel beautiful. In my mid 30s I stopped looking to others for validation and started to see myself as beautiful.

Some people will let their own perceptions and stereotypes keep them from experiencing the full beauty of life that may cross their life path. Having Cooper, my current service dog, by my side reminds me that it’s counterproductive to spend time worrying about what others think of me. I have come to believe and understand every part of me is wonderfully made from the inside out and from the outside in.

“Image is powerful, but also image is superficial…barring surgery, there’s very little we can do to transform how we look. And how we look – though it is superficial and immutable– has a huge impact on our lives. So, today, for me being fearless means being honest.” – Cameron Russell, TED Talk