Oh god no, I thought. Another selfie movement. This one was called “HospitalGlam.” I expected to click out of it within 30 seconds. Instead, I read the whole thing, I looked at every picture, and I cried.
We all know someone who has to spend hours, days, even weeks of their lives at the hospital, for whom rushing to the emergency room is a normal part of everyday life. Chronic illnesses are stigmatized to the point that people rarely discuss them, and when they do, they often feel ashamed for doing so. In fact, until the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), many with chronic illnesses couldn’t even get health insurance.
What is HospitalGlam? Karolyn Gehrig is a disabled artist who has Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. The syndrome is often misdiagnosed, which is an additional frustration for those coping with chronic illnesses. Before landing on the actual affliction, patients often need to undergo several rounds of diagnosis with a variety of doctors. Think of your life as the first 40 minutes of an episode of “House” played over and over again and you’re on the right track.
In the case of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Gehrig must visit the hospital repeatedly for the rest of her life. Ehlers-Danlos is a connective tissue disorder where collagen is under-produced by the body. This results in “fragile skin and unstable joints.” It can also cause a number of internal complications. The skeleton, arteries, intestines, muscles–literally, the entire body isn’t being held together as well as it should be.
When you do something in life that is regularly a painful chore, you can be miserable, or you can try to adapt. Gehrig adapted, dressing up for regular hospital appointments and taking glam selfies as she waits in the doctor’s office or waiting room. It helps her own the space, advocate for patients like her, and satirize the modelesque depictions of able-bodied people in an advertising community that often pretends as if those with disabilities don’t even exist.
“HospitalGlam is taking the shame out of being in treatment one selfie at a time,” Gehrig explained online.
As she describes Hospital Glam in one photo, in the midst of a 90 hour ER stint and EEG at the hospital, “I didn’t do it because I thought it would be cool or fun or funny. I did it to hold myself tightly through turmoil and I’ve yet to let go. Our tactics may differ, but we struggle for this grip the same.”
The movement has become popular online, spreading to others with chronic illnesses across Instagram and Tumblr. The rules for hospital glam are that you take pictures in a medical environment. They don’t necessarily have to be selfies, but they have to feature the person who’s at the hospital or doctor’s office, not just the procedure being done.
There are other selfie movements that seek to de-stigmatize illness. Check out the #NoHairSelfie movement as well, which brings solidarity to cancer patients undergoing treatment across the world.
What do you think of the HospitalGlam movement? Do you know someone who’s chronically ill who this may inspire?