Me Before You: Advocacy or Ableism?

Me Before You: Advocacy or Ableism?

Tackling one of the summer's biggest blockbuster romances.
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I am about the spoil the novel Me Before You and inevitably, the movie adaptation. I also intend to state my opinions and hopefully open a dialogue about the events of the novel in lieu of its controversial nature. These opinions have been made through time spent working with and supporting individuals with disabilities and not my own personal experiences as a relatively able-bodied individuals. Let it be known that I believe only the individual is responsible for deciding what their disability or their experiences mean to them; these are merely opinions made based on curiosity and second-hand experience as a friend and trained source of support. I do believe Moyes representation of individuals with disabilities to be flawed in more ways than one, but I also believe her work leads us to ask questions of ourselves and of others that are important and deserve to be considered. Thank you for reading!


One of my favorite things about summer break is that I have so much more time to read things that I actually want to read, as opposed to assigned readings and script memorization. I have quite a few books squirreled away for when the mood strikes, but in typical book worm fashion I am easy to entice to continue to buy books even with dusty, unread novels waiting for me at home. The recent release of the movie Me Before You, based on the novel by JoJo Moyes, was one of the first novels to catch my eye upon coming home from college. As a psychology major and someone who has worked closely beside individuals with disabilities in the past, Me Before You's apparently romantic plot about a quadriplegic man interested me immediately. Who doesn't love a nice, inclusive romantic drama every now and then?

Having just watched the movie You're Not You on Netflix (starring Hilary Swank, do yourself a favor and watch!) about a woman with ALS, I was prepared for the happy tears and gut-wrenching sobs, but what I was not prepared for was the large amount of backlash Me Before You had received before it even hit theaters. I'm not someone to be deterred from reading or watching something after hearing spoilers—if that were the case, Tumblr would have already ruined just about everything Literary or otherwise I could get my hands on. I immediately rushed to investigate why what appeared to be such a promising plot could have such a negative reaction.

I'll admit that I was not as surprised as I should have been to hear of the story's less than joyful ending: Will Traynor, a man with a C4-5 spinal cord injury, decides to end his life despite being wealthy enough to live what would be considered comfortably and having found love and support. Naturally, I do not condone suicide nor or the support of suicide in any way, but having worked with advocates in the past I understand that the choices one makes for themselves may not always be the ones we agree with. One of the biggest parts of advocacy is learning to accept that sometimes you have to defend decisions that you do not necessarily believe are the correct ones. If an individual with a disability is able to advocate for themselves, their word is law; I believe this learned understanding may have allowed me to be a bit more sympathetic towards the tension created by what Will Traynor wanted to do.

I once knew a man whose doctors suggested he not eat solid foods because, due to his disability, he had a very high risk of choking. Now, this man was almost endearingly stubborn in more ways than one and was absolutely adamant that he make choices for himself, medical or otherwise—as he should. However, in his case, choosing to eat his beloved hot dogs sliced and not puréed meant that any day he could be sent to the emergency room because of asphyxiation, and he was more than once. As much as a hassle as it was for those who worked alongside him, his fellow advocates defended his right to make this decision because it was no one's to make but his. He should be able to eat what he wanted when he wanted it and how just as anyone else in this world should have the right to do.

Of course, I do not mean to compare the eating of hot dogs to medically assisted suicide, but there is an important lesson to be learned in the realm of advocacy. If you are able to advocate for yourself, there should not be a single person out there who can tell you what your quality of living is or what it means to you. If someone signs the paperwork stating that they are not to be resuscitated, nobody can challenge that decision—not even a medical professional. Certainly this would upset those close to that individual, but at the end of the day the only person who can decide how and if they continue to live is themselves.

In the movie You're Not You, as I mentioned before, the woman with ALS does indeed decide that she does not want to be resuscitated. While her family tries to fight this, claiming her illness has made her unable to make such a decision for herself, ultimately the woman receives her wish and is able to pass away in her home while in her own bed. It isn't pretty, and surely it is excruciatingly painful, but so had been her life, even more so each time she was brought to the hospital only to extend the life of a rapidly deteriorating body. I do not in any way wish to undermine the blessing that is the extra time one might have with their family thanks to medical technology, but I also wholeheartedly believe that a person can and should be able to determine when they have had enough. While some people wonder how they will go on without someone, that someone could be suffering greatly.

In Will Traynor's case, the man was already suffering greatly. I personally don't think the book touched upon it enough, but Will's injury left him in a great deal of pain nearly all the time, which is not always typical of spinal injuries. He was fortunate enough to have the best of everything, and even then Will had to take several medications just to be able to sit in his chair, not to mention that he risked a life-threatening illness any time someone so much as changed his catheter a few minutes off schedule. This is not to say that Will couldn't have continued to live a relatively happy and healthy life, because I absolutely believe in trying to find a way to make anyone's quality of living better, but it cannot be denied that even waking up in the morning was an incredible weight to bear for Will Traynor.

Do I agree with his decision? Absolutely not. Do I understand why he made it? Yes, and I would defend his right to make said decision because it is his and only his right to do so. Will was of sound mind when the decision was made and thought for a long time on it; this was not a decision that was taken lightly or made spur of the moment. Even the love of a lifetime could not sway him from this decision, which I believe speaks novels about his own pain and discomfort.

Understanding advocacy and learning to embrace what we can't comprehend or get on board with are skills that are important not just within the community of individuals with disabilities but on a wider, more general scale too. They are skills that help to empower yourself and others while being respectful of both sides of any conflict, something I believe that everyone could benefit from.

With that elephant in the room having been dealt with, I will also say that I don't exactly agree with the direction the movie was taken in. The movie's focus is entirely upon the romantic aspect of the book. Sure, relationships can be important and life-altering, but they are not the end-all-be-all of a person's life, as Will Traynor's decision shows. The most important thing to be taken from Will and Louisa's relationship is what they learn about each other and themselves through knowing each other, not necessarily about cute outings and what was shown in the trailer as a romantic getaway to a tropical island. Never mind the fact that there's a third character lingering around nearly at all times encouraging them both to better themselves and that the novel itself is more about self-discovery more than anything else. The movie was unfortunately advertised as no more than a budding romance, which I believe strips all of the importance and meaning behind Will and Louisa's interactions and the choices that are made in lieu of them.

Criticisms have been made about Louisa, painting her as a plot device and nothing more—the able-bodied girl who gets to "live boldly" (as the advertisements read) while Will chooses to end his life. However, the Louisa in the novel leaves much more to be desired. She is stunning and eccentric with her own misgivings and insecurities. Louisa is strong, but selfless enough to grant Will's final wish by accompanying him before his death despite her own wishes and opinions on the matter because she comes to understand what the ability to make that choice means to Will. Most importantly, she is human and a well developed one at that.

I do not believe it to be any fault of the actors, but it is clear that the movie versions of these characters have faded into watered-down versions of what they were originally meant to be for the sake of enhancing the romantic aspect of the plot. I do not think it is fair, however, to equate her to a mere plot device, as I believe her to be a rich main character in a world that could certainly use more examples of strong, empowered leading ladies.

The movie also leaves out an important moment in Louisa's past for the sake of furthering the romantic plot, acting as if Louisa's sexual assault never happened as was also a plot device, which I find wildly inappropriate and unnecessary. There are others who might argue that the sexual assault itself was wildly inappropriate and unnecessary, but given the more recent events of the Stanford case and the lenient rulings against Brock Turner, I do not find including sexual assault to be misplaced at all. It is all too common and society continues to allow women to define themselves by what happened to them rather than support them, something that Louisa learns to work past. If anything, I believe it absolutely rude to diminish her sexual assault to a plot device to bring them together when so many people today face such a tragedy. When the terrifyingly high numbers become a thing of the past, then I will believe it too be an all too conveniently placed plot point. Maybe.

In short, I can completely understand where the movie comes off as incredibly ableist because ultimately, it does not live up to the novel, which I find interesting considering that Moyes herself helped in the adaptation. This story is one that could have been told and told well without being sold as the next romantic tragedy we never asked for.

However, I don't believe that Moyes is an insufferable ableist for writing this story. Do I think that we need more positive examples of living with a disability in the media? Without a doubt! I believe this is why they chose to advertise the movie in such a way, despite it being such an inaccurate depiction of what was to come. It is especially unfortunate that such a story be adapted for film at a point in time in which we are sorely lacking in positive representation of that community, as it certainly sticks out like a sore thumb that way and comes off as dreary and hopeless—the exact opposite of what I perceived this book to be. In my eyes, this novel told a story about struggles; the struggle to find oneself, to find meaning and more difficultly, to find the strength to accept decisions we may not exactly agree with.

While I do not agree with the decision Will Traynor ultimately made, I respect his ability to choose for himself what would become of him, just as I respect Moyes for being able to illustrate the difficulty in making such a decision for ones' self and how it also effects those around them. I do not believe this story, or at the very least the novel, was an attempt at glorifying suicide by any means. Me Before You did not have a happy or particularly hopeful ending, despite Louisa inheriting a sizable fortunate from Will. I don't even blame Will for leaving the money to her, as his parents weren't exactly hurting for money in the first place and as we have come to learn, he did love her.

The movie may make it seem as such, Will does not die just so Louisa can live a full life, as his choice was made long before he had even met Louisa. Nobody was better off without Will and certainly no one was happier, at least, not the people who cared about him. Ultimately, the one who understood him the best—Louisa—was the only one able to even come close to accepting why Will chose death for himself instead of life, and she was the only person close to him who could respect that decision. What's important is that it happens anyway of Will's own accord. In fact, there is even a court ruling after his death explaining how no one can be held accountable but Will, as everyone else fought so strongly against it that there was simply no evidence against them. Moyes does not create a happy scenario for those he left behind and she reflects several times on the research Louisa has done to learn how Will could continue to live happily and healthy. Everyone he knew wanted him to live, and he had the ability to do so. This was never a story condoning what he did, but rather, supporting his right to choose.

In any other case, someone might not have made Will's decision had they met Louisa and found someone to make their life "worthwhile". However, seeing as I am an abled-bodied person, it is not my right to decide if Will should end his life or not no matter what other opportunities he has to continue living comfortably. Nobody else has the right to decide the worth or meaning of someone else's life, no matter what's their level of abled-bodiedness is. We cannot be upset that Will was not the person we wanted him to turn out to be because that is the nature of life.

The way this book was adapted did not come at a particularly opportune time. I am sure it might have been better received if there were a much more positive representation of the disabled community within the media, but I don't think that because the timing was poor and the adaptation insensitive that we should completely throw away the novel in its entirety. Though it may not be the story we need right now, it is a story we need nonetheless. The movie may be a bust, but with an open and respectful mind, the novel is a must!

Cover Image Credit: NYT.com

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To the guy that shot my brother...

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To the guy that shot my brother,

On January 9, 2019 my families entire life changed with one phone call. The phone call that my little brother had been shot in the face, no other details. We didn't need any other details. The woman on the phone who called us in full panic told us where he was so we went, as soon as possible. I don't think it helped that not even 10 min prior I talked to Zach on the phone.. kind of irritated with him, and the ONE TIME I didn't say 'I love you' as we hung up. Could've been the last time we ever spoke.. I remember pulling up to the hospital thinking 'this can't be real' 'it's not our Zach' 'this is just a dream Sarah, WAKE UP' I'd close my eyes really tight just to open them, I was still in the hospital emergency parking lot. I could still hear the ambulance sirens coming. It was all real.

The day our life's changed was definitely a test of faith. A test of how strong we were, as a family. I sat in that waiting room ready to see the damage that has been done to my sweet baby brother. Because at that point we had no idea how lucky he got. That glimpse of seeing Zach will haunt me forever. How helpless I felt in that exact moment frequently wakes me up from these horrific dreams I've been having ever since that day. That is a moment burned into my me and families brain forever.

You always hear about these things in the movies or on the news, a house being shot up, someone shooting another innocent person, not to care if they died on your watch. But we found ourselves on the news.. We have been confined to the hospital since that day. Running on barely any sleep, taking shifts of sleep so we don't make ourselves sick taking care of Zach. Watching him suffer. Undergoing surgeries, to repair the damage you did.

Before I proceed let me tell you a little something about the man you shot.

Zachary Keith Wright. A blonde hair blue eyed boy. Who could potentially be the most annoying human on the planet (possibly coming from his sister). A man who loves his God first, loves his family second. Perfect by no means, but almost perfect to me. A 19 year old who was to graduate high school this month. After graduation he was prepping to leave for Marine boot camp in the summer.. being in the military has been Zach's dream since he could talk. Literally. Running around, playing war with underwear on our heads, and finger guns. Some would say we looked like natural born assassins.. growing up he has been a country boy. Let me tell ya country to the core. He loves this country like he loves his family. He believes in helping people, taking charge in what's right, and never leaving a brother behind. He's lived by that his whole life. Until now....

The day you shot him. The day not only did you change my brothers life, you changed his families life too. The day you almost ripped my brother out of this world... for what? A misunderstanding? Because you've let something take ahold of your life that you can't let go you're willing to kill someone innocent over? Luckily for him, his guardian angels were protecting him in your time of cowardice. There were 3 times that day he should've died, the time you shot him, the time you tried to shoot him again as he stared you directly in the face, (even tho he couldn't talk I know you could read his eyes, and he still intimidated you. That's why you tried to pull the trigger again) and the time he was running out of the house. But he lived. A man who was shot in the face, didn't lay there helpless, didn't scream in agony. That MAN walked to the neighbors to get help. Why? Because he's a MAN, and because he's on this earth for a reason.

It's gonna sound a little strange not only to you, but the audience who is reading this. I must say thank you. Even in this situation, this was the best outcome we could get. He gets to live. He will make a full recovery. He will graduate. And he will go off into the Marines. You united my family together. Closer than ever. Thank you. You tested our faith and brought us closer to our God. Thank you. Because of your moment of weakness, you showed us what prayer could do. Heal anything. Thank you. This was a bump in the road, and a helluva way to kick off our year of 2019. But here we are.. all laying in the hospital. I'm looking around as mom is sleeping in her recliner chair exhasted but still here, Zach his awake playing his xbox all hooked up to machines, fighting to heal and get better. And of course I'm writing this letter to you.

See you in trial,

From the girl whose brother you shot.

'Fight the good fight' - 1 Tim 6:12 🤟🏼💙

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For My Fellow Lazy Gals, 11 Makeup Hacks To Splice Your Beauty Routine Time In Half

Beauty on a budget? I think yes.

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If you're an extremely lazy girl who loves makeup on a budget, these hacks are perfect for you. I've been using most of these hacks for as long as I can remember, and I can basically guarantee that they work.

11.  Fix old mascara with contact solution. 

If you find that your mascara is getting clumpy and dry, an easy fix is to pour a couple drops of contact solution to make it good as new. However, mascara should be replaced two to three months after opening, so dryness after this period indicates it's time for a new bottle.

10. The easy way to do ombre nails. 

Paint a cotton ball/ beauty sponge with different ombre colors in the desired order and simply press it against your nails before it dries! Once they dry, you can easily remove the nail polish around your skin with remover.

9. Use a business card for winged eyeliner.

Using a credit card or any small object with a straight line can practically guarantee a perfect cat eye.

8. Use eyeshadow for bald spots.

If you have any bald spots in your hair, an easy solution is to find an eyeshadow shade that matches the color of your hair and simply fill in the spot with eyeshadow.

7. Use white bases.

Before applying your desired color of eyeshadow or nail polish, apply a white base to make the colors stand out from your skin or nails.

6. Use coconut oil as makeup remover.

Instead of spending money on makeup remover filled with harsh chemicals, going natural and using coconut oil is the best option. Although this can be messier, it leaves your skin extremely smooth and it is less likely you'll have a harsh reaction to it.

5. Adding moisturizer to foundation.

If you accidentally purchase a foundation that's too dark for your skin tone, mixing some moisturizer with it can lighten up the tone (this also works well if you have dry skin).

4. Use a business card for mascara.

Not only does this work for winged eyeliner, but using a business card for mascara can also prevent it from getting onto your eyelids. All you have to do is apply your mascara as you normally would, but keep a business card on your eyelid.

3. If you're not sure where to contour, draw the number 3. 

2. Make DIY face masks and hair masks. 

Instead of spending money on skin and hair masks, there are hundreds of natural remedies you can try online for basically every problem.

1. Apply Vaseline to your eyelashes. 

Applying Vaseline to your eyelashes every night can actually speed up the growth process of your eyelashes and eliminates the need for lash extensions or even mascara.

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