I did something game changing this year. I Marie Kondo’d my social media.
In removing those people who don’t spark joy, I’ve noticed some trends pop up in the type of content creator I follow. Amongst the artists, bookstagrammers, fashion icons, YouTubers, and authors, I follow lots of disability and chronic illness advocates. As someone who lives with chronic illnesses and has for quite some time, it’s unsurprising! To paraphrase ‘art imitates life’, I guess ‘people-who-you-look-up-to-online imitates life’? The world of disability and chronic illness can be a scary one and has been hit very hard by the “wellness” industry, and the idea of ~being inspirational~, doing things ‘despite’ being ill/disabled/unwell. Nah. I’m not about that life or those beliefs. I am all about the normalisation of disability and chronic conditions; living with chronic illness, not despite it; discussing the realities. And you know what? The content creators I follow are the same. I would even say these content creators have helped to shape the beliefs I have.
So, with that in mind, let me tell you the top five content creators who just so happen to be disabled or chronically ill, that leave my online world a more positive, encouraging, and realistic place.
Hannah Witton @hannahwitton
It is by no means an exaggeration when I say Hannah Witton saved me from slipping into a dark and depressive place.
A few years ago, I was in and out of hospital and doctor’s appointments with intense stomach pain, swelling, and bleeding, and the doctors settled on a high probability of me having either Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. In fact, it was a mis-diagnosis of what turned out to be poly-cystic ovarian syndrome. However, amidst all the booking of tests and appointments, I was never given any true discussion on what living with either Crohn’s or Colitis was truly like. I was only told the outcomes. The operations. The medications. With no definitive answer to my condition and all of these fear-inducing, poorly explained terms being thrown about, I could feel my depression getting a hold of me. Then, along came Instagram.
I was scrolling through an Ulcerative Colitis charity page, my anxious brain fixating on getting as much information as I could, and I spotted someone I recognised from my days of being a British superfan of the golden age of YouTube – Hannah Witton. Hannah is a sex and relationship content creator with a sprinkling of style and bookish chat, but it was her content and videos on living with Ulcerative Colitis that changed everything for me. Hannah has had UC since she was a child, but had emergency surgery for it in 2018, and now lives her best life with a stoma bag and UC. Her videos on living with the autoimmune condition both pre-stoma and post-stoma are sensational. I was getting told things from the doctors that shook me to my core and yet here was a young woman just like me, living a positive and full life with those conditions. Hannah’s honesty and reality of her situation made me so much less scared of any diagnosis that was coming my way. Perhaps the most important thing Hannah showed me? I can be sexy and intelligent and proactive whilst living with a chronic illness, something that I didn’t think was possible for me. But now look at me – sexy, intelligent, proactive, and chronically ill.
Hannah’s Instagram is always a highlight when it pops up on my feed. It’s bright, funny, sexy, and informative. She’s even going through a pregnancy journey which is a joy to see unfold, especially as she has poly-cystic ovaries and has been sharing her struggles online. Just loverly.
Lauren “Lolo” Spencer @itslololove
Lauren is a new follow in the mix for me but what a joy she is! Actually, she is the inspiration behind this blog post. I came across Lauren when I was reading up on Mindy Kaling’s new HBO series The Sex Lives of College Girls. I saw an image of Lauren playing the character Jocelyn and my brain went off. “Disability representation in an HBO series? Wait wait wait – realistic disability representation via a disabled black actress on our screens? YES PLEASE.” And so began my introduction to the world of Lauren “Lolo” Spencer.
Lauren is an actor, model, influencer, producer – she can do it all. She also lives with ALS, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the spinal cord and causes issues with muscle control.
On Instagram, Lauren is a tri-force: one part lewks, one part vibes, one part calling out ableism. She has her own production company called Sitting Pretty, and makes incredible direct-to-camera videos with the company that have me hooked each time she posts them. In these videos, she talks about the stupidity of others that comes with being disabled, and the things that non-disabled people would consider ableism. One of my favourite videos discusses how she visited an ‘accessible’ restaurant, when in fact, their idea of accessibility was having to take Lauren through the back of the building and through the working, busy kitchen to get her to a table. As well as humour-tinted stories that hit you with the truth, Lauren talks bluntly and honestly about disability rights. No topic is off limits and she says what needs to be said.
Whilst being a disability advocate, Lauren also is serving looks every day over on her Instagram. She provides glimpses of what it is like to be an actress and a model in this modern world, and brings light and colour to my social media feed.
I came across Autumn (a.k.a @theliteraryheroine) as an advocate by a happy accident! At the start of the pandemic, I was finding a lot of solace in books and literature, so I drifted over to the #bookstagram side of Instagram. I followed everyone whose aesthetic was gorgeous or whoever gave good book recommendations or anyone who was popular in that community. I soon learnt that some areas of the bookish community should be avoided – there was a lot of book slander, performative activism, and not a lot of diversity. So, as quickly as I followed, I had to go on a little unfollowing spree. However, a few folks remained, including Autumn. First off, Autumn’s bookish content is great. Their recommendations are top notch and the images they share are just goooorgeous (well, if you love books that is). Secondly, their honesty and openness with the trials of getting diagnosed with a chronic illness is so important to see.
Whilst I am not sure if Autumn has received any diagnosis yet (nor do they need to tell anyone), their Instagram and Stories show that they live with Type 1 Diabetes, migraines, and chronic pain. But it was documenting their journey to get treatment on Stories that really made me realise what an incredible person they are to have on social media. They’ve travelled miles and miles for treatment for pain, discussed the realities of not being believed by doctors, and documented the struggle that can happen when you are chronically ill in a workplace made for ‘well’ people. As well as baring immense honesty on their Stories, the inclusion of chronic pain into the world of bookstagram should be celebrated.
I love the images of them wearing their ice-pack on their head whilst reading and the pictures of their mobility aids with their TBR piles. Personally, my favourite thing is when they discuss ‘meatloaf brain’! I always struggle to describe the days when my hormonal condition messes up my brain and ‘meatloaf brain’ is the perfect descriptor. It’s so simple, but they make me feel seen and understood!
As someone who (loosely) partakes in bookstagram, what Autumn offers the community is wonderful. Whilst I mostly love bookstagram, it can turn into an unhealthy space of expectation. Just see how many people say ‘look at how many books I’ve read this week!’ and ‘if you don’t make time to read each day then do you even love literature?’. It can make you feel guilty, very quickly. What Autumn offers the community is a passion for literature without the toxic positivity, and by simply putting on their ice-pack and talking about meatloaf brain in this space, they are making the space more inclusive.
Charleigh Victory @charrvictory
Charleigh is the kind of influencer I could never be, and I mean that as a compliment. Just look at her Instagram! She has an effortless colour theme, creates wearable yet fashionable looks, and has got Reels down to a tee. Simply scroll through her grid page and you’ll see what I mean. But if you look a little bit closer, you’ll find out that Charleigh lives with multiple sclerosis, Grave’s disease, and endometriosis. Multiple sclerosis, MS, is a condition that can affect the central nervous system and as the NHS puts it, can include “problems with vision, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.” Grave’s disease involves the thyroid – the immune system attacks the thyroid, making it overactive. An overactive thyroid can lead to a variety of symptoms, from muscle weakness and swelling in the neck, to palpitations and weight loss. Finally, endometriosis is a condition related to the womb where tissue grows in excess places such as the ovaries, and can cause immense pain.
What I love about following Charleigh online (well, apart from what I’ve already raved about) is that I think she’s the future of influence-ing. Not only does she create the positive content you expect from a lifestyle influencer (hair care routines, style, brand deals) but she integrates it so seamlessly into living with chronic illness. In the same post that she showcases a beautiful fit from ASOS, she’ll update us on her latest brain scans, talking about the realities of fatigue, and how getting over something as ‘simple’ of a cold can be so tough for someone with autoimmune complications. It’s just so exciting to me that so many people will be learning about the realities of chronic illness and disabilities through following her! I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again; Charleigh is the future of influence-ing.
Lucy May Dawson @luudaw
I’ll be honest, Twitter is not my favourite social media form; too many Nazi’s and right-wing activists not getting banned for my liking. But I do have to thank it for one thing – introducing me to Lucy May Dawson. A few months ago, the hashtag ‘#babeswithmobilityaids’ was all over my feed, stemming from a photoshop featuring disabled models, including Lucy May Dawson.
As a university student, Lucy was incorrectly placed under psychiatric care, when she was actually suffering with a rare brain disease called encephalitis. It was during this incorrect care that Lucy had a seizure, fell on a radiator pipe, and suffered a burn so deep that she is now permanently disabled. Eventually, she was correctly diagnosed and her encephalitis was treated. In all honesty, I think her Insta bio sums it up and her attitude perfectly; “had a rare brain disease, almost died, became disabled by accident, got a degree, became a model?, laughed x”. In regards to social media, not just the disabled and chronic illness community, Lucy is a breath of fresh air.
Lucy May Dawson has taught me something so incredibly important: the importance of ‘and’. You can be sexy and disabled. We are all more than one word, whatever that word is. On social media, Lucy shows that to the world and I love it. Also, she will not be taking any body shaming or ableism in any way, shape, or form, thank you very much. Whether that’s a “omg stop showing your skin” or “I only see an amazing woman, not a disabled woman”, it’s not welcome in her online presence. We should all learn from her. An icon.
If you haven’t got your phone out and followed these content creators yet, then what are you waiting for? You can pause reading this for a moment to go and follow them, I don’t mind. Oh, and if you are looking for one more chronic illness content creator, why don’t you check out my Instagram? Seeing how much these five incredible people have had an effect on my life simply by advocating for their conditions and disabilities has made me realise the importance of representing mine.
Honestly, I would suggest to anyone reading this to fully Marie Kondo your social media and fill it with people and ideas that make you happy, that make you tick. It just so happens that these five creators do exactly that for me. Do you have any favourite content creators that I should add to my list? I’d love to know!