Anyone living with a chronic illness, actually, any individual with a physical problem, smiles a bit ruefully at those words. The statement is benign and well intended. It is a straightforward sentiment, simple in its sound, complicated only in the subtext. The confusion is, to whom are the individuals offering that friendly observation? The answer: to themselves.
We are a nation uncomfortable with illness and disability. We do not want to see, we really don’t want to know. Popular culture celebrates beauty and physical perfection. Just pick up any of our most popular magazines or turn on the television after dinner. And don’t forget to buy People: America’s Hundred Most Beautiful Women. Meredith was in that issue a few times. I was tempted to change the locks on all the doors.
When someone says, But You Look so Good, what he or she really means is, well, you look okay. You must be getting better. You must be okay. We cannot handle sickness. We don’t want you just to regain your health. We need you to. We are only reassuring ourselves with that simple sentiment.
This is part of the reason so many of us who know serious sickness feel like second-class citizens. Face it. The chronically healthy around us cannot handle seeing our imperfections. Neighbors and colleagues do not want to be mean. There is nothing malicious about their feelings. It’s just whom we are as a society, reinforced by the values we see in advertising and the popular press.
The problem is people in power do not want to hire us. They cannot afford the perceived risk. And who can be bothered? The social marketplace can prove equally harsh. Who wants to date a cripple? Choices are not hit head on or expressed openly. There are always a hundred explanations that do the job.
When I was doing research for Strong at the Broken Places, I came across a web site with the bold title, But You Look so Good. The content focused on issues about living with chronic illness. There was a biter tinge to what I read there.