illustration of pin-up art style portrayal of Magdalena Truchan by artist friend Delilah Blue Flynn
Credit: Delilah Blue Flynn

Illustrator Delilah Blue Flynn and graphic designer and knitter Magdalena Truchan were chatting over a glass of wine last April and wondered: Why aren’t women with disabilities part of the body positivity movement? And why don’t we see a lot of interesting and modern representation of disabled people in art?

Magda, who became paralyzed from the hips down at age 24 after a car accident, wished women with disabilities could be portrayed as sexually desirable and stylish, much like mid-20th century pin-ups.

“Disability can make you hide, and why not get dressed up and feel sexy about yourself?” she says. “People love confidence. If you’re not wallowing in your disability, you can go far.”

Delilah, inspired by retro pin-up artists like Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas, as well as Magda’s very own “pin-up mixed with punk rock” style walked away from that conversation with an idea. “This is something I can do,” she says. “I can make my friend really happy and turn her into her own piece of pin-up art.”

A few days later, she surprised Magda with a one-of-a-kind illustration (pictured above), portraying Magda in all her glory: as a modern-day pin-up on wheels. The gift not only made Magda almost cry but sparked an emotional reaction among friends and family after she shared it on social media. “People freaked; no one had seen anything like this before,” says Magda.

Photo of Illustrator Delilah Blue Flynn and graphic designer and knitter Magdalena Truchan

Credit: Jesse Heffler, Program Director, GARNER Arts Center

Sharing Their Art – and Changing Beauty Standards

The friends immediately recognized the powerful and personal message behind this artwork and took the idea to a friend on the board of GARNER Arts Center in Garnerville, New York, where Magda volunteers. They booked a date and began to work on an exhibit series meant to shatter ableist standards of beauty.

For Magda, getting dressed, doing her hair and make-up, staying active and social, and giving back to her community is what keeps her going. “I wake up some days and say, ‘This fucking sucks and I want to stay in bed,’ but then I’m like ‘nope’ and I get up,” she says. “I find that helping people is uplifting and the universe gives you something back in return.”

Both Magda and Delilah say they hope their exhibit “On Pins and Needles: Accessible Burlesque & the Art of Adornment” helps people with and without disabilities realize that there are stylish, fun, interesting, and sexy people who just happen to be disabled.

The exhibit includes 22 illustrations from Delilah (ink and marker on paper, 13 x 19-inch) that showcase female characters with a broad spectrum of disabilities, including anxiety, autism, amputee, ADHD, blindness, cerebral palsy, depression, dwarfism, and rheumatoid arthritis.

“I wanted to show a diverse array of disabilities so there was a representation of both physical and mental health disabilities,” says Delilah, who has anxiety and ADHD. They also feature women of different races and ethnicity, shapes, and sizes.

“It is important to celebrate disability and showcase the multifaceted nature of people with both invisible and visible disabilities,” says Joseph M. Coe, MPA, Director of Education and Digital Strategy for the Global Healthy Living Foundation (GHLF), which is sponsoring the event. “This exhibit provides a space to explore sexuality and sensuality while dispelling beauty myths that negatively impact people who don’t fit neatly into society’s ‘beauty standard.’”

The exhibit will also incorporate Magda’s one-of-a-kind stylish knitted wraps well-suited for people with limited mobility. Magda’s 10 wraps will be display on hand painted, full-size mannequins designed by local artists.

“I love how you can take yarn and create an outfit out of it,” says Magda, who says that knitting is a form of meditation for her. “There are so many shawls that are generic and basic, and I wanted something of designer quality for people who are disabled.”

The exhibit will take place every Saturday from December 18, 2021, through February 5, 2022, at the GARNER Arts Center. It will be closed Christmas and New Year’s Day. The illustrations and wraps will be sold on the GARNER Art Center website.

Become a Patient Advocate

Want to fight for policies to address health disparities and equitable health care? The 50-State Network is the grassroots advocacy arm of CreakyJoints and the Global Healthy Living Foundation. It is composed of patients with chronic illness who are trained as health care activists to proactively connect with local, state, and federal health policy stakeholders to share their perspective and influence change. If you want to effect change and make health care more equitable, affordable, and accessible, learn more here.