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Wendy Murphy: On Femininity, Disability and Beauty Standards

Meet Wendy Murphy, a health coach, successful author and a former beauty pageant winner determined to break boundaries around perceptions of beauty, ambition, and hard work. Injured in 1984, she has spent 37 years using a wheelchair and although the transition to life with a disability came with many challenges, she was quick to adapt and keen to make a difference in disability representation.

“Living in Mississauga at the time, I didn’t really see many wheelchairs back then,” she shares, “I thought ‘how can I make a difference?'”

As a child, Wendy’s parents had put her into modeling, but she wouldn’t find success in the industry until sustaining her injury. She got herself an agent and before long, found herself on the pages of Hudson’s Bay catalogs. It was not long before a number of other department stores followed their lead. While this was decades ago, disability representation is still lacking today, with the fashion industry slowly catching on to the benefits of featuring models with a variety of abilities and body types. For Wendy, modelling led to television opportunities where she scored a role as a courtroom stenographer on the hit show Street Legal, a Canadian drama series that aired between 1987 and 1994.

She enjoyed TV very much and even went back to school to become a reporter. Wendy again found herself on screen when she became a television reporter for the Toronto-based City TV. It was there that she hosted her own news segment titled “Wendy’s Video Diary”, covering personal milestones and community events.

“Exposing the issues of disability was important for me,” she says.

But for Wendy, the representation didn’t stop on the screen. At a serendipitous event with her agent one night that happened to be a beauty contest, she was sipping wine and mingling with guests when it was declared that one of the contestants did not show up. She was invited to join the competition.

“All of these girls were walking. I never saw myself participating in something like that, but the opportunity presented itself to me and I went for it. I was very open to the experience and I did well.”

Seizing the day came with great rewards indeed – Wendy won the competition in Toronto, and represented Canada in the International competition in Boca Raton, Florida. She has memories of being welcomed by the other contestants in spite of visible differences and the use of a wheelchair for mobility. In fact, she was chosen to take home the Contestant’s Choice Award, an honor decided by the other contestants.

“When I won the competition, I ended up being on a lot of talk shows to share my experience,”

Wendy explains, “Things have changed tremendously and disability is more seen now. It’s more of an exposed issue. I’m very proud to be Canadian – multiculturalism and diversity have always been our way as a country.”

In reflecting on femininity, Wendy raves about being a woman. “I feel grateful to be a woman. Whenever I would go to nightclubs, I would find the best looking guys to carry me up the stairs,” she laughs.

Her words of advice to younger women with disabilities? Follow your dreams with good intentions and the universe will answer. It’s all about positive thoughts and a good mindset.

Wendy is currently a Health Coach and works for SCI and U through the University of Toronto. She is passionate about implementing improvements to the Accessible Parking Permit program in Ontario. She hopes to eliminate fraudulent practices, and ensure the permits go to those who really need them.

In the coming years, Wendy hopes to transform her book into yet another piece for film. To read her book, Wendy Murphy’s Law: Whatever Can Go

Wrong Can be Made Right, check it out on Amazon today.

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