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'I never fitted into the gay ideal' - The Circle's Paddy Smyth on body image and dating with cerebral palsy

“I struggled to believe that gay disabled people could find love.”

2020-02-03

Last year, Paddy Smyth walked away from Channel 4's The Circle £70,000 richer after being crowned winner of the social media-inspired reaity series, which sees contestants engage in a Big Brother-style popularity contest using only online accounts.

Paddy, who lives with cerebral palsy, initially decided to keep his disability from his fellow contestants, using the show's unique format to forge friendships without others' preconceived notions about his life for ther first time.

Those preconceptions are something the 31-year-old Irishman has had to contend with when it comes to navigating the gay scene, too - and as he poses for an exclusive shoot in the Attitude Body Issue - out now to download and to order globally - Paddy opens up about the realities of dating with cerebral palsy, and how it's affected his own body image.

"It was so difficult for me to own my disability,” he says. "I never saw myself reflected in gay culture.

Paddy Smyth, shot by Babs Daly exclusively for the Attitude Body Issue, out now

“This might be an unpopular opinion, but a lot of importance is placed on appearance, and you have to look a certain type of way and I never fitted into the ideal of what a gay, good-looking man should look like."

This lack of representation — in terms of both being gay and disabled — led to a lack of self-esteem and a willingness to receive attention and affection from those who offered it.

“When I went to a gay club with my friends, I was always on the back foot and used to just kiss people for the sake of it,” Paddy explains.

“Anyone who gave me attention, I would reciprocate because I felt so low in myself.

“It was the first time I really felt insecure within my disability and wished it was gone. I didn’t feel attractive or as if I was worth something. It was tough to find my place because I was a sub-culture within a sub-culture.

“I struggled to believe that gay disabled people could find love.”

Now, though, with experience and perspective under his belt, he sees the value in adopting a more open approach.

“An openness about, and acceptance of, those vulnerable qualities is very attractive in a person,” he says.

Photography: Babs Daly

 

“I’ve learnt to not shy away from what I am, and if they want to explore that, then great. If they don’t, fine."

He adds: "If you told me five years ago that I'd be doing this [shoot], I'd have laughed in your face. But it felt good to be confident and not be ashamed.

"If there's one thing I've learnt, it's that you have to be kind to yourself."

Rad the full interview wth Paddy in the Attitude Body Issue, out now.

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