“Being a Special Needs Mom Is My Greatest Joy.” Style Influencer Wynne Wong Wants the World to Change Their Perspective on Facing Diversity
At first glance, the Instagram account of Wynne Wong is a fashion- and folly-filled escape. Affordable footwear picks, seasonal beauty favorites, and unboxing videos fill the grid. Then, in time, you see more of the self-proclaimed "handbag-obsessed" woman. Photos of Wong, her husband, and their two beautiful daughters stand out, and a hardworking mother's layered, rich story reveals itself.
"It just started as something I could do on the side," Wong tells us about her early fashion posts that quickly gained a following. "But then, when I started posting about my family and daughter, it took off from another angle. People would write that they loved it."
Wong's oldest daughter was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder impacting posture and movement. It needs no explanation to say that this condition affects Wong and her family's day-to-day. But their hardship is also one of the beautiful threads of Wong's life, and it's part of the message she wants to spread: Life contains multitudes—and it's encouraging when we share all the layers, from the realness and hardship to joy, fun, and sunshine.
"Everyone has challenges and struggles, no matter what it looks like," says Wong, a longtime school psychologist. "Mine is that I have a special needs child who I worry about.
It's not so much that I want it to be an escape for people when they come to my account. I want them to see me saying, 'Hey, you can be this. It's okay to have struggles and to love yourself and take care of yourself."
A CONVERSATION WITH WYNNE WONG
Wynne, tell us about your career.
I lead a team of psychologists. It's hard for me to wrap my brain around how much responsibility I have and how many families we serve. My background was a school psychologist, which I've done since 2001. Before my girls came, I was all about planning everything. Then, when my oldest daughter was born [with cerebral palsy], it completely derailed me. At that point, I was like, Are my dreams going to end now? Am I going to have to accept a different life? And interestingly, I was promoted after she was born.
What inspired you to start posting about style and beauty?
When I first started this Instagram account in 2015, I didn't do anything with it. My good friend, a coworker, said, 'Why don't you just start posting?' So we started posting on our accounts. There was always a part of me that not many people knew about: I love fashion. I was always a handbag addict. So [posting about this] became an escape. Then, people started writing and liking my posts and writing comments. In the beginning, I was going to remain anonymous. "But then, when I started posting about my family about my daughter, it took off from another angle. People would write that they loved it. The responsiveness and support in the community were different from what I expected, especially for a community that's really into handbags and fashion. But then, all of a sudden, people were sharing their stories and struggles. And some even shared with me that they have special needs kids.
It has made me feel connected with the people. It's been a really fun ride. All the negative parts of social media I haven't experienced.
You're proud to say you have never lost your identity amidst your struggles. Tell us about that.
It's been a journey. I mentioned before when my daughter was first born, I was completely derailed. I felt like I didn't have an identity or that it was taken from me. I felt like I was grieving a loss. But because I've always been a planner, I've always been resourceful. I thought, What do I need? What do I need as this parent who's going through this, who feels isolated and alone? One thing that I remember during this dark period was that there was nothing out there that I could identify with regarding being a special needs mom. A therapist I was seeing at the time asked why I didn't join a support group. I saw the value in that. I think many moms need a place to share and vent. But I was looking for somebody I could aspire to. I saw these pictures of a disheveled mom in my head who gave up everything to take care of their special needs child. I thought, Is that something I have to do? Do I have to give up everything I've ever wanted and hoped for? It felt selfish to have my career and identity and be a special needs mom—because I couldn't find any individuals out there that I could identify with or aspire to. So, I just wanted to provide another visual representation to moms out there.
What has the response been?
I get a lot of DMs that say, 'I've never seen a mom like you. You treat your child like she's a normal kid.' And I'm like, yes! I put her in Girl Scouts; I take her to Disneyland. What clicked in my head was changing the narrative about being a special needs mom. After she came, I learned whatever child I have, my job is to make sure that I put them on a path where they are the most successful in being who they are. It is my job to give her that life so she can be who she is. When my second daughter came, I think part of that grief was healed, too. The funny thing is, she's more difficult! And I write that in my profile, which is hilarious.
I'm not denying that there are hard parts to being a special needs parent. For the first several years, she was hospitalized. Whenever I feel like I'm having a hard day, I tell myself my child's not in the hospital, so it's a good day. So, I've changed my attitude when it comes to that. It's just changed my perspective.
How do you feel this has impacted the special needs community?
Before my daughter, I didn't see a lot of kids who were disabled, especially kids who had cerebral palsy. I feel that I've given people who follow me, who may have never seen a disabled child before, or maybe they have a preconceived notion about special needs kids and families, a new perspective. Being a special needs mom is my greatest joy.
You can learn more and follow Wynne Wong at @stylewyn