beautiful, sexy, glamorous, disabled
Have you ever seen a beautiful girl in a wheelchair? A handsome man walking with the aid of crutches? I am sure you have. Beauty is not exclusive to the able bodied among us, yet society would have us believe it is.
Today, it is not only a prerequisite to be thin with a perfect waist-to-hip ratio and to have striking features in order to be considered beautiful, but one must also have no flaws. The fashion world cleverly hides its disdain of illness by creating reality television shows like ‘Britain’s Missing Model’ which boasts its apparent acceptance of disability in the modelling world. Unfortunately, there appears to be very little acceptance taking place on the show, but rather a whole vat of humiliation, vulnerability and alienation. Condescending catchphrases like ‘Yes, disabled people can be posh too!’ and ‘she had her first taste of fame when she lost her prosthetic leg Down Under…’ clutters the BBC produced website, which advertises each model and her illness and finally announces the winner of 2008’s Missing Top Model. The program may appear to celebrate each woman on the surface, but only aims to sensationalise their limitations as disabled models.
Author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability, Miriam Kaufman M.D banishes one myth about disability that seems to ensconce our lives, everyday. Disabled people are neither attractive nor worthy of a sexual partner. Kaufman writes, ‘If you don’t resemble a twenty-three-year-old supermodel, no one will want you. This harms us all…even worse is the notion that if you require help, extra patience, communication or emotional support…you’re a burden’. Are we taught to acknowledge that disability is neither desirable nor aesthetically pleasing?
According to writer Marilyn Carr-Haris, people are challenged by the image of a charismatic disabled woman, because ‘it upsets their concept of physical beauty’. A spinal cord infection that rendered her disabled at a young age left Carr-Haris with a different interpretation of beauty. She states that strangers would pass her on the street with comments like “You’re so beautiful…what a shame”, leaving Carr-Haris confused and dismayed that disability had become something ugly to be discredited and degraded. She poses the idea that perhaps disability should not be identified with loss but rather embraced with acceptance.
In a documentary entitled ‘How my legs give me super powers’, model Aimee Mullins expresses that she is not defined by her prosthetic legs. She encourages people to stop ‘compartmentalizing form, function and aesthetic and assigning them different values’. Mullins opposes the way beauty is perceived, mentioning that people often accuse her of ‘not looking disabled’ due to apparent beauty and grace. Mullins questions, ‘What does a beautiful woman have to look like?’
Somewhere in the fabric of media conditioning, we became fixated with the desire to look flawless. We reflect this obsession by flipping over pages of airbrushed images and expressing disappointment when we find we do not compare. We are required to reflect a certain weight, height, stature or skin colour. To possess the right nose, lips, eyes and facial symmetry. We desire to seek the unattainable perfection. Yet, we cannot.
We are taught to overlook disability and illness, to place it into a different category, one that is far removed from beautiful.
The disabled demographic of the Western world is severely overlooked when it comes to marketing glamour, and perhaps if companies represented all of us wholly, people with physical impairments would be reinforced that they are not physically deficient or at a loss but rather, have the capacity to look and feel beautiful, just the way they are.
Perhaps ultimately all we need is a little encouragement to change our perception of beauty. To become reacquainted with the fact that it is not our impairments that define us, but rather the many remarkable strengths we possess as women and ultimately, as human beings.
As Aimee Mullins says, ‘It is our humanity and all the potential within it that makes us beautiful’.
By Sophia Anna
(Image credit: 1.)