Disability Visibility, again

From The New York Times, 30 November 2009:

The fashion world may be the last bastion of prejudice, a field that overtly discriminates against people because of their looks. So there is something both bold and troubling about “Britain’s Missing Top Model,” a reality show that begins on Tuesday on BBC America that pits disabled women against one another to compete for a photo spread in the U.K. edition of Marie Claire magazine.

One thing never changes in the beauty industry, however: an ounce of fat is a greater hurdle than a missing limb. “Rebecca’s disability didn’t cause me any problems,” a photographer says after shooting Rebecca, 27, a stunning brunette who was born with a deformed hip and wears a prosthetic leg. “It was just the fact she’s not really in shape. Most models are pretty toned, slimmer, more agile.”

In other words, this is pretty much like any season of “America’s Next Top Model,” except when it’s not. This series comes with a paradoxical premise: it’s a contest designed to raise the profile and confidence of disabled women but makes a spectacle of their hunger for acceptance. “Missing Top Model” tries to bolster self-esteem yet revels in the piquancy of physically imperfect women competing in a profession that demands physical perfection, which one judge defines this way: “It’s what 99 percent of the population do not have and never will.”

The show wants to enlighten viewers and also keep them amused; it tries to be considerate, yet reality shows are by definition cruel.

These conflicts pop up in almost every scene, and are captured best not by the judges or the aspiring models, but by two passers-by in London who stare through a lingerie store’s window at a disabled model posing in a lacy bra and thong. A young man in a fleece cap says he is impressed that she is not scared to show her stump, “because she’s beautiful at the same time, so she’s got nothing to hide.” A middle-aged woman agrees, but worries about using amputees to appeal to prurient tastes. “Personally I think it should be emphasized,” she says. “But if it’s to sell something like lingerie I think people are going to be troubled.”

The women themselves, though, are delighted by the exposure. “I don’t know if people were really looking only at my arm,” Debbie, a 22-year-old who lost an arm in a bus crash, says, noting jubilantly that everyone was looking at her breasts instead.

I find it creepy when people have a fetish for amputees, and I suspect that many amputees find it creepy as well.  But if the premise of the project is that it’s empowering to be a model and stimulate men’s prurient interests (“everyone was looking at her breasts”,) how can you justify excluding amputees from lingerie ads?

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9 Comments

  1. cymast

     /  December 2, 2009

    “The fashion world may be the last bastion of prejudice, a field that overtly discriminates against people because of their looks.”

    Oh come on now! That’s like saying the fields of rocket science and brain surgery overtly discriminate against people because of their intelligence.

    The 3 pictured ladies are beautiful and I see nothing wrong with a show in which disabled beautiful model hopefuls get to compete on a level playing field.

  2. believer1

     /  December 9, 2009

    It’s fine with me if that is what they want but I want nothing to do with a show that seperates the so called disabled and the so called able bobied. what is this, a new jim crow law?

    C, I disagree with your brain doctor comment. It would be smart of the fashion world to wake up and notice people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, clors ect…

  3. cymast

     /  December 9, 2009

    Believer, it’s all about what is gonna sell merchandise. A beautiful model sells more merchandise than an average-looking model.

    The fashion world DOES recognize people of all shapes, sizes, et cetera. Plus-sized modeling. Petite modeling. Fat is the new thin. Open any major fashion magazine and you’ll see all colors are represented in modeling. But physically disabled models aren’t able to physically compete on the same level with non-disabled models. Modeling is physically demanding- you have to constantly travel to clients at the drop of a hat. A dozen appointments in 1 day, spread all across a big city. And not every building is wheelchair-friendly. In order to make any kind of money, you have to have a fast, crazy schedule. It’s hard even for a physically fit non-disabled person.

    So a show that gives disabled models a place to shine is a great idea, IMO. Without this show, you very likely would not even know about these models.

  4. believer1

     /  December 9, 2009

    C- Don’t you dare tell me what disabled people can and can’t do!! I bet my schedule as a grad student is more hectic than your schedule ever thought of being. As for the buildings not being wheelchair friendly, that is the owner of the building’s problem and it should be fixed. If you think I am angry with you, you are right. I compete with non-disabled people nearly every day. I don’t need, nor do I want a seperate but equal playing feild.

    Signed,
    disabled and proud of it!

  5. cymast

     /  December 10, 2009

    B- Where did I say what disabled people can and cannot do?

    You don’t know anything about my schedule.

    You anger is misdirected. Hope you feel better soon.

  6. believer1

     /  December 10, 2009

    C- You were trying to say that disabiled people could,’t handle the hectic shedule oe a non-disabiled model. Of course I know nothing about your schedule. It sucks when people act like they know someting when they actualy know nothing about it. Doesn’t it? you have no idea what it is like to be a physically disabiled person. You don’t know what disabiled people are capable of.
    I feel great. Thanks for the concern. Just because I disagree with you, doesn’t mean I am sick.

  7. cymast

     /  December 10, 2009

    Nowhere did I say a disabled model couldn’t handle the hectic schedule of a non-disabled model. I said, ” . . physically disabled models aren’t able to physically compete on the same level with non-disabled models.” I’ve done photo shoots. I’ve done runway shows. I know what it’s like. I had to stand on top bar table in high heels and pose with other models for one shot. I had to get on my hands and knees and crawl through a tunnel for another shot. I had to change out of 1 outfit and into another in 2 minutes and climb the steps up to the runway again without missing a beat. Those are modeling assignments in which physically disabled models aren’t able to physically compete on the same level with non-disabled models. I’m glad you feel great, I never said you were sick.

  8. believer1

     /  December 12, 2009

    I am done talking to you about this. You think you know it all and you don’t even seem to know what you are sayng let alone what I am saying.

  9. cymast

     /  December 12, 2009

    Wrong. I know exactly what I am saying. But this subject has gotten rather boring so this will be my last comment on this particular post.

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