Monday, July 28, 2014


Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted. I’ve been trying to enjoy the last dregs of summer before I go back to work. I’ve been doing quite a bit of testing/torture lately with the medical establishment, and I took a trip out of town with my husband. I’ve been desperately trying to recover from the trip, testing, and an ER visit, but instead of delving into that silly business, I have something else on my mind.

I have been seeing quite a few stories over the past few weeks that suggest our perceptions of disability, beauty, and normalcy could be changing in positive ways. As an academic, identity and issues of representation are what interests me the most. I’ve been interested in how gender and beauty are portrayed in media, and now that I am disabled I have noticed the limited representations of disability and illness in our culture. 

Consider where you have seen disability or chronic illness represented in movies, commercials, music, television, etc. Consider how many protagonists in narratives are disabled or chronically ill. Consider icons of beauty in our culture and how many of them are disabled. Consider what happens when disability is represented and how often it is used for humor instead of poignancy. I never realized how limited these representations are. 

Illness and disability are not pretty issues. There isn’t much that’s fun about them. There is unspoken shame and embarrassment when you are dealing with limitations many around you do not have to cope with every day. But my studies in gender and multiculturalism have taught me that when you don’t see yourself represented, it can create a veil between self and society. It can perpetuate silence and invisibility. You long for your story to be told. It is a daunting adventure to break the spell of shame or silence, but it is beautiful for those who can manage it.

Here are some stories of women who show that illness and disability come in all shapes and ages and can be beautiful.

All three of these women are beautiful, which gives their story some glamour, but they are bravely changing how we perceive ability and beauty. Their stories became national headlines, and this could be a positive step forward in terms of representation. I think they are also challenging how we perceive health and age. It's a relief to see stories and faces who can challenge these perceptions about health, age, and beauty.

Here's another great story. This is one of my favorite TED Talks. Maysoon Zayid is a comedian who happens to also have cerebral palsy. She tackles this issue of representation with hilarity. Barriers are being broken down and I think we need more stories like this to break the silence of disability and illness. Who knew the stories could be so beautiful? 

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