I’m Too Sexy For…

Filed Under (Autism and Learning, Autism and The Media, Critical Disability Studies) by Estee on 06-07-2009

This month’s UTNE Reader has three superb articles on disability and design and disability and beauty. Long-time model, artist and prosthetic user (as well as designer) Aimee Mullins also writes, Prosthetic Power: Aimee Mullins redefines beauty and the body.

In this photo, Aimee is photographed with prosthetic legs which she fashioned after the hind legs of a cheetah. She runs with these legs and has a dozen pairs of differently-designed and fashionable legs, which also give her five different heights.

In the UTNE article, she discusses how she puts the legs on a table for young children to view and discuss. She asks adults to stay out of the room because “they [children] only learn to be frightened of those differences when an adult influences them to behave that way and censors that natural curiousity.” Instead of being stared at as some kind of freak, Aimee invites the children to explore. Unabashedly, they touch the legs an wiggle the toes, she explains. She says to the children “I woke up this morning and I decided I wanted to be able to jump over a house. If you could think of any animal, any superhero, any cartoon character, anything you can dream up right now, what kind of legs would you build me?” The children shouuted “Kangaroo! Frog!” and other amazing possibilities. Of this she explains, “I went from being a woman these kids would have been trained to see as disabled to somebody who had potential that their bodies didn’t have yet. Somebody who might even be super-abled. Interesting.”

As in autistic people speaking for themselves in any way or means they can, which also incites new ideas of what it means to be capable, valuable and above-all, human, Aimee raises two very important points. First, she has taken the bull-by-the-horn to invite people to explore instead of stare. The stare can be intrusive, full of, often misplaced, assumptions that the disabled person is less worthy and valuable or even capable. The stare can be overlayed with assumptions that an disfigurement is ugly.

Autistic researchers who redefine paradigms of how autistic people learn are no different than the likes of Aimee who not only redefine disability, but refuse to let non disabled or autistic people define it for them. Because Aimee’s disability is more visible, this point may be easier to absorb. Cognitive disabilities are still not understood in the same fashion.

Still, Aimee talks about becoming the architects of our identities, and this holds true for our autistic community.  As a woman who is admittedly still influenced by how I should look and behave and still tortured by it, I still have an awareness of how oppressive imposed identities have on us. She makes note how Pamela Anderson has more prosthetics in her body than she does but that “nobody [calls Pamela] disabled.”

While its true that no one calls Pamela Anderson disabled, I would argue that she is entirely disabled and entrapped in a male view of what a woman should be. We are entrapped also by what we should be as contributors to an economy, which is restricted itself in the ways people can contribute to it.  When women or any person works so hard in order to please others before themselves, they are no longer architects of their own identities, but slaves to an imposed identity.

Having visited the MIT lab when I gave a lecture there a couple of years ago now, I was a priviledged witness of astounding design for the disabled. I believe the article hits the nail on the head as it suggests that this is no longer about accepting disability or discussing potential (although it is frustrating for many of us that the question continues to swirl), but about the potential issues regarding augmentation.

In Graham Pullin’s book, Design Meets Disability, I believe we are witnessing devices and prosthetics for the disabled that are not meek and discrete, but that wears disability as fashionable as anything I’ve ever seen. And I know that MIT works with autistic people in their lab so that devices are in fact useful and empowering — not based on a model of making up for deficiency. It will be interesting, however, to see where augmentation takes us in the sense of designing humanity. Like any other kind of design, there is such potential for abuse. I would view women who augment themselves to extremes like Pamela Anderson a form of self-abuse, and I am admittedly not immune to it.

If sexiness is empowerment, I believe that Aimee is way too sexy for Pamela Anderson anyway, or for that matter, for many men equally dis-empowered by mass-media images regarding the women they are told  should be at their sides.

As a woman full of so-called flaws, can I just sneak in here that well,  I’m just too sexy for the status quo. Or at least I should, like the rest of us, keep convincing myself as such. Aimee certainly helps us all redefine beauty. And that is entirely liberating.

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.