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"Britain's Missing Top Model": Super-Sexy-Supercrips, or Empowerment?

S. Yaeger's picture

Since our last meeting, I have been thinking about the photo of the apparently “disabled” women from Britain’s Missing Top Model.  Specifically, I have been thinking about how my initial reaction to the photo, before reading the Clare book, was one of disgust; not at the women themselves but for the fact that they we being exploited.  Later, as I read the Clare piece, I began to feel ashamed of myself for that initial reaction.  I wouldn’t have looked at a cheesy glamour shot of someone who was not visibly identifiable as disabled and felt such disgust or annoyance, and even if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have voiced it.  However, the fact that I was looking at women who were wheelchair bound or missing limbs was enough to make me forget that I have no right to dictate what is or isn’t appropriate for another person.  Once I had worked through Clare’s book, and our discussion of it, I began to wonder if maybe I hadn’t been guilty of infantilizing these women and expecting them to be a-sexual, simply because they appeared to fit the model for disability.

Later though, when we discussed the photo at length, I began to notice that, though it is a photo where the women are glammed up and at least one of them is posed seductively, it also shows them dressed like little dolls, all in Doll  pink and all looking somewhat docile.  Yes, the woman were being allowed to at least flit with sexuality, but who’s sexuality?  I wondered if it was really all that likely that any group of six women would all choose to express their sexual power by dressing themselves up like a sexless piece of plastic, especially one that is often found, limbs removed by force, at the bottom of a teenaged girl’s closet.  While I’m sure it is possible that six adult women might all delight in the idea of dressing up like Barbie and posing for a cheesy photo, I’m also sure that it’s unlikely that something like that would occur without some outside prodding. 

This morning, when I discovered that the photo is from a top model T.V. show, I began to wonder if maybe my initial reaction hadn’t been somewhat justified.  Though I still maintain that I really don’t have the right to dictate how another person should be able to define their own beauty, sexuality, or even level of ability, there is something disturbing to me about the idea of any show which jettisons all but the most conventionally attractive people into a corner.  I think that these “Top Model Competitions” are the best example of that sort of categorization.  In the non-disability themed examples of these shows, such as America’s Next Top Model, even being a “plus sized” model is enough to cause a contestant to constantly be defined by his or her size, while the other contestants are simply defined by their suitability for posing in fashion spreads or walking down a runway.  If just being larger than a size 8 is enough to define someone as an outsider in that sort of competition, then missing a limb or the ability to sashay is enough to render one invisible. Which is, I assume, why the show from which the photo was taken carried the word “missing” in its title.  It is this sort of invisibility that I take Clare to be addressing throughout Exile and Pride, as he examines the way that people have, at times, refused to even acknowledge his CP.   

I wasn’t able to watch the clip from Britain’s Missing Top Model that Anne linked to, so I haven’t seen anything of the show, but I still wonder if it is a step forward, a step backward, neither, or both.  I also wonder if I have a right to even judge if it is any of those things.  Ultimately, what I am left with here is a sort of conundrum:  I dislike the idea of a group of arbiters deciding what counts for sexy on a person who is different, but I am hesitant to assign myself the role of advocate for those being judged, as they have all willingly signed up for the competition.