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The Disabled Body as Sexualized

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Eli Clare’s discussion of the Ellen Stohl magazine spread for playboy and her cover-shoot for New Mobility: a disability community magazine touches on many important questions surrounding disability and sexuality. Clare introduces this subject within part ii: bodies, “reading across the grain.” In this section he critically evaluates a few visual representations of disabled individuals and related advertisements.

Clare acknowledges the importance of the Stohl images as groundbreaking in their representation of a disabled body as a sexual being. Stolh echoes this goal in an interview she conducted with CBS in June 2011, nearly 25 years after the playboy spread debuted ( In the interview she relates that in her proposal letter to Hugh Heffner she explained that “sexuality is the hardest thing for a disabled person to hold on to.”
Clare argues that although good intentioned, the playboy spread and the cover-shoot for the disability magazine are more problematic than beneficial. Clare problematizes some of the essential characteristics of the representations including Stohl’s conformation with the industry standards of beauty, and the choice of photos and text.

For one, Clare critiques that the most sexualized shots do not show Stohl in a wheelchair but rather remove her from her disability and place her in a bed. Rather than accepting that a bed is intrinsically sexual and could have been chosen for this reason, he argues that it is more likely an attempt to prove that she can appear hot and normal like anyone else, even though she is disabled!

Secondly, he problematizes the tone of the text that alternates with the photos. He argues that the text relies on traditional ableist discourse, i.e. that Stohl is able to “overcome” her disability by “driving a car,” “riding a horse,” etc. Clare echoes an argument made earlier on in the text that this discourse is damaging in that it “thrive[s] on the lies that disability equals passivity, inability and precludes activities as mundane as driving a car” (121).

Although I agree with the majority of Clare’s critiques, I do wonder if he assumes too much ignorance and passivity on the part of the reader/observer of the various images he critiques. In his assumption of an unquestioning and uneducated audience he makes similar errors in judgment that he criticizes throughout the book. This tone and tendency can come off as a superiority complex that I have found off-putting and has been referenced by other classmates as well including Shlomo and rachelr.