Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Beauty and the Wheelchair...

Beauty and the Wheelchair

First of all, the fact that we have a Miss Wheelchair America, and the award has been going on for nearly 30 years is astounding! I did not know that at all! That automatically brings up the question, do TV companies not feel the show is worth a televised event because there wouldn't be a market/audience for it? Are able-bodied women the only ones who can be objectified on television by a panel hosted by Mario Lopez? Nigeria disagrees.

The article notes that this pageant is not a beauty pageant, and the contestants are judged on "their achievements since the onset of their disabilities, their projection and communication skills, and their abilities to successfully advocate for over 20 million Nigerians with disabilities." Now although I see a hint of Marxism in the commoditization of the "beauty pageantry" but this specific event seems less of an excuse to see women in bikini's and evening dresses, and more of a feel-good marketing technique to spread the word "disability", "wheelchair", and "normalcy" around.
I don't mean to sound harsh, but as Joe brought up yesterday in class, there is hardly a doctor out there who doesn't believe that the human mind finds the disabled repulsive. I'm about to geek out, but I waited on line 8.5 hours last night for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. In the movie, Voldemort says "Professor Burbage believes that Muggles and Wizards are no different. She even advocates that we should mate with them." Voldemort and the Death Eaters strongly believe that the Muggles, or the disabled, do not deserve to live, let alone co-exist with the wizarding world. It's seen in the new statue in the Ministry of Magic, where Muggles are crushed by the "Magic is Might" monument.
Not to steer away from the Miss Wheelchair Nigeria, but in some respects, their plight is related to that of the Muggles in Harry Potter. Both are ostracized from society, because of a disability. My grandfather is a man of many wheelchairs. He has had 7 since I was born. Not because they break or rust, but because he likes to add knick-knacks, toys, and whizzing sounds to his wheelchair. At first I felt he wanted the image of himself in a wheelchair to look much more grand than it was, but I now know that he has realized that he will be in a wheelchair for life, and if he can't have fun standing, he sure as hell will have fun sitting!


  1. Haha I love this post Arjun! And hats off to your Grandpa =)

    I think the muggle - disabled parallel kind of works. I recall in the books how Hermione (female protagonist) was stigmatized for being "muggle-born" and a "mudbood," which is an HP derogatory term for humans or people who can't practice magic to those of you who don't know...or for those of you who aren't HP nerds that is..

    But I'm not sure if the disabled are stigmatized or ostracized the way muggles are...Isn't pity or discomfort one of the first reactions people have? I guess once you get to the extreme side of disabilities (the elephant and tree men), then it does get to that level of repulsion.

    I am equally surprised that there is a Miss Wheelchair pageant. I think its incredible and I would love to see it aired on TV one day.

    Beauty contests really do seem a lot like commodification. I know a few pageant girls; one of my good friends is actually getting ready to compete at the National level. Despite the philanthropy involved and all the good things that one can do with winning a pageant, I can't get past the fact that there will probably never be an "ugly" / non conventionally beautiful Miss USA winner. So much of the contest is based on looks and poses and the walk, that it all feels kind of superficial to me at times. And of course it perpetuates the objectivity of women...but is female objectivity inevitable in this case, or in society in general?
    The Miss Nigeria Wheelchair pageant seems to disagree

    Im starting to feel that I have an inner-feminist. What are other people's thoughts/experiences with beauty pageants, commodification, disability, et al?

  2. You grandpa. Is an awesome person. And I want to meet him.

    I just saw Harry Potter last night, and I think it's a testament to what this class is doing to my brain that I walked out of the theater half in awe of the movie and half in awe of what some of the things MEANT, one of those things being the magical/muggle binary. That relationship has been compared to a lot of things, including genocide, racism, and, now disability studies, and I think it's interesting. I don't know what Rowling's intention with that was, or where she found the basis for that idea, but it's interesting to see how it's been "read."

  3. I agree with you, Megan, that beauty contests encourage commodification...and unfortunately, it is starting at an incredibly young age with girls today. I read somewhere that over 40% of girls under the age of 10 use lipstick or lip gloss...what??? Wearing make-up is just one symptom of how heavily our culture encourages little girls to be "beautiful."
    Take a look at this and let me know what you guys think:

  4. Totally agree. That is probably the saddest part, commodification of little girls. I've seen some of the younger pageant girl shows and its like they're all turned into little dolls, with the mothers enthusiastically supporting it all.

    It's like Hollywood kids, they all grow up or are forced to mature incredibly fast. Too fast in my opinion. Look at Willow Smith, she's like 9 years old performing a music video whose themes may be twice her age.

  5. This is a great discussion. First, I'll let all of you get to work on theorizing this famous disabled person, one Heather Mills.

    HP is also rife for disability theorizing, not just because of the Muggle-Mudblood tensions (which some of your foremer peers have discussed in terms of Anzadua's arguments, BTW). Harry wears glasses; Mad Eye Moody is both physically and, allegedly, mentally disabled; and Voldemort is as much characterized by what he can't do--namely, kill Harry--as he is by what he is able to do.

    Keep this good work going!

  6. Whoa Professor Fisher. Are you a HP fan in disguise?