Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Love of the Arbus

In my recent exploration of Diane Arbus, the acclaimed photographer of ‘freaks’, I indulged in my voyeuristic side. Arbus ‘s naked, raw exposition of the freak both frightens me and seduces me. As a person with a disability, and particularly a woman with a disability, this raw portrayl of disability, aka freakhood, provokes immediate repulsion. It is not that I found the disabled bodies repulsive, but their complete lack of “trying to be normal” has created this immensely natural aversion. Photographing the disabled in clothing which hides twisted or missing limbs, or elegantly situates the wheelchair user in positions where the wheelchair becomes a sleek assessory, all are easy to swallow. Yet Arbus photographs shows in bright glaring lights unposed, misshapen, twisted, “ugly’ bodies in all their glory. Invoking the widely popular ‘freakshow’, I along with my fellow disabled counterparts openly and loudly disparage such historical black spots, yet after my recent introduction to Arbus, I am met with the incredible seductive forces behind such voyeuristic “shows’. In looking at women with dwarfism, wearing leather dominatrix clothing or nothing at all, it invokes my shame in showing so openly my misshapen bits. Unlike the relief that most feel in seeing images of those ‘worse off then them” displaying their ‘ugliness’ like an open wound, such images create a reflection of how much I feel the need to conform to normalcy. I take great confort in the fact that I'm "beautifully abnormal". All ego aside, I have been fortunate enough to be a 'normal' looking person who just happens to sit in a wheelchair. Some limbs are abnormally shapen but through years of female cultural indocternation I have been able to hide them with fashion and make-up and a billion other beauty products. Thus, in viewing the freakshow of Diane Arbus, I am reminded of those abnormal bits of myself, both literal and figuratively. The attractiveness of such photographs is what intrigues me the most, as I believe that there is such truth shown in Arbus's photography. She shows the freaks without the show, the middle class families without pretention and celebrities without glamour. I found the picture posted above to be the most striking as for all purposes Arbus is taking a picture of a normal middle class family with a husband, a wife and two kids, but you look closer and it appears the older child has a disability and there is a distinct 'off-ness" to this family. But for me, this 'off-ness" or strangeness is what makes this family so utterly normal.

I only wish i were a subject for one of Arbus's photographs, wherein i could revel in the glory of my abnormally 'normal' bits.

Friday, October 08, 2010

On the Backs of Men

I have been confronting recently this ever haunting issue of dependence, and realizing my need for inter-dependence. Similar to most people with disabilities, I have trained, rehab-ed, struggled and fought for every ounce of independence I now have. So the idea of hiring someone to come in to assist around the house a couple times a week is just simply heinous, and I have been quietly throwing some adolescent tantrums after succumbing to the inevitable…. That Megan Smith is not an island surrounded by vast, empty, person-less bodies of water, despite all efforts to be so. Though I do believe with enough money this very well could be my future. Someone else coming into my house to vacuum has suddenly made me reflect on my fascist like desire to be independent, and how country specific this fervency is. On reflection I realized how willing I was to be completely and absolutely dependent, physically, on relative strangers in Nepal, Peru, Morocco, Costa Rica, and Algeria etc... I mean I allowed three men to carry me up a mountain, without my chair, and I allowed myself to be utterly dependent on them even in going to the bathroom. But here in America, allowing someone to vacuum my floor makes me cringe.
I realized, especially after re-reading my thesis, that my interaction with others is defined to a greater degree by public opinion and societal view of disability. To clarify, when I had such assistance in Nepal and other nations, I did not feel like charity or eternally indebted to them. Their assistance to me was equally balanced by the work I did with them, so no one was put on a higher, lower pedestal than the other. In America, no matter how kind hearted the person assisting you are, there is a general view of needing assistance as disdainful. When I go out with my mum or really anyone, they are generally viewed as my caretaker, and as such people will talk to them instead of myself. Consequently, wherever I go, I feel this constant need to exhibit myself as completely independent, even if that means telling a friend to wait in the car or even walk a little away from me so people won’t assume his/her caretaker status. This is ridiculous I know, but when someone like me struggles and works incredibly hard to live a life completely independently, it’s a slap in the face whenever I go out to have the assumption made that I have a caretaker.
In this way, I realized that this is the reason for this militant type effort to be and maintain independence in America, and how I must evolve and realize that my life is a hell of a lot easier with people on my island.
On an additional note I have realized what an amazing, philanthropic service I have been providing for the male species. After a man recently carried me into a restaurant, he appeared quite pleased with himself and all puffed up, with his wife and friends congratulating him on being such a great Samaritan, and I realized that if I have done nothing else in this world, I have done absolute wonders to a great many male egos. (and perhaps to the businesses of many chiropractic practitioners)