Friday, May 21, 2010

"American Able" and The Beauty Way

(American Able image created by Holly Norris and Jes Sachse)

"'American Able' intends to, through spoof, reveal the ways in which women with disabilities are invisibilized in advertising and mass media...Too often, the pervasive influence of imagery in mass media goes unexamined, consumed en masse by the public. However, this imagery has real, oppressive effects on people who are continuously ‘othered’ by society."

American Able is a brilliant slam-dunk against the ways genuinely "normal" bodies -- those which are what we see in our everyday public -- are rendered "other" by the media and particularly by fashion, which is an industry predicated on perpetuating our most deeply-held oppressions even as they might argue they are subverting it.

THIS is what real subversion looks like. It jerks you up short and makes you question ALL your assumptions, and notice the human connection you are missing.

Physical difference is the guidepost for identifying most groups targeted for oppression: Not Males, people of color/ethnicities, children, elderly, disabled, fat, and on a subtler but just as effective level, class and regional identity. Physical difference is, for most of these categories, presumed to have a biological origin which also imprints the personality/mentality of those in the different categories, and that "inherent" difference serves as justification for targeting.

We cannot imagine a difference which does not imply biological hierarchy of some kind. We cannot imagine a difference in which all deviance is equally valued.

But we have to try, because that is in fact the truth. And those of us who want to live in a reality-based community will have to lead the way, especially through art, in creating a goal of the imagination: THIS is what real, desirable, valuable people look like. They look like us.

Self-hatred allows a devastated system to sell us a devastated world.

To start imagining, it is necessary to understand exactly where your conditioning has hobbled you. For that work. I find implicit association tests extremely helpful. These tests can quickly unroof biases you may have denied or discounted. The good news is, whatever lies you were taught along the way can be unlearned. Take these tests (especially the ones you feel like you'd rather avoid), carry the information gathered to your support system, and embark on healing with loving company. You'll be moved to creative, effective action as part of the healing.

You won't believe the beauty that is in store for you.

A wide range of implicit association tests are available online at Project Implicit run by Harvard.

[Giant tip of the hat to the always groundbreaking BagNewsNotes for bringing this to our attention.]