disability

Migraine Monday: The Long Way Down

April is my favorite month of the year. And I spent the entire month sick, almost better, and then even sicker.

I was sticking to my usual “head down and power through” approach to life as a means of pushing through, taking various decongestants and antihistamines in an attempt to take the edge of my symptoms, until a coughing fit got so bad it scared my students.

Bear in mind: I have taught this class for two to three years. We’ve been through some challenging times together. Ponyo and I used to take weekly trips to the de-escalation room, and her classmates remember those days. Ponyo, TLK, Freckles, and Elsa have been with me since the beginning of the migraines, through the ups and downs of various treatments and substitute teachers and days when we couldn’t get a sub and they shuffled off to another teacher for the last few hours of the day. They have seen me on some very bad migraine days when I’ve needed someone to pick me up because I could not drive. TLK can tell I have an aura before I tell anyone. When Sir New Dude arrived to our class in March, and we were introducing ourselves and saying whether we were deaf or hard-of-hearing, I was about to explain that I am hearing but I have auditory processing challenges when TLK interrupted: She’s hearing, but she gets migraines and then she says “What?” a lot. But she hasn’t had a bad one since… ((looks at the calendar)) January. Her last bad one was in January.

So three weeks after my spring break throat tickle had turned into a never-ending cold, when I descended into a coughing fit that originated from the core of my being, and even my students knew that offering my water bottle was pointless, it was pretty obvious I needed to see a doctor. Sir New Dude said, You need to go to the doctor. I replied that I planned to go to the Quick Care after school. TLK, the master of the Very Serious and Authoritative Quiet Voice, looked me in the eye and said, No, you need to go to the doctor now. I explained there were no subs. We don’t need a sub. We know what to do. We will not fight over the computers or the iPad. We’ll read everything we’re supposed to. If there’s a problem we know who is in charge. You need to go to the doctor right now.

I finished my work day, and after two hours at Quick Care and another hour at the pharmacy sorting out the mis-prescribed drugs to which I was allergic, I went home with cough syrup for my bronchitis, and instructions to use my steroid inhaler for my lungs (as well as for my sinuses as prescribed).

Seriously, who gets bronchitis in April???

The next day (Wednesday), I had an IEP meeting I could not miss, so I went to work. At the Eleventh Hour, I got a sub for the Thursday’s department field trip. Wednesday, I took my cough syrup with codeine at 5:30 p.m. and slept for 18 hours. Eighteen hours. I woke up every six hours coughing, so I took another dose and crawled back in bed. I spent Thursday doped up and lounging in bed with a book. I ate, I napped. Friday, too. All I did was shower and change into different PJs. Saturday? More rest.

On Sunday I started to feel a little more human, and I put on real clothes and went to church. Pretty sure I napped after that.

Last week I only took the cough syrup at bed time, obviously. I can’t really teach in a stupor. And I averaged only one coughing fit a day. But I was exhausted by the time the kids left my room at 3:30. And I was in bed by 8 every night. I’ve been off the meds since Wednesday.

I went two weeks without writing more than a few tweets and some blackout poetry. I did some very basic teaching. Solid teaching, but nothing fancy. My food intake consisted of waffles and coffee and toast and cereal and some butternut squash soup with wild rice (a big batch I could eat all week).

I have never been sick this long or taken so long to recover. That this has come at the end of the school year–a time when I already struggle to drag my sad, sorry ass out of bed to dunk my head under the shower tap and throw on some clothes–makes it even worse.

While I was taking it easy, I decided to catch up on some autistic advocacy reading and disability community conversations, and I saw a tweet (in a different context) that made everything click for me: Treatable doesn’t make disability disappear. 

My very successful migraine treatments don’t change the underlying condition of chronic migraine. My counseling and medication don’t change the underlying structure of my depression and anxiety. My invisible disabilities are still there, and they still require energy from my body and my mind. And when I get sick…. well, it’s a long way down. Because a cold or a cold+bronchitis is really a cold+bronchitis+invisibilemigraine+invisibledepression+invisibleanxiety. At the end of a very exhausting school year.

And after the long way down, it’s a really long way back up.

Charlie Chaplin Made the Best Movies Ever

Content note: accessibility, d/Deaf history, educational theatre, film history

The Idaho Shakespeare Festival Theatre for Youth’s production of Maggie Lumiere and the Ghost Train came to campus last Friday. The four person cast features a Deaf actress, and three hearing actors who signed. Everything the Deaf actor signed was accessible to non-signers either by the voices of other characters, or by silent-movie style title cards. It was visual. It was funny. It was fully accessible. 

(Note: since we also have students who are blind or low-vision, our orientation & mobility instructor provided verbal description of all the action via a multi-headset FM system we use for such events)

During the Q&A, one Deaf teacher mentioned that he had attended many interpreted theatre performances before (which, we might all agree, meets one definition of accessibility, and ISF has done a great job of this), but he always misses large pieces of plot or dialogue because he always has to look between the actors and the interpreters; he, along with several Deaf students of all ages, and Deaf staff, shared that it the first, or one of the first, fully accessible theatre production they had ever attended. Several students said that they had always wanted to do theatre, but had never believed it would be possible for them until now. The actors teared up hearing that. They said that this was their 71st performance–performances 1 through 70 were for hearing audiences, but this was the most nervous they had ever been doing this show, because they knew this was the one that mattered. My kids were engaged the entire time. They understood the premise. They laughed in all the right places. They felt suspense during the suspenseful parts. They were able to converse with the actors after the performance. It was incredible. I cried. Three times, even. I already sent a note to the playwright (who lives in Boise) thanking him for writing it. Sure, there were a few bits of the script that I found a little problematic, but I can have a conversation with my students about it because the whole script was accessible to them! 

Theatre for Youth is educational theatre, and as such, there is a downloadable teacher’s guide with information about theatre itself, and about the content of the show. For my class, I focused on the history of early film. The plot of Maggie Lumiere involves a Deaf girl and her three friends making a silent movie, an homage-of-sorts to Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid. We didn’t have time to watch The Kid, so I showed them the following clip, the opening chase scene from the 1917 film The Adventurer:

I usually project videos on my interactive whiteboard, but this year my desktop computer took a dump, so imagine four kids huddled around my tiny tablet/laptop hybrid (a ThinkPad Yoga, if you’re familiar with them). If you didn’t watch the above clip, please do. It’s about 4 1/2 minutes.

They. loved. it. They laughed in all the right places. They felt suspense during the suspenseful parts.  All four kids begged to watch it again. The only time they’ve ever done that is when they watch a video of themselves. The second time through, they added their own sound effects and dialogue. I hadn’t even thought to suggest that yet; they spontaneously took the film to the next level.

We spent the next half-hour watching clips, each one twice. Boxing. The Circus. TLK looked at me, wide-eyed, and whispered in most serious voice, He made the best movies ever. After the show, Freckles, who attends public school most of the day and had missed all our Charlie Chaplin excitement the day before, said, I wanted to be a cop or a firefighter since kindergarten but now maybe I think acting might be a better choice for me because I’m funny and I don’t sit still enough to be a cop. 

Before the play on Friday, we reviewed appropriate audience behavior, but I really think this was the only time I didn’t have to do so. Even Ponyo, who gets a bad case of Bleacher Butt™ right about the same time I do, was attentive the entire time and only solicited the help-me-refocus back scratches once (she even put her head on my shoulder during the most tender-hearted bit–that was the first time I cried). Before the show, she was so excited, and she asked to take a selfie. So we did. Then she said, Selfie text mom!! So I pulled up my messaging app and her mom’s phone number. She typed, We are seeing a play. I am very excited. An obligatory smiley followed. When mom asked what the play was about, Ponyo tagged me to type the synopsis. Then she said, Tell mom C-H-A-P-L-I-N Y-O-U-T-U-B-E.

I have a hunch they watched a lot of silent movie clips this weekend.


I know I promised yesterday  that I would update the sComm situation today, but I needed to share this first. This is absolutely critical to understanding why Jason Curry’s insistence on English as superior to ASL, his stubborn refusal to recognize interpreters as empowering accommodations, and his disgusting “Communicaphobia” video that uses the word “crippled” in regards to ASL and depicts the use of an interpreter as an owner with a dog on a leash, is so damaging and insulting to my students, and to d/Deaf people everywhere:

I had a conversation over the weekend with my principal about getting my kids to record short “reviews” of the play for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival website. I mentioned our lesson on Charlie Chaplin, and she said something that stuck with me, hard: Silent movies were the golden season for deaf people. Total inclusion.

On Friday, I had been sick for two weeks, and throat was raw.  After the post-show Q&A, my students wanted to meet the actors. The gymnasium was loud, and my voice was ka-put; I could not have interpreted for them. Because all the actors signed, Ponyo could go right up to one of them and say, I’m deaf! I have an implant and I sign and I talk! You are great and funny and I love you! all by herself.

On Friday, I literally had no voice. But because of accessibility, my students owned a piece of theirs.

A Tale of Two Idahos… actually, it’s the same Idaho

Content note: gun violence, police violence, police-involved shooting, intersection of race and disability, accidental shooting, human death, animal death

Idaho has made a lot of headlines in the last few years.

During the 2014 legislative session, Idaho lawmakers made us the 7th state to approve conceal carry on college campuses, despite vocal opposition from nearly every stakeholder, and the failure of the same bill in 2011.

In September 2014 the first month of the first semester the law was in effect, a professor shot himself in the foot while teaching on one of our university campuses.

In December, a two-year-old child accidentally shot and killed his mother with a concealed handgun while rummaging in her purse.

I’m starting to see a pattern here.


On Friday, The Guardian ran a lengthy piece on two officer-involved shootings in northern Idaho. From the article:

The first victim was Jeanetta Riley, a troubled 35-year-old pregnant woman, shot dead by police as she brandished a knife outside a hospital in the town of Sandpoint. Her death barely ruffled the tight-knit rural community, which mostly backed the officers, who were cleared of wrongdoing before the case was closed.

The second shooting, in nearby Coeur d’Alene, sparked uproar. There were rallies, protests, sinister threats against the officer responsible, and a viral campaign that spread well beyond the town and drew an apology from the mayor. The killing was ruled unjustified, and the police chief introduced new training for his officers.

The victim of the second shooting: a dog named Arfee.

I live in southern Idaho, a nine-hour drive from Coeur d’Alene. Just 10 minutes away in the town of Filer, an officer shot a dog last year. There was outrage then, too. When the officer was returned to duty, outraged citizens started a petition to get the mayor recalled. Nothing came of the petitions, but they added an eight-hour training course for dealing with dogs.

In the comments surrounding the stories I linked above, a pattern emerges: It was the professor’s fault he got shot–he must have been carrying his gun unsafely. It was the mother’s fault she got shot; her gun was stored in her purse unsafely. Jeanetta Riley deserved to get shot–she was on drugs and she didn’t comply with police directives.

In other responses, to the other stories, a second pattern, another Idaho, emerges: OH MY GOD WHO WOULD SHOOT A DOG?!

These are the comments and messages and conversations I’ve heard over the past seven years: If you respect guns, you’ll be fine. If you raise your kids around guns, they will have a healthy respect of guns. And, likewise, if you listen to the police, you’ll be fine. Everything boils down to this: Just follow the rules, and you won’t get hurt. It follows that if you get hurt (or killed) then you did not follow the rules, the blame falls squarely on you, and you can expect little sympathy. The fact that dogs elicit more sympathy, empathy, and outrage than human lives should tell us that something is wrong with that lens. The fact that Arfee’s owner got an $80,000 settlement, while Jeanetta Riley’s family have not even received an apology, should tell us something is wrong with our system.

The incidents with the dog in Coeur d’Alene and the dog in Filer each prompted targeted training for officers handling potentially aggressive dogs. That is reasonable training to have. The officers also need training in recognizing and deescalating a crisis situation with a person with a mental illness or psychiatric disability. Their department provides it, but neither officer had taken it. That is necessary training to have.

I would like to submit another story for your consideration: In December, police in Twin Falls, Idaho, arrested Randy Scott Hill after a 25-hour standoff, during which time Hill brandished a knife, yelled at police, exited and reentered his home, threw the negotiation phone back at the police, waved a hammer around. No one was injured or killed.

Hill, a white male, survived his encounter with police after they put in 25 hours of patient attempts. Riley, a Native American female, died as a result of her encounter with police after only 15 seconds. Both reportedly have a history of disability and violent behavior; for Riley, the intersection of race with psychiatric disability, as has been well-documented by others, proved fatal.

This is the Cult of Compliance. And here, in Idaho, all of that is wrapped up in the added layer of gun saturation.

Last month, two local schools (a mile from my house) were placed on a three-hour lockdown because a man was walking down the street with two firearms. Police inquiry revealed he was simply doing just that: walking down the street with two firearms. He was within his legal rights to do so. A commenter on the newspaper’s website wrote, I support open carry and I support this kind of response from our educational and law enforcement leaders. This is why Idaho is great. 

The day after the Veronica Rutledge was killed by her 2-year-old in Wal-Mart, the Washington Post wrote a piece of Idaho conceal carry apologetics to indicate that this was so much about guns that it wasn’t about guns:

“In Idaho, we don’t have to worry about a lot of crime and things like that,” [Sandow] said. “And to see someone with a gun isn’t bizarre. [Veronica] wasn’t carrying a gun because she felt unsafe. She was carrying a gun because she was raised around guns. This was just a horrible accident.”

This is the Cult of Compliance: the energy and logical acrobatics required to maintain status quo.

Audism, Language, and Competition

Content note: audism, ableism, in-group discrimination, disability hierarchies 

The Deaf-world controversy surrounding sComm and their marketing of the UbiDuo communication device continues this week. Trudy Suggs (the Deaf business owner and activist who has been the catalyst/gathering place/clearinghouse/springboard/etc. for the pushback against sComm’s dangerous, audist marketing language) shared last week that her hosting company received notice from sComm indicating that she had made unauthorized use of their property, even though the screenshots she used fall under fair use.

The Missouri Association of the Deaf issued an open letter:

There is so much to unpack here, and I am waiting to see what else comes out, specifically from sComm. So far, their attempt to use legal threats by contacting Trudy Suggs’ hosting company directly, instead of addressing her first, is a power play. Is it the male/female power dynamic? Is it the English/ASL power dynamic? Is it competing business owners? Is it (in Jason Curry’s eyes) good deaf/bad deaf? It’s likely an intersection of more than one of those. The more layers intersect, the more complex the power dynamics become.

UPDATE: 6:56 PM 4/7/15
From a former sComm employee, shared on Facebook today.


Here in deaf school land, we have an academic bowl, sponsored by Gallaudet University. Our school has participated for the last 8 or 9 years, but only recently have we really been a competitive team by any definition of the word. Last year was the first time we made it out of the regional competition to go to nationals.

Last week our academic bowl team did a presentation on their trip to the regional competition, as well as a few “mini-bowl” contests with students from the elementary, middle, and high school departments. Two of my kiddos were in the elementary mini-bowl, and they had a really good time. As we got into the middle school and high school groups, though, another teacher and I started to question the underlying assumptions of the entire system. I’m used to questioning systems–that’s how I roll. It was nice to have someone else with whom I could share my eyebrow-furrowing, head-scratching, table-pounding moments:

  • In academic bowl form, answers must be hand-written, spelled correctly, and shown to the judges and spectators. One middle school student got every answer incorrect; while the event was meant to be lighthearted and not a high-pressure situation, how does it benefit a student to have every incorrect answer shown to all and snickered at? Why did the adults laugh? How is that a positive experience?
  • At the national level, the same schools win, or at least make it to the final rounds. It feels like a pecking order, and each year’s competition is an exercise in making sure everyone knows what that pecking order is.
  • States with large populations have larger schools for the deaf; it makes sense. These schools have strong Deaf communities surrounding them, and many of them wind up sending many students to Gallaudet. They have a large pool of students from which to choose their academic bowl teams. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. But issues of power and privilege come in to play–they always do. Is this where the idea of good deaf/bad deaf starts? Is this where we start weeding out the successful deaf from those that perpetuate the oft-quoted statistic that the average deaf adult has a fourth-grade reading level? I understand the desire to recognize and applaud academic achievements–but what does it mean when we’re recognizing the same achievements by the same few achievers each year?
  • Why are we still so fixated on competitions, when it’s becoming more and more evident that collaboration is going to be the necessary skill to solve the big problems of the century?
  • I have a friend with two deaf sons. When their first son was identified as deaf over 20 years ago, they moved to be near a deaf school. He attended that school, but he never belonged. Their family never belonged. As autistic deaf child with significant behavior concerns, he wasn’t the right kind of deaf; at least that’s how the message was received. Disability hierarchies were at play. Is that a form of audism, to exclude those deaf and hard-of-hearing who don’t fit in to one’s preferred vision of d/Deafness? To encourage a parent to withdraw their child from the school for the deaf because he doesn’t really belong there? Where does that idea begin?

The students on our academic bowl team are primarily hard-of-hearing, or prefer English over ASL. Why is that? The last few years, we’ve pulled kids from our outreach program to supplement our on-campus team. Why is that? My experience is limited, as I am “grafted on” to the Deaf community. But I have seen audism play out. I have seen unspoken disability hierarchies form the foundation for interactions and decisions and systems around me. And I have seen far too much of it go completely unquestioned.

It’s time to start asking questions.

My Yearly Crisis

Sometimes when I email my graduate advisors, the email is carefully crafted, with careful attention paid to professional word choices.

The email I sent yesterday was not one of those times.

~~~~~~~~~~~

About once per year, usually in the spring, I have a crisis of conscience. It used to be a general existential crisis, but over the years I have honed it to a finer point. And since you three are now members of Team Danielle, you get to partake of this latest incarnation of “What the hell is going on in this profession?!?!” And if you bear with the initial ranting phase, I promise the part that actually involves you comes at the end and ties it all together. I also promise minimal swears. Also this has nothing to do with my 30th birthday that happens to be in less than a week.

Anyway.

Part 1: This spring, one of my students is up for his three-year special education eligibility review. My school contracts with a school psychologist who used to do the UNIT (non-verbal IQ test) and an academic achievement test on my students to determine their eligibility for special education services (in addition to their audiological and speech/language testing). Because our budget is tighter this year, I have to do the academic achievement testing, which is a “normed” and “validated’ test that will give him a grade equivalent and percentile rank. It’s eating up my instructional time, since I have to do the evaluation 1:1 and I have no paraprofessional to work with my other students. Also, the vocabulary and reading comprehension questions are exactly the opposite of how I teach contextual reading and reading-for-meaning to my students, and the look on his face is “You have got to be kidding me, right??” But this is the stuff we use to rank and sort our students, it’s research-backed, and it pisses me off; what the hell does it mean that my student can’t identify the “odd” word in a group of five isolated vocabulary words? Put those words in context and you bet your boots he could figure out the meaning. It’s so freaking reductive it makes my eyes rattle. And I still have at least three more days of this ridiculousness to finish the damn test.

Part 2: I am writing a paper  on reading interventions for Deaf ELLs and ELL parent involvement. Speaking of “research based”… According to my literature review, citing other recent (2012, 2014) literature reviews, there are ZERO studies that fit the No Child Left Behind requirements for “evidence-based research” reading interventions for deaf students. Zero. Because a huge part of NCLB is replication. And it’s almost impossible to replicate intervention studies with deaf kids. Variances in hearing-loss etiology, age of identification, communication access at home, amplification, other diagnoses, school placement, and learning style all contribute to reading achievement. And teaching a second language (English) in light of an delayed first language (sign language) presents a unique challenge to developing “best practice.” You know how many hard-of-hearing ELL kids I can do my final project with? One. The other ELLs are deaf and don’t access spoken Spanish auditorily. So in deaf education, we have prominent researchers (Mark Marschark, for one) who scold deaf educators for using opinions and gut feelings and not evidence-based research in our reading instruction… but we having really nothing else upon which to base our curriculum (including his own research). Even he has changed his presentations in the last 5 years to “What we don’t know about teaching deaf kids to read.” I’m not even joking. That was the last keynote I saw him give.

Part 3: My degree plan has me slated to take Fundamentals of Educational Research. With the aforementioned Parts 1 and 2 as my background, I think I may throat punch someone if I am in a course for a whole semester built on this paradigm that insists we can measure anything objectively. The test I’m using for my kiddo (in Part 1) was not normed on deaf kids and only shows what he can’t do, not what he can. And it doesn’t even measure what he “can’t” do very well, at that. And the best sources I’ve been using for my papers have all been the sources that say “the old framework is shit! We need a new lens!” The old framework *is* shit… that’s the whole point of my program. Insisting educational outcomes can be measured objectively is how we end up ignoring the intersections and the marginalization. I can’t work in that model.

The Big Question: I’ve been doing a lot of reading (you know, in my spare time). I still absolutely want to do a thesis. I am quite taken with educational ethnography, Moll’s Funds of Knowledge, Border pedagogy based on Anzaldúa, and Freire’s critical pedagogy.  Is there a way I can do a pedagogical thesis rather than a methodological thesis? If so, I will need approval to alter my degree plan; drop ED-CIFS 503 and take something else. Something that will challenge me and result in fewer of the aforementioned throat punches.

Thanks for sticking with me through this long email, and through one more interesting facet of being on Team Danielle. It got a little hairy there in the middle. I wasn’t sure we’d make it. I will now accept interjections and the like.

Internalized Audism

Content note: ableism, audism, communication access, disability rights, ADA, institutionalized oppression

Back in February, Congressman Glenn Grothman, R-WI, encouraged his constituents to pry into the lives of citizens on government assistance. From an article in The Northwestern:

Grothman said he hears stories about seemingly able-bodied people receiving disability payments, Social Security payments and Food Share benefits. He told the people in attendance to keep an eye on the types of things people on Food Share buy at the grocery store or ask people for more information if they boast about being on disability.

“I would argue some people are arranging their life to be on Food Share,” Grothman said. “You just look at them and kind of wonder.”

I know that The Undeserving Poor is a standard in the conservative legislative playbook. I know the idea of Proving Disability is something those with both visible and invisible disabilities encounter all the time. I’ve heard it a hundred times, but never before in the context of actually asking constituents to pry into the lives of others. That was a new one.

It reminded me of conversations I’ve had with Deaf friends and colleagues. The internalized ableism against “those deaf” who get benefits expressed by those who do not. It causes me to step back and analyze how my position within a formal institution may perpetuate those perspectives.

You see, years back, I had a group of students who were primarily hard-of-hearing. Down the hall was a group of students who were primarily deaf. They were not grouped by hearing levels, but by academic need. One group worked at a faster pace closer to grade level; the other group required more targeted intervention at a slower pace with more repetition. But do you know how the kids saw this grouping? They saw the deaf students as less intelligent, and the hard-of-hearing students as more academic, as having the superior language access.

Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. And those students would not have been able to verbalize those perceptions and attitudes as fifth-graders. Those students are in high school now. And all of their teachers are Deaf. And we have a serious problem with attitudes rooted in internalized audism among the middle school and high school students, not just toward students, but toward teachers. Refusing to use sign language, insulting their teachers’ language use. Power and privilege of hearing status, loud and clear (literally).

People who are culturally Deaf embrace their language and their heritage and their culture. American Sign Language, growing up in a Deaf school, finding peers with that common experience… these things are crucial for developing that Deaf identity. Growing up with a deficit model of deafness, a deficit model of any disability? The internalized ableism can be damaging, and not just for the individual. I saw a vivid illustration of that this weekend.

Not every deaf person grows up with Deaf (cultural) identity. Many deaf people grow up oral, or with signed English, or in a mainstreamed school setting, or with any number of accommodations or adaptations to their hearing loss that their family decides is the best route for their child at the time. Some of these children grow into adults who find Deaf culture. Some of them do not.

sComm is a communications company with a face-to-face typing device called the UbiDuo that could be sold as an option for accessible communication for the deaf. However, they are marketing it with very dangerous language as a replacement for sign language interpreters in hospitals, emergency rooms, and even in the court systems for child abuse cases. In the process, the deaf business owner, Jason Curry, has repeatedly belittled ASL, interpreters, and the Deaf community by calling ASL a simplistic language and crippled communication (he actually used the word crippled). The language surrounding his marketing, his defense of his remarks, and his YouTube videos dating back to 2012 illustrate a high level of internalized audism (that is, oppression of the deaf). His audism does not only affect himself, though. The marketing of his device would have huge ramifications if hospitals purchased it in lieu of maintaining contracts with trained and certified interpreter services. People would die.

The Deaf community has responded swiftly, with reminders not to belittle Curry’s signing (he uses manually coded English, which some members of the community were belittling when his response video was first released). I am following this pretty closely, and I will pretty much only be posting links to the Deaf business owners and activists doing the leg work on this. This is their show. But it is important for me to listen, and to listen hard. Because this has ramifications for my work and my classroom. Because what I do here with fifth graders impacts what happens in the high school. And our high school students leave and become Deaf adults. And the last thing we want to do is to add more power to the patriarchy.

Fit Friday: Breaking the Model Mold?

Content warning: body image

I love bodies. This has not always been true, but I love bodies and count my own among the bodies I love. So when I first heard of Tess Munster and #effyourbeautystandards, I giggled with delight. The body-positive parts of the internet celebrated her recent modeling contract as a step forward in ending fat shame. But the rest of the internet doubled down on the shaming, of course, in the form of concern trolling. A plus-sized model will glorify unhealthy lifestyles! they typed between hand-wrings. But the amount of body fat a woman has isn’t an indicator of her health. And the modeling industry is rife with young women and girls who are encouraged to lose weight at any cost; are they not glorifying unhealthy lifestyles?

A friend of mine sent me links to a few articles about Carmen Dell’Orefice. At 83, she is the oldest working supermodel in an industry obsessed with youth. She is breaking age barriers, but she reinforces the narrow standards of thinness, beauty, and whiteness. And while it may be a step in the right direction as far as age in concerned, the message seems clear to me: to be accepted one must age gracefully and it helps to look younger than you actually are.

I’m not asking you to compare the two women pictured below. I am asking you to think about what our culture deems newsworthy: Carmen Dell’Orefice (age 83) made the news for still being beautiful at an old age. My Grammy (age 93) was one half of the Longest Married Couple in the state of North Dakota when my grandfather died in April. She’s shrinking in height, she has wrinkles, she wears orthopedic shoes. I don’t care about any of that. Her impact on the world may not make the news, but it is evident when you meet my cousins, who all work in their own way to make the world better.

o-FADIL-BERISHA-FOR-NEW-YOU-570  10329760_701077928405_4477219096389484373_o

Alternative modeling aims to break free of the standard definitions of beauty, often featuring models who are trans*, have disabilities, or are tattooed/pierced. But even as they stretch our concept of beauty in one area, they often reinforce another set of beauty norms (link NSFW for exposed breast): hairless femininity, facial symmetry, youthfulness.

All this reminds me that we spend a considerable amount of time talking about how women look. After my grammy (pictured above) had her second mastectomy, I asked her if she had ever considered reconstructive surgery. She told me she was too old to be vain. It was not a dig at women who opt for less-invasive lumpectomies or for breast reconstruction; it was just a statement that in her late 70s, she had too much to do to spend time with the consuming process of reconstructing her chest. That’s not to say she wasn’t self-conscious; she was visibly uncomfortable for a long while after that second breast was gone. But she adjusted. And she kept busy.

My students have different sized bodies that can do different things. And we don’t engage in body talk in my class, unless it’s to talk about what our bodies can do. Yesterday, we talked about running. TLK said he can run the fastest in the whole elementary. I told him about my friend Greg who runs marathons even though he doesn’t “look like a runner.” We talked about speed and endurance, and strong legs, strong hearts, and having fun. Elsa reminded me I needed to fix her walker because she broke it (again!) running in P.E. TLK asked when I would be able to skate again. I told him soon, and he said that was good. He said I seem happy when I can skate.

But even all that is focused on our bodies. And even though I love bodies, I am more than my body. And so are my students. They are more than cute, pretty, active, strong, and fast. They are also curious, empathetic, kind, bright, clever, and hilarious. They are Full of Awesome.

Body shaming is dangerous. Having a wide variety of bodies represented by modeling will normalize a wide variety of body types. I’d rather live in a culture that isn’t obsessed with body type and appearance, but since I do, I want to see diverse representations of people of size, people of color, people with disabilities, people that break down the gender binary. And I want to see it celebrated, not shoved into a niche corner of the interwebs. Instead of creating new molds, let’s just break ’em, eh?