Recently, I read an MSN posting about the beauty and art coming to the fore in prosthetics. The photographs were stunning, the prosthetics are amazing works of art and the models full of confidence and glamour . . . I am verklempt. Then just tonight, I came across this article on the growing acceptance of handi-capable people in the athletic world. It discussed various organizations, assisted sports, and general perception of building places of fitness and sports to encourage a healthy lifestyle regardless of body type. It was inspiring until “Deaf athletes (whom some consider a cultural minority, rather than disabled) should be able to bring their interpreters.” *sigh* See? Deafness is an invisible disability, some liken it to a learning disability. Yet, I digress, the article reminded me of ESPN Magazine’s first Body Issue in 2009. Unlike, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, the body magazine showed female and male athletes posed in the nude, with their most “offending portions” covered; usually in poses related to their sport, though sometimes cheeky amusing circumstances. From its inaugural issue, it featured amputees. I have chills just at the recollection. Beautiful. They looked like classical Greek statues of gods and goddess. . . All of these images are so moving, I could weep. I appreciate the Modern openness, tolerance and confident attitudes of those profiled in all the periodicals. It truly inspires the next generations of similar physiques.
It was not always this way. The recent past and all over the world, the prejudice, fear, and taint still have a strong hold on the psyche of communities. Those that were born or became disabled were removed from view. They essentially became an non-entity, usually locked away. If the families were humane, their family member would be relocated to another room or location in the home and cared for behind closed doors. More often than not, disabled people were sent to asylums or hospitals. Their treatment at such facilities is the stuff of horror stories. *shudder* They were treated worse than animals. They were also subjected to gross experimentation. The thought was physically disabled was equal with mental imbalance. Homicide and suicide of the disabled was high.
Surely, there are well meaning families that doted on “their invalids” and shocking for the time, treated them as a normal human being. However, history does not routinely record these moments as it seemed indelicate and insensible to the abled body family members that they produced or “allowed” for this outcome to occur. The prevailing ideology was a deformed child was a result of the sin of one or both of the parents. This child was a punishment for their wrong doings that they will have to live with the rest of their lives. Or if the person lost a limb after infancy, then they were bad and unwatchful parents (I shall save the full irony of this for a later post on 19th century parenting.)
In my research for this post I trying to exhume photographs of disabled individuals, but to no avail. Most images had the person’s face covered with a cloth or the person was a beggar, we so commonly see. There was not a single photograph of a confident individual. Now, mind you, some “deformed” individuals did reach celebrity status, partially due their appearance; like side show employees, others gained fame through other means. Alexander Pope was a brilliant writer in the 1700s, for example. Those examples are truly few and far between. The reality was not in their favor and their struggles were so very great. At moments like these, I am so grateful to be living in modern times.