Monday, January 14, 2013

Beauty and Disability

Raise your hand if you watched the Miss America pageant over the weekend. Go on, don't be embarrassed.

My hand is not raised, and I am sorry for it. If only I'd known what that pageant had in store I'd have been glued to the screen.

Now, I am not a fan of beauty pageants. They emphasize all the wrong things, suggesting that women are the sum of their physical parts. Don't be fooled by the "talent" piece. Yeah, some of those women are talented. In serious ways (although the more serious the pursuit -- classical piano, for example -- the less likely, in my limited viewing experience, that girl is to win). Some of them are crackerjack roller skaters or baton twirlers, too.

And some of them are not, shall we say, the brightest stars in the firmament.

Which brings me back to that emphasis on the wrong things. Because I firmly believe that how you look in a swimsuit is no measure of your value in this world. (You might have deduced from this statement that I do not look good in a swimsuit. If so, you would be right, but I stand by my assertion.) To me, Elena Kagan is beyond beautiful and cool. So is Elizabeth Warren. And my favorite college English prof, with her heavy coil of black hair and her imperfect figure and glasses -- and that brilliance that lit up the room.

But I digress. What this post really is, is a CELEBRATION of the Miss America pageant. Because this year it was all about disability. Well, okay, A LITTLE about disability.

One contestant had autism.

Another had Tourette's.

A third is having her breasts removed to protect her from cancer, just after the pageant.


Hey, this pageant was about ME. Autism, Tourette's, and surgical breastlessness. I SHOULD HAVE BEEN UP THERE. Those other ladies could have stayed at home, because I've got all three issues covered! (Okay, it's true I only have autism by proxy. Maybe Benjy could have competed with me.)

Joking aside, I think it's pretty cool that our cultural standards of beauty have expanded just a wee bit to accommodate certain forms of disability. I doubt we'll see a woman with cerebral palsy up there anytime soon, although I am quite certain there are some real beauties among them. Nor will we see plus-size women or women whose beauty shines more from within than without -- the beauty of wit, intelligence, warmth, and kindness.

Readers, change is slow and painful. Many of our cultural values seem to me misplaced, but I feel the teensiest flutter of hope that we may be evolving toward greater enlightenment.

I'll get back to you in about ten years and let you know if I was right.

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