I see myself everywhere. In movies, on TV, in magazines, in every walk of life, every degree of success. No matter where I look, I see myself. That’s because I’m a white man. This is part of what is called male privilege. The ability to envision yourself as the absolute norm to which all others must be measured. Being visible is an important part of the pure raw assumption of being deserving – of power, wealth, status. Change what you see and you change what you are.
Not everyone is so fortunate. Some people only get to see parts of themselves or only get to see themselves in limited roles or places. Women, blacks, Asians, aboriginals all are excluded from this passage to ‘normalcy’. To a lesser or greater extent.
Perhaps those who never get to see themselves as normal, never get to see themselves as public personae are the disabled. We, grudgingly, may make accommodations in the form of wheelchair ramps or guide dogs being allowed in restaurants but tolerance is not the same as acceptance. It is definitely not the same as seeing people as people in every respect and aspect of their lives.
I spent a couple of hours at the Royal Ontario Museum yesterday. It was fun to see the dinosaurs and the art deco furniture but it was important to see the display on fashion. The exhibit showcased the work of a Canadian fashion designer who has spent the last number of years creating clothing specifically for people confined to wheel chairs. This clothing not only fits and is comfortable and easy to put on –all important – it is quite beautiful. It creates an image that is ‘tailored’ to the person, that acknowledges them for who they are.
The most amazing and moving part of the exhibit is a short video that documents the creation of store mannequins that represent people with disabilities – amputations, spinal curvature, dwarfism or other body differences. The models – each mannequin is designed for a particular person—were initially hesitant, embarrassed, fearful but when the final product was unveiled – literally – they were amazed and overjoyed. And when they saw themselves clothed and on display in the window of a high fashion store in London, when they saw others seeing them there, they were transported. And so was I.
And that’s ten minutes.