Recently, a great guy named Chad, a new Don’t Hide It Flaunt It follower, asked me what would seem to be a simple question, “Could I ask, what drove you to start this campaign? It must have taken a lot of courage and support from your family.” I gave him what felt like the right response. It was something along the lines of: I suppose when I gave birth to my difference twice, with two sons also born with ectrodactyly, — I felt I had something to share. But the question continued to penetrate, and certainly had me reflecting. Why did I do this anyway? People often have commented about how wonderful the impact of all my efforts must be on my kids, Ethan, Charlie and Savanna. Was that my purpose? Actually it wasn’t, although I do appreciate its positive impact on my children. For example, I am frequently amazed that Ethan, now nearly eleven, simply is not consumed with the same anxieties that other kids appear to have, even those born seemingly “perfect.” I would credit his maturity and the fact that in our home, we all make a real effort to embrace our family’s uniqueness, rather than avoid it.
And although I thought that sharing my life story could perhaps serve as a confidence-building and self-acceptance guide for people born with blatant physical or invisible differences, that actually wasn’t my sole purpose either. In fact, for most of my life, I knew virtually no one else with a limb difference and didn’t imagine there were very many out there. I even recall joking with my husband a few years ago, “If I were writing for all the two fingered people out there, let’s just say I might as well skip writing a book and invite them all over for coffee.”
That same night, I came across an article and related interview with two of the actresses on the show, “Push Girls.” Now in its second season on the Sundance Channel, Push Girls chronicles the lives of four paraplegic women. Having never seen the show (but now I plan to), I was intrigued. Apparently, the show has garnered a lot of support. For example, Peter Wilderotter, president and CEO of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation called it “Not only good TV, but important TV.” Critics of the show have a different view, accusing Push Girls producer, Gay Rosenthal, of exploiting those with a disability for entertainment value. Anyone who follows my blog knows how much disdain I hold for the series, “Freakshow,” on AMC. That title alone sends the wrong message. But Gay Rosenthal is the same producer of TLC’s “Little People, Big World,” a well-conceived and tasteful reality show about the Roloff family, whose family has members diagnosed with dwarfism. Auti Angel, another star on Push Girls (who became a paraplegic because of a car accident) said it best, “For people who say it’s (the show) exploiting, it is just their fear of the perception. They don’t understand it just yet because they never really experienced a person with a disability so they aren’t sure how to embrace it.”
So I decided to watch an interview with two Push Girls actresses: Tiphany Adams, the only survivor in a high school accident, and Mia Schaikewitz, a former competitive swimmer who was paralyzed due to a blood vessel rupture in her spinal cord. I was stunned at what I saw—and it had nothing to do with the two of them. Both Tiphany and Mia were eloquent, confident, beautiful women who clearly decided to do the show to demonstrate that their lives were relatable to everyone. Theirs were stories of divorce, weight loss, and the basic issues of friendship. They just happen to live life from a chair. But what caught my attention immediately was how very uncomfortable and seemingly inept the interviewer was. While she attempted to ask pertinent and meaningful questions, the results more closely resembled a shoe fitting in a mouth. At one point the journalist’s questioning was so awkward Tiphany looked at her with total confusion and asked her to repeat her question. The interview was in a word, “uncomfortable.” And not because Tiphany and Mia felt awkward in the least. Rather they were poised and warm. Take at peek at the (painful) video so you can watch it for yourself: http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2013/06/03/push-girls-reality-stars-seek-to-dispel-sloppy-wheelchair-stereotype/
And so, as I watched the Tipany and Mia being interviewed, it hit me. Now THAT is the reason why I decided to make such an effort, using the concept Don’t Hide it Flaunt It as my platform. As much as I am delighted and hopeful that my writings provide others a boost to learn to flaunt their obvious or invisible differences, I think my calling is to also help “the outside world” (as I often call it) to become comfortable with people who are different. As far as I can tell, there are still many who are not. When I think about it, any time I have ever experienced anxiety about meeting someone for the first time, it came less from how I felt about myself, and more about how their reaction to my having ectrodactyly might unfold. Will they be warm and somehow quickly appreciate its insignificance? Will they be uncomfortable? Will they jump back at the mere sight of me or the minute I extend my hand for a shake? Will they put their foot in their mouth? In my life experience, the answer has always been all of the above.
My hope, however, is that if I can make the impact that I desire, “difference” will become a relatable subject. Instead of all of us having the goal of being the same and stamping out differences, our goal should be to embrace and celebrate that which makes us different.