Sex is everywhere. It’s on our televisions, Internet, cell phones and billboards. It’s discussed openly in coffeeshops, nail salons and mechanic shops. It can be a fleeting moment or a weekend excursion. For some the sex drive starts in elementary school. For others, a little later.
What shapes our understanding of what is attractive has been a heated discussion for as long as debates have existed. Billboards, video games and magazine ads all get our attention by using scantly clad, perfect-looking women – and buff men – to sell their products. And it works. But through photo editing and wafer thin models in inhuman poses, the distorted image of perfection are a constant subliminal message that perfect is better, even if it isn’t naturally achievable.
For bodies which do not fit into that Barbie category, feeling attractive in a world mesmerized with perfection can make one feel like a marble floating in a gum machine. For those with disabilities, these perfect-looking advertisements can feel like a slap in the face.
I recently had a conversation with a family member regarding how advertising for products geared toward those with disabilities are starkly different than those for everyday products. As I was about to mention the sheer lack of sexuality in any of these ads I was showing her, she meekly said “Well, they don’t have gender.”
This shocked me. What it is that would cause a person to be considered genderless? There is no comparison to what it must be like for someone who is severely disabled to be considered no more a man or a woman than a coffee pot or a pencil. It angered me. But it also opened my eyes.
Gender labels suggest a person’s individual characteristics, whereas the next step in being accepted as a free-thinking human being is to be accepted as a sexual being. Knowing how people have reacted when I discuss sex openly in public, I can understand why few people with disabilities might step out of our discombobulated tight-knit circle of gimp culture and discuss this with the able-bodied general public, but therein lies the rub. People won’t know unless we speak up!
From birth to teenagehood people have mistaken my son as my brother or as a child I’m babysitting for the day. One woman whispered in an elevator “I didn’t know they could do that.”
Images we see geared toward non-disability-related products are riddled with both covert and unconcealed sexuality. Advertisers don’t use sex to sell their accessible vehicles or specialized equipment. There are no woman in lingerie promoting cathing devices.
Conceptual perfection can be seen here as well, though the distortion is played quite differently. Its basic premise is to show that those with disabilities are gaining increasingly equal footage in the workforce and playing fields – just not in the bedrooms. Messages to the general public translate the concept that gimpiness is not sexiness. It is shuffled off into a medical model rather than a celebration of our uniqueness.
Perhaps our greatest flaw in America is that we do not celebrate our imperfections, but hide them. We are inundated by the message that we must be young, slim, have shiny perfect hair and bleached teeth. We are a nation of overweight, depressed and shell-shocked humans unable to achieve the urge of perfection being flaunted at us at every turn.
But it is our imperfections which set us free. Pride in who we are, regardless of a limp or scar, wheelchair or cane, is the biggest gift we can give ourselves. There are no perfect people – just those who think they are. There are no rules to accepting the flesh we reside in, except to really enjoy it. From the awkward curve of my spine, to ankles no bigger than my wrists, there is not a single part of me that I do not appreciate for its unique qualities. And, without sounding too much like a devotee (a person whose sexual fetish toward those with disabilities – for the attraction to perceived helplessness, etc) imperfections are sexy.