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Too many rituals for the too-littles

Maria Foka, 24 January 2021

  Disability is not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives (Word Health Organization). The social body, initially detached from the biological body, renegades the human manifestation in everyday practices, in a way that the two instate a false identicality. False because the biological body responds inwardly to itself, but the social body – and consequentially the perception of normalcy that surrounds abled bodies – shift according to societal circumstances. The normal body is directly correlated with the notion of normal in general, thereby enacted through its physiology and anatomy. However, this deterministic idea leads to an association of normalcy and existence as a normal social being and replaces the vital norms with social ones. The act of determining a socially accepted and fathomable state of normalcy is fueled by the need to establish the regularity of socio-political authorities, order, and control through bodily categorizations. But to embrace abnormal pathologies while recognizing the various deviations within all bodies and incorporating them in the everyday life is to accept that there is a personal and distinct normalcy for everyone.

  The fashion system, as a regulator of collective taste, is mainly publicized through models – thus rendering the main marketing tool anthropocentric. Models – as every human – have bodies and are bodies, so the expression of their physicality can be interpreted twofold.  Fashion models represent a sellable fantasy of which they are a part; their impact on the success of the product – that is sadly measured in sales –  as well as the way that the combination of two plagues: the arbitrary ideation of collective taste and celebrity culture –  is performed, are fundamental. The issue of replicating the zeitgeist is a crucial component of both of those things – it defines the quest for newness; but in that sense, the models should represent if not the whole – the widest part possible of the body topologies spectrum. No matter how standardized, no matter how intensively and cautiously the ‘’collective taste’’ is shaped, beauty is still a subjective matter. However, our taste for beauty has been attenuated by countless stereotypical images, produced by an ableist society that grapples in front of diversity, when striving for innovation. But a constant new reality is an impossible task, whose doom can be cleverly disguised as modernity. In the capitalist production of commodities, the new and the novel stimulate demand by reintroducing meaning. But Nietzsche warns, “While forms are fluid, their ‘meaning’ is even more so’’, leaving the meaningless to their unaccountability. Nevertheless, when forms suggest disability and diversity, It does not equal inclusivity, but rather a good marketing strategy. In the pursuit of newness, in a world of stereotypes, Benjamin says, the question becomes knowing how to tear the new from the always-the-same, dissipating along the way the semblance of eternal sameness, and even of repetition, in history. So naturally, the concept of inclusion that is demanded is having disability being used as tokenism for inclusion riders to prove that a brand is innovative, for the people and that it is raising awareness, when in fact, it is seeking likeability. This view might be cynical, but there are certain elements that prove its actuality.

Liang Xiu, 2, 2017

Liang Xiu, The Possibility of Overcoming Distress, 2017-2018

  Here are some thoughts:

  Inclusivity is reserved for models – not designers, photographers, stylists, directors, and camera-people, and definitely not for consumers. Are disabled models now a spectacle, an attention-grabber, a publicity stunt, or is the industry really vacating its tunnel vision? And if models within the celebrity culture are a romanticized edition of what could have been if we were born pretty, tall, rich, or offsprings of a rock star, is this an admission that fashion is not in fact, ready to wear, at least not by real people? Is being cast a matter of ‘because of’ or ‘despite’ – because it should be neither. The issue of acceptance is off-limits – disabled people do not need nor request it from society – but from themselves; ourselves. When and if they eventually come to terms with it, they surely won’t be appreciative of being defined by it, because it cancels out everything else. Again we are bodies, and we have bodies, and the two can intertwine without touching.

  Taking a look into diverse models, one can detect a pattern. There is no plus-size model that lacks the analogies 80-55-85, but scaled up. There is no model with adult acne not covered up, no model with an insulin pump on the runway, there is no model with braces that is told to smile, or a model lacking a limb on the cover of Vogue. And when autism affects approximately 1 in 50 people, the lack of representation is an anomaly. Aimee Mullins, model, track and field Olympic athlete, actor, and bilateral amputee, was invited to open the spring show of Alexander McQueen in 1999, in a pair of beautifully carved prosthetic legs. The ignorance of the fashion world came forward, as editors later requested the ‘’boots’’ to use in editorial shoots, not being able to grasp that people with legs like Mullins, who are the only kind of people to be able to wear them, opened such a show. Needless to say, such an editorial never happened. A skewed version of disability as a spectacle was the reality TV show ‘Britain’s Missing Top Model’ for disabled women, which somehow and unbeknownst to why, focused on what the models can’t do, instead of what they can do. Still, great models emerged from this project. Notably, Sophie Morgan designed the Mannequal, a patented “wheelchair design” that mannequins sit on dressed in the windows of the stores, installed among others in Adidas and Debenhams. Still, people with disabilities are considered either a spectacle or an exception in the fashion industry. And when so many are talking about representation, they fail to comprehend that the concept of it, as important as that may be, is minor to the fact that fashion connotes the latest difference, as per Pierre Bourdieu, created to be consumed.

  Now, we consumers are a whole different story; our disabilities exist in our everyday life without being glamorized, and we exist without being glorified and exemplified – and rightfully so; everyone has and lacks certain abilities, and some of them are visible. In the mystical world of other-worldly creations and remarkable custom made executions, suddenly the task of designing for a wide range of disabilities seems a herculean task, and adaptive fashion is a designer’s nightmare; even when executed, haute couture -and even ready to wear! – and disability are mutually exclusive. For people that in the eyes of society lack something, there is so much to make up for. As a person with a non-visible physical disability, I am often torn between seeing the fashion world through two perspectives: one from the vantage point of a person without a disability and one of a person who has one. To dress is a performative act, a very personal one, and I’ve come to this realization having to question the purpose and alternate the form of each garment I use every morning because I know that it was designed for many, but not for me. The minorities are always considered little people, little as in not to be considered, negligible. The goal for inclusion is not representation; it is merely design to be worn, not observed. Then again, necessity is the mother of invention, and I think we are in dire need of some true newness. Only it’s a pity that there are too many rituals for the too-littles.