I suppose you are wondering why I'm writing a blog post with the same title as the blog itself? If you've been following my blog you know that my view from the other side is as an amputee. I've been an amputee for five years now, having lost my left leg after a skiing accident when I was 13. In the description of my blog I indicate that I will post occasionally about life as an amputee, but as of yet, in the last year, have not done so other than in reference to my amputee character Sugar DuBois. Today I want to address something that's been bothering me for a long time, the sensationalism of amputees in American culture today.
In my opinion you would have to be living in a bubble nowadays not to notice the large numbers of amputees you see in our culture. There have been two amputees on Dancing with the Stars the last few years and another this year, each time they up the ante. We've seen Microsoft and Toyota produce commercials using amputees and we've seen new technology and innovative products bust onto the market over the last ten years.
It isn't a mystery that the war in Afghanistan and Iraq are the reasons for the rise of recent highly visible amputees and the resulting rise in new products. Let's be clear, the rise in new products is a wonderful result of very horrible events in our world the last ten years. I can't help but wonder though. Why is it so much more 'socially acceptable' now to be an amputee? Is it because we as a culture are more accepting of the amputee or is it because we as the American people feel less passionately opposed to the Iraq war versus the Vietnam or other wars? Are we more acceptable of people who are different than us in general? I suppose the answer to those questions would be all of the above, but the largest part of the answer comes from social media.
None of you reading this right now are wearing a surprised face, I know this. Let's face it, everything that happens in today's culture is driven by social media. From the clothes we wear to the music we hear to the food we eat. I don't have a problem with social media for the most part. I use it and enjoy it and find it to be a great way to connect with other people. Recently though I've seen the sensationalism of amputees becoming more than I can swallow, and I am one. This may be a blog post that puts people defensive and up in arms, but remember I am an amputee. At the end of the day I take my leg off and set it beside my bed, so I am going to have a much different view of what's going on in our country than someone who isn't an amputee.
Yup, that's me a few years ago. Just in case you are new to the blog :)
So what sparked me to write this post? It was actually a book cover I saw last night on my timeline on Facebook. It was another muscle ridden, tattoo covered, "man candy" amputee. His running blade was front and center and you couldn't miss the fact that this author wanted everyone to know this book was about an AMPUTEE. If a book could scream, this one did. I don't have a speck of a problem with someone writing a book about an amputee, after all I did it. I wrote a four part series as a matter of fact, and I don't make that a secret, until about page 120 in the first book Sugar's Dance. I don't have a picture of a scantly clad woman with her prosthetic leg striking a pose on the front of any of the covers. I suppose I might sell more books if I did, but here's the thing, the point of the story isn't that Sugar is an amputee, the point of the story is what it's like to live day to day as one. It's about how you live when you can't wear your leg because you've hurt your residual limb or how you wonder if anyone will love you because you aren't whole anymore. It's when I think about the day to day way we live life as amputees that I take issue with the kind of ads and TV shows I've been seeing the last five years. I'm going to use Dancing with the "Stars" as an example. We started in 2007 with Heather Mills, a left below knee amputee who danced her way into the living rooms of the American people with grace. She was voted off the show eventually but not without showing the world that amputees can do anything they put their minds to all while wearing a very basic prosthetic. Last year we had Amy Purdy, a skilled snowboarder and model who is a double below knee amputee. Again, you would have to live in a bubble not to know who Amy Purdy is so I won't go into further detail. This year we have Noah Gallowy on Dancing with the "Stars" (The quotation marks indicate I'm finding it harder and harder to swallow the stars part and more like dancing with what will get us the most ratings even when it isn't fair to the other contestants). Noah Galloway is a left above knee amputee and left arm amputee. He's wonderful too and just like Amy Purdy he's a favorite on the show.
So what's my point, I'm aggravated by the way the media is choosing to portray amputees. The Noah Galloway's and Amy Purdy's of the world are 2% of the amputee population in this country. They have multiple legs to wear, one for each sport they participate in, and when on DWTS they have people behind the scenes making sure their equipment is top of the line and fixing any problems that might arise. Many are also sponsored by prosthetic companies who can provide them with the equipment they need to do these things, free of charge (lest I say that Amy and Noah are I'm saying 'many' as I don't know who sponsors who these days). So, that's 2% of the amputee population that has those kind of athletic abilities. Yes, 2%. That means the other 98% of amputees in this country are hard working everyday people who just want to get back to walking so they can do the same thing you do like grocery shopping, caring for their children and working.
Guys like this gentleman who didn't lose his limb in a war, but by disease or accident, but does that make them any less "inspirational" or "heroic" than their 2% counterparts who are making headlines and gracing book covers? Let's be clear. I have the utmost respect for the Noah Galloway's of the country who come back from war having given limbs to secure my freedom. I have the same amount of respect for the veterans of every war ever fought in this country who gave that much and more, even if we don't see those amputees gracing the cover of Men's World.
But I have lost respect for the powers that be who think they can continually sensationalize and profit off that 2% of amputees while making the other 98% of the amputees in this country feel inadequate for wanting nothing more than to walk again and get back to a normal life. It is unfair to continually show amputees who can't afford to get one prosthetic an amputee with seven or eight legs given to them because they are "star" material. It isn't fair to continually tell amputees that can't work out in a gym until their six pack is so rock hard they can bounce a coin off it that they are inadequate if they don't reach that kind of physical fitness as an amputee.
I am not easily offended as an amputee. I tend to take the opinion of 'live and let live', but lately I find it harder and harder to swallow what I'm seeing multiple times a day. I see these book covers and shows and I feel like the media is exploiting a group of people under the ruse of sharing an 'inspirational' message. I suppose this has happened over and over throughout the years, but I wonder how much longer we will continue to allow it to happen without speaking up and saying enough is enough.
I understand that not everyone will feel the way I do about this and that's okay because I know that at the end of the day not everyone takes their leg off and sets it by the side of the bed. Not everyone only has one arm to protect their child with or hold their loved ones. Not everyone wakes up in the middle of the night and crawls or uses a wheelchair to get to the bathroom. Not everyone will feel a deep seated inadequacy about their limb loss and lack of prosthetic every time they turn on the TV and see one of their peers dancing with the stars. I just hope that all of the sensationalism gets the powers that be talking about the inequality that is felt by the amputees who are struggling to get one leg, much less two or three. The amputees who don't have adequate health care or housing and the amputees who suffer mental health conditions like PTSD even though they didn't lose their limb in a war. It is time that we use the sensationalism that the media is so good at giving us as a box to stand on and talk about these things so that we can give people a hand up and not hold them down by the labels society has placed on them.
If you want to know more about prosthetic inequality and attainability you can read the article I wrote for inMotion Magazine in October 2013. I'll be the first one to stand up, on my prosthetic, and say enough is enough, America. Let's help each other up, not hold the less fortunate down, that's what this country was built on!