Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disabled Body (2020), by Rebekah Taussig, was a recent book group selection, and I’m so glad!
Taussig writes brilliantly and with humor about growing up disabled and being a disabled adult. She became paralyzed at age 3, and writes here about her relationships, both with friends and family, dating, and how her disability has affected all of those relationships, and her journey to become a self-supporting adult. Through her stories, she thoroughly discusses ableism–or the belief that people with typical abilities are superior, resulting in discrimination against people with disabilities. She talks about microagressions she’s experienced, and how inaccessible most of the world is to people in wheelchairs.
And she didn’t leave anyone out — she wrote about all forms of marginalization, and even included size discrimination! It was so refreshing to read about anti-fat bias in a book that wasn’t specifically for or about fat people.
Anti-fat bias and ableism do have many things in common (lack of accessibility, lack of representation in media, medicalization, perceived lack of desirability) but they are different, and can work together in especially insidious ways. (See any meme re: a fat person using a scooter in a big box store.)
It’s so much easier to see the one disabled person and say She needs a cure so she can fit into our world! It’s much less common, much harder to recognize, We need to change our world to fit more people. . .. When I trace the most painful threads in my story, when I gather the most defining memories of my life, these legs of mine are not The Most Debilitating Problem. . . . It’s stigma, isolation, erasure, misunderstanding, skepticism, and ubiquitous inaccessibility. . . That . . is the social model understanding of what it’s like to live in an ableist world when you’re disabled. . . .Despite all that, my paralyzed legs are the only thing outsiders seem to see.Sitting Pretty, p. 56
Similarly, anti-fat bias (stigma, isolation, erasure, et al) is the most painful part of being a fat person, but a fat body is all the rest of the world sees.
When talking about representation and how important it is, she discusses the film Late Night, with Mindy Kaling, which is usually identified as a model of inclusivity because Kaling, as a lead, is a woman of color. However, Taussig criticizes its portrayal of a disabled character and pushes for better stories about people with disabilities. Just because a work is inclusive in one way does not mean it’s inclusive of everyone who should be included.
I highly, highly recommend reading Sitting Pretty. There’s also a surprise on Taussig’s Instagram sitting_pretty, where she writes mini-essays to go along with her photos. She’s experiencing something new–parenting while disabled. I plan to follow along with her journey.