Yesterday Jezebel posted a link to this photo from Los Angeles Times magazine interview with actress Emily Blunt. In the photograph, Blunt is dressed in a beige minidress and tights, covered in beige makeup and poses against a beige, nondescript background. Her hair is pulled back and covered, as it she’s had a head injury. Her dress almost looks like a very glamorous ace bandage. Still, the most controversial thing about this photograph is, as Jezebel puts it, that the “crutches are accessories”.
I read the article from the LA Times and it appears the photograph was used as a metaphor for the vulnerability and brokenness of the characters Blunt has chosen to portray.
I have conflicting feelings about this. On the one hand, crutches are not only used by people with broken legs but also permanent disabilities. I don’t really have a problem with using disability as a metaphor. Our bodies break down and many people can relate to that. If it is done with sensitivity, I think disability as a metaphor has a potential to be very powerful.
However, notice I used the word “sensitivity”. The problem with this photo shoot is that Emily Blunt can take her makeup and costume off. She can toss the crutches and walk away. The photograph conveys vulnerability very well. As a piece of art, it succeeds. People who don’t live in photographs can’t throw their crutches away. They still have to live with limited mobility, pain, medical problems, etc.
Jezebel used the term “disability chic”, linking to other instances with Helmut Newton and Lady Gaga. I appreciate the right of artists to use disability in their work. Disability is a part of life. Still, sometimes it is not done right, disability as metaphor can come off as mocking people with disabilities. Emily’s photograph in the LA Times feels like this to me.
I wouldn’t use the word “chic” to describe disability. People with disabilities can be chic, of course but disability itself? I don’t think so. Disability can be beautiful, triumphant, brutal, scary, boring, lonely, horrific, peaceful and much, much more. Commercializing disability, as Lady Gaga did in her video by blinging-out her wheelchair, further minimizes the experience of people with disabilities.
Disability isn’t an accessory you can buy at the store. It isn’t disposable, like Gaga’s latest Gucci handbag. When you live with disability, you are usually stuck with it. You can’t take it off end of the day or throw it away when you get sick of it.
At the end of the day, that’s what irritates the most about Emily Blunt’s photograph. I know that when she was done with the photo shoot, she took off her costume, put down the crutches and walked away without any difficulty.