Something missing

I've been tuning in lately for a dose of reality telly. Not your usual fare though. A show on ABC2 called Britain's Missing Top Model. An interesting premise. Can a woman with a disability be a model? What I found when I watched, was that every week it raised so many more questions. I found it very challenging and was left thinking about it for hours afterwards.

I have to put my trashy hand up to being a fan of this format show. Yep - Australia's Next Top Model is a fave of mine. And thanks to digital tv, I'm currently enjoying New Zealand's Next Top Model. It is a bizarre look inside the modeling and fashion industry. And usually it's 16 - 20 year old girls sobbing or being moles to each other. I'll admit these shows have given me an appreciation of the glossy ads I see in my mags. I also watch these shows thinking most of the girls are like another species. Naturally tall, lean and photogenic I feel like I'm watching a show celebrating those girls in high school who seemed to have it all. It also makes me think that youth, and perhaps beauty is wasted on the young.

It is a harsh show. But what we also see is that it is a harsh industry. Enter 8 girls with disabilities. Varied from deafness, missing limbs, acquired brain injury, a genetic hereditary disorder and paraplegia we follow these girls through the similar trials of the regular format show. However, what you find each week is you experience the difficulties each of them has in everyday life. We see the differing attitudes of the girls and also how they see themselves. There was great rumblings from one of the girls (Sophie) stating that in a photo, you can't tell that a deaf girl has a disability. Talk about throwing a hand grenade. But in this context I had to agree with her. The models' mentor asked her if she wanted a different show for all the different disabilities? And he had a point too.

I watched each week as the challenges would favour one disability over the other. How do you do catwalk when you're in a wheelchair? How can you do ads when you can't speak (and prefer sign language). How can you walk in heels when you have a brain injury that means your body wont do what you want it to do? Or how do you keep up with the others if part of your disorder has left you with chronic fatigue? The show's judges said they also wanted someone who could be a role model for the disability community. And when it all came down to choosing between two girls, they chose the person who had the best chance of becoming a model and developing the role model attitude.

This show made me realise how hard life is sometimes. And some people seem to have a harder time than most. It can be difficult enough to live amongst the thin, beautiful girls, but what if you want to compete with them and you were born with part of your arm missing? This show made me see disability in a new perspective. I know many people bagged the show, and I wonder whether it was the fashion industry or disability part they objected to. Perhaps they thought these elements had no place being together. However, it gave me an insight into living with a disability, the breadth of disabilities and the associated issues that come with living in a world designed for able bodies. It also made me realise that I would relish fashion mags that used a variety of models. I would hope that in an industry based on perfection and fantasy, there might be room for reality. Even just a little bit.

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