"We've Told Ourselves Stories About Disability" Imagination and Reality with Amanda Leduc
Though Muse and the Marketplace 2020 was sadly cancelled, we still want to share blog posts that presenters wrote about our theme “Imagination and Reality.” In this blog series we asked presenters to explore the boundaries between fact and imagination, and how each contributes to great writing. Here, authors have selected a passage from their own work, highlighting in green which elements came roughly from their direct experience, memory, or fact; while highlighting in blue which elements came from their imagination or speculation. In this post, Amanda Leduc shares an excerpt from her latest nonfiction book Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space.
Let us consider, for a moment, the physics of the high heel. In normal walking stance, the body is perpendicular to the floor, at more or less a ninety-degree angle. When the heels are raised, the centre of gravity shifts. The back arches, bringing the centre of gravity higher. The chest and buttocks are thrust out to counterbalance this gravitational shift. The calves tighten. To maintain the stability of the heel-toe downward slant, certain muscles in the lower legs remain flexed at all times. This, coupled with the illusion of added height, adds to that power, and that reality.
Everything must work harder, be harder, be stronger, to maintain stability.
This is the magic of high heels—the body is working harder to do what would otherwise come naturally. What you see when someone walks in high heels is the effort, even when it looks effortless. The poise and the grace and the quick, purposeful stepping—all of this is done in order that one might balance, in order that one might not collapse.
How much time does the disabled person spend trying to conform to society’s expectation of what it means to be a body in the world, when it would be so much easier to move through life without conforming? How much time do we spend forcing our feet into shoes that we shouldn’t have to fit into in the first place? So much effort for a world that decrees everyone should wear high heels/walk upright/conform to neurotypical social standards. And on and on and on.
So much effort, and all of it unnecessary.
[End of excerpt.]
I chose this example because I think it fits well within the message of Disfigured—namely, that we’ve told ourselves stories about disability for a very long time, and in so doing have in many ways hampered our society from flourishing.
The physics of the high heel are undisputed—this is what happens when you put your foot into a high-heeled shoe. It’s science, plain and simple. But we’ve built a very clear cult of expectation (and perfection!) around the high heel itself, which is a kind of speculation that I wanted to explore. We so often assume that high heels are a simple fashion choice—but they’re a fashion choice that plays into very particular ideas of beauty and how people should look and behave if they want to be seen a certain way in society. What happens when we begin to question those norms? What happens when we ask, as I’ve tried to do in Disfigured, how these kinds of social pressures and unrealistic body expectations impede disabled lives—and abled lives!—from flourishing?
Amanda Leduc is a disabled author with cerebral palsy whose essays and stories have appeared in publications across Canada and the US. She holds a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews, UK. Her first novel, The Miracles of Ordinary Men, was published in North America in 2013 by ECW Press. Her new novel, The Centaur’s Wife, is forthcoming from Random House Canada. She lives and works in Hamilton, Ontario, where she serves as the Communications and Development Coordinator for The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories. Her first full-length work of nonfiction, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, is forthcoming with Coach House Books in February 2020. For more, head to www.amandaleduc.com.
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