Friday, October 06, 2006

Disabled people - Unworthy of life?

Thirty-five bodies were found earlier this week in a western German town. The Catholic cemetery in Menden, near Dortmund, was long rumored to be a mass gravesite of Nazi victims. Another hundred and sixty-five bodies are expected to be unearthed as excavation continues at the Catholic Church site. Most of the innocents were children, believed to have been victims of Hitler’s program of forced “euthanasia” that killed tens of thousands of people with mental and physical disabilities.

Around 70,000 people, deemed “unworthy of life” because of their disabilities, were murdered between autumn 1939 and summer 1941 and tens of thousands were murdered in the following years, usually by injections and drug overdoses in hospitals and sanatoriums supposed to protect them.
This grisly discovery begs the question; What took them so long to investigate? The burial site was the subject of more than sixty years of rumor from surviving eyewitnesses who remember bodies being transported daily. Some of the victims may have come from nearby Wimbern hospital built on the orders of Hitler's personal physician Karl Brandt, who was in charge of the euthanasia program. Was it because these victims were disabled adults and children, that no one cared enough about them to investigate these heinous rumors? They had little or no voice in life and now they have had no voice in death, after more than sixty years! Astonishing!

For me, this story is especially compelling, as I get ready to embark on my tour of the Netherlands This tour features the amazing talents of several special needs people who will sing and dance onstage with me in a star studded musical line up. These are Dutch young adults, with various levels of disabilities, yet they will take the stage with American blues musicians, singing in their second language of English, many performing original songs that they have composed themselves. How many disabled Americans could sing and compose songs in Dutch? How many so-called “normal” Americans could perform onstage in anything other than their native tongue? How many Americans can even remember the words to an entire song, all the way through, much less perform it, in front of hundreds of strangers?

I have been astounded at the capabilities of these so-called “disabled” people. They speak better English than many of my peers and the joy and spontaneity they experience through music clearly shows them to be more evolved than the average person. I know now that the words “special needs, disabled, handicapped and retarded” need a thorough re-evaluation.

As a Jew, I have long known of the horrific history of Nazi Germany and the ruthless cruelty that was imposed on six million innocent people. But too often, it is forgotten how many others were brutally murdered simply because they were old, gay or gypsies, or simply because they were born with a different looking body or another invisible obstacle. Now, with the United by Music tour days away, it makes this an especially poignant story. Knowing that these courageous and exceptional people may have been put to death during WWII simply because they saw the world through a different set of eye glasses, makes me feel even more honored to be part of the United by Music tour.

Next week, I will take the stage with gifted human beings who will share their talents with grateful audiences. I will take the stage in memory of the tens of thousands of people who were murdered just because they were different; The tens of thousands of victims who died without a voice. And the 200 special needs people who were discarded like so much rubbish in the mass grave behind the Catholic Church in Menden. May they all, finally, rest in peace.

Jean-Paul Gaultier – Friend to big girls? I don’t buy it!

Jean-Paul Gaultier recently used a plus sized model in his Paris runway show. Velvet D'Amour, an American - Paris based actress and model, took the runway in an apparent statement about the Spanish ban on anorexic looking fashion models.

D'Amour was quoted as saying "Diversity is what is important. Whether you are saying a model is too fat or too skinny, it's still wrong." D'Amour, regrettably, seems to be missing the point.

To put skinny discrimination and fat discrimination in the same category does a disservice to people all over the world who deal with this issue daily. YES, occasionally a thin person is accused of having an eating disorder but generally, thin people are the ideal and are depicted in all media as normal and happy, while fat people are laughed at, scorned and made to feel invisible. Skinny people in general, as I am sure Velvet knows firsthand, are not ridiculed and debased, discriminated against and openly joked about in the workplace and in the world.

Although Gaultier may have used her once, to emphasize his outsider status, she was merely a punctuation mark to make an insider joke. Gaultier, who is most famous for the corset bra he designed for Madonna, has only used a large-sized model once every decade; maybe. He does not have a plus-sized line of fashion, or any plans to initiate one. Although large sized women comprise more than 75% of the fashion buyers in the United States, I doubt you will see a sudden trend towards inclusion of large-sized women in the fashion industry.

I have recently learned that D'Amour has been invited before to model during Parisien designer week, once for Galliano and now JPG. Unfortunately, she will likely not be invited back. Although she is beautiful and courageous for taking the runway in front of so many thin worshippers, she was a pawn in a game of sizist fashion politics. Jean-Paul Gaultier is simply part of the problem. He doesn't really care about large sized women or our invisibility in the fashion world. If he truly did care, he wouldn't have used a fat girl to make a negligible point. He would launch his own large sized fashion line in an attempt to include us in the dialogue, and put his heart and money where his mouth is.

The fact that other designers have finally decided to take notice and limit some of the unhealthy, anorexic, bone thin fashion models on the runway is a step in the right direction towards changing cultural attitudes about body type. I wonder if she used her ample opportunity with Gaultier to encourage him to start a large sized line that included her and her plus size sisters? He certainly has the clout and power to make major changes in the fashion world, but instead seems content to make provocative statements while doing nothing to change the status quo.

Lets face it; most of the time, no one is complaining when someone is too thin and wears a bikini at the beach. But when a fat girl does it, the public scorn is almost palpable. I have had girls laugh right in front of me when I walked into the public restroom. "Oh my God! Did you see what she was wearing?" they pronounced loudly from the stall next to me. (Suddenly because I am fat, I must be deaf too!) These same girls are kissing my fat ass after my show is over and gushing over the music as they buy cds in an insincere attempt at redemption. I have had teenage boys yell at me from passing cars, as I ride my bike down Pacific Coast Highway. "Its not gonna work, Fatty!!" they proclaim as I ride red-faced to my destination, pretending not to hear them.

At the same time, I have had fans who struggle with anorexia and bulimia cry as they tell me that my song "The Toughest Girl Alive," or "Big Fat Mama's are back in style" has changed their life and their attitudes about themselves.

The fashion industry's insistence on cramming ultra-thin models down the hungry collective throat of the world is a dangerous practice. Teenage girls grow up feeling inadequate and loathing their own bodies. Eating disorders are at an all time high. Some young girls have even resorted to suicide because they felt so ugly and fat. The fashion industry should wake up and smell the sweet n'low in their coffee and be accountable for the sickening trend they have perpetuated. People will still buy haute couture and prêt a porter fashion if its modeled by average, curvy and dare I say, fat women. In fact, I believe the high brow fashion designers will sell even more product when they market their wares to the majority of us who have imperfect bodies, instead of the anorexic few.

Jean- Paul Gaultier- a friend to fat girls? I don't buy it. Not only because it is insincere but because it doesn't even come in my size.