A stumped arm. And leg.Three toes. A malformed spine.
These are some of the visuals in a profoundly moving video that came across my desk.
“Because Who is Perfect? Get Closer” was produced by Pro Infirmis, a Swiss advocacy group for the disabled.
There is something so human and raw about it.
The goal was to create a window display for Zurich’s high-end exclusive shopping Bahnhofstrasse — a display of disabled mannequins, cloaked in high fashion, supplanting the usual, unattainable, “perfect” mannequins.
This four-minute clip, which is hard to watch and hold back tears, begins with the door of a large warehouse being opened, a light cracking in, a man leaning on crutches, his body slightly swiveling, contorted, walking inside.
He, along with a few other disabled people, among them an actor, a radio film critic and an athlete, have come to be measured so as to have mannequins sculpted in their image.
There is something quite raw about the technical craftsmanship of creating the mannequins. From a “perfect” or “normal” mannequin, the buzz of the drill cuts off part of an arm or leg, the dust settling to the ground, now mirroring the real life shortened limbs of the disabled person suffering from scoliosis or brittle bone disease, with a stump for an arm or leg.
Our image is our most vulnerable part of ourselves. It is out there for the world to see. Strangers on a street have a reaction, even if unexpressed, to seeing someone bent, looking different.
The dialogue between the mannequin builder and the disabled include phrases such as “35 centimeters are missing,” said matter of factly, as a yellow tape measure stretches across his back.
These people have by now come to terms with their “new” bodies.
Upon these people’s return to the warehouse to see the final sculptures crafted of themselves, there is a momentary anxious pause before the sheet covering the sculptures is removed for them finally to see “themselves.”
Then, just for a moment, when they lay eyes on “themselves” for the first time, there is palpable shock and joy. Their reactions are quite touching — as if, but only for a moment — they were free of the image they have been carrying of themselves. As if they were seeing themselves, as they can be beautifully perceived and seen, for the first time.
Indeed, they are each rendered beautiful.
And look true to who they are.
Not only do we the viewers see these people in their full disability a little bit differently for the first time, so do they.
In our world, where the disabled are often made invisible in our sanitized, image-obsessed world — mannequin-like, displaying illusory, idealized images of what people look like — disabled people will certainly never see a reflection of themselves.
But even in private, we learn, sometimes it can be hard for these people to look at themselves. One woman, as she is smiling, beaming, joyously cradling “her” mannequin, says: “It is special to see yourself this way, when I usually can’t look at myself in the mirror.”
Once the mannequins are in the elegant show window, the woman with the contorted curved spine now somehow has the silhouette of a dancer, or looks as if she is moving mid-yoga pose. In fact, one of the viewers passing by, a little girl, sees this mannequin, and tries moving her back to imitate the graceful looking curved one staring at her from the window.
From the beginning of this exquisitely sensitive clip, we painfully see limbs of plastic casually sawed off, making us think of the real human wounds these people carry in the flesh, and of the cost to their physical, emotional and psychological lives. At the ending of the clip, the girl who earlier honestly, painfully said it was hard to look herself in the mirror is found standing in front of “herself,” in sculpture form, before the glass window of the fashion boutique.
Now this glass has become her new mirror, reflecting a Three D image. The girl in real life — on the outside — looks in through the glass to a “new” version or expression of herself.
The name of the project, “Because Who is Perfect? Get Closer” highlights all of our imperfections and our acceptance of them. It also highlights our tendency to look away or feel distant from others who might look different, “broken,” or who may not fit our thinking of what beauty is.
You will be affected by this video. Take the few minutes. Watch it.
It is a wonderful educational tool for generating this important discussion with children and teens as well.
Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News