Or so The New York Post would have you think.
21 year-old Mariah Serrano was born with a club foot. By the time she was a teenager, she faced increasing chronic pain and her doctors strongly advocated amputating and replacing her leg with a prosthetic one. Now an assistant designer for American Rag and author of the blog Confessions of a One-Legged Fashionista, she recently shared her story with the Post:
Serrano struggled to look like the other girls in her high school who often called her “gimpy.”
“I felt silly in pictures, I was the only one in these shitty little ballet flats,” she recalled.
“I had to wear all sorts of braces. It was uncomfortable and frustrating because they weren’t solving the problem and I often felt embarrassed.”
The glamour girl wore patterned knee highs and flashy tights to mask her deformity. She even dyed her hair pink to distract people from staring at her leg. She eventually stopped going to classes and was home-schooled.
“Kids are mean,” she said. “It made things very hard.”
“A lot of times I felt left out because I loved to dance and go out.”
But even more mortifying for the teenage girl, was being forced to wear sneakers to prom. “I was really devastated in the mall,” she recalled, after shopping for four hours to find a chic shoe.
The article never mentions any medical purpose for the amputation. Serrano is only quoted as hating the limited number of footwear options that had been available to her prior to the operation. The story ran four days ago and was quickly picked up the British tabloids. And Serrano is not pleased. She explains on her blog:
I did not choose to cut my leg off so I can wear high heels, I had my leg amputated because I was very sick and the quality of my health and life were suffering. Doctors do not welcome the idea that you are unhappy with your footwear choices, so you should remove body parts.
This event was a real decision that I took very seriously. It was a decision my family and I made together, so that I would be able to live my dreams, and not mind you, dreams of footwear, but dreams of waking up and going about my life not in chronic pain.
I think it’s safe to say that The New York Post is not a feminist crusader on the issues of body image and beauty standards. So why then would they decide to warp Serrano’s words to feed the image of the fashionista lifestyle as a vile instigator of self-mutilation? The story of a young girl simply but bravely electing to trade chronic pain for a prosthesis is severely lacking in vitriol. This means there is no surefire guarantee that it will unleash a deluge of jaw-dropping, eye-rolling, and catty comments from readers about the girl in question. That guarantee is essential to the business the Post is in.
Serrano is hardly the first individual to be misrepresented by the tabloids. But who’s keeping the tabloids going by hungering after such headlines? It’s this hunger that drives journalists across the spectrum to emphasize the most soap opera-like elements of a person’s life story. I’ve seen the most loving, supportive families with disabled children portrayed as walking tragedies based on a few of their more emotional quotes taken out of context. This approach knows that readers and viewers will consequently feel sorry for the pathetically confused freaks, and good about themselves. Not unlike the mean classmates Serrano cites from her high school days.
So if anyone is interested in ending the tabloids’ tradition of tearing people’s personal lives to shreds, we can curb their sales by curbing our desire to use bits of information about people we don’t know as an easy way to prop ourselves up. Of course this is asking a lot, and so, once again, we must decide which is harder – altering the way we think or altering our bodies?