I’d like to have a frank discussion with the media about Rachelle Friedman Chapman, the so-called “Paralyzed Bride”. In 2010, Chapman was paralyzed when she was thrown into a swimming pool at her bachelorette party. It was practically the definition of “freak” accident.
But, it wasn’t enough to just report on that freak accident, or to make note of Chapman’s well-being at a later date. She has continued making headlines over the past five years, generally for the wrong reasons.
She got married!
She got pregnant!
She had a baby!
She posed in her underwear!
Paralyzed or not, none of these occurrences are news-worthy. I understand why it made the news; in our society, the idea that a woman who uses a wheelchair could experience these normal life events is novel. And, yes, a lot of the novelty in this case stems from the unusual circumstances of Chapman’s injury. Despite her best efforts to further the cause of people with disabilities, wheelchair users, etc., Chapman could best serve the cause if she stayed out of the headlines.
By making these normal life events into MAJOR news, the media is perpetuating the stereotype that these events are ABnormal for someone who uses a wheelchair or has a disability. And, they just aren’t. Plenty of people across the spectrum of disability fall in love, get married, fall out of love, get divorced, or get laid every day. (I’m not one of them, but I think that has more to do with my overwhelming stench of desperation than the fact that I use a wheelchair.) These things aren’t news.
I have a friend who was paralyzed at 4 years old. Yet, no news cameras were following her on her wedding day. And no one made a big deal when she had her first child. Or her second. No one made a big deal, except for those who should – her family and friends.
Problem 1: If all that makes you sexy is the way you look, that’s a shallow pool to swim in, no pun intended.
Problem 2: The only thing that makes these photos any different from your typical boudoir images is the presence of Chapman’s cath bag. Take that away, and all you’ve got is another pretty woman in her underwear.
The images by Revolution Studios are beautiful, no doubt about it. But, they are all basically the same shot: Chapman, on her back or side, on a bed, curved up in a sensual pose, photographed from overhead. Perfect lighting, a body that conforms to typical standards of beauty, and Photoshop are all you need to be sexy, too.
Chapman didn’t pose in or near her wheelchair, and she presumably spends more time there than sprawled across a king size. (In fairness, there are other images of her in her chair, just none that I could find associated with this particular campaign.) So, again, the only way – based solely on these images – that viewers would know that she is “different” is by the presence of the cath bag.
Don’t take off your clothes and tell me you’re doing it to bring awareness to people with disabilities when a little more Photoshop magic would make the only evidence of your disability disappear.
Don’t make out like the majority of wheelchair users look like you, when you barely represent a fraction of the average population.
And don’t – DO NOT – tell women, with and without disabilities, to stop focusing on what they don’t like about themselves and focus on what they do like, and immediately take off all your clothes. I don’t particularly consider myself sexy, but if I listed my best attributes, my body wouldn’t even crack the top 10.
So, Rachelle Friedman Chapman has inspired a lot of people. I’m glad to hear that. But I am definitely not one of them.