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Sunday, October 26, 2014

I Did Not Say it But I Did Think it.

I like to read various feminist websites. The range of views expressed is remarkable as are the topics of discussion. One website I often read is XO Jane. Two days ago XO Jane had the nerve to publish "Do We Care About Brittany Maynard's Right to Die Because She's Hot" by Beejoli Shah. Link: Here are a few juicy quotes:

Regardless of where you stand on assisted suicide, an issue as controversial as this deserves careful thought before being opined on, and one thing becomes glaringly obvious the more I read her story: We care about Brittany Maynard because Brittany Maynard is beautiful.

Look around at every news story recapping Maynard's journey. despite the copious amounts of video blogs and news interviews she's sat for recently--ones where you can see the toll terminal brain cancer has taken on her body, including slowness of movement and cancer related weight gain--many outlets choose to use old photos of Maynard, ones where she is laughing at her wedding or curled up with her husband on vacation, rather than ones that reflect how she looks now. In particular, People raised eyebrows among celeb weekly editorial newsrooms when they ran an air brushed and photoshopped picture of Maynard on their cover last week.

Shah reviews well know figures in assisted suicide and that came to public attention. Louise Schaefer, Peggy Battin, Barbara Mancini and more distantly in terms of time Jack Kevorkian. What makes Maynard different in Shah's opinion is "her narrative is better because she photographs better." 

Harsh words by Shah and I will merely point out that sometimes the truth hurts. I think Shah is spot on here. I have no interest in hurting Maynard. She has my sympathy as does her family. I wish them all the best at this difficult time. My point is that the sensationalism associated with her narrative is an indictment of American culture. Sensationalism has replaced a sober and serious discussion about how Americans will die.  Sensationalism generates ratings and sells news papers and magazines. What sensationalism does not do is help any human being, including Maynard, when they need to think about end of life choices.


Unknown said...

Bill, you are spot on yourself! In a society that puts so much emphasis and value on youth, beauty and good health, illness and oncoming death are airbrushed and swept under the rug. It does a disservice to all of us who ultimately confront issues of decay and death.

Michael Schwartz

Moose said...


I hear/read examples of this kind of thinking all the time. "Fat people are a drain on our health system. We should stop giving them any health care, since they obviously can't take care of themselves."

Apparently if you're a fat person, whether you eat healthy and exercise, you should die miserably and without health care. If you're a thin person, whether you live on junk food, smoke and/or abuse drugs or alcohol, and think walking to the fridge for another beer is exercise, that's ok, because THAT'S NORMAL! Give them all the health care they want - they're THIN and deserve everything!

Save the pretty people! (For Whatever Value Of Pretty the mass media decides this week.)

william Peace said...

Moose. Totally agree. Bias against fat people, especially women, is rampant. It is in fact deeply rooted in all parts of our culture. Not a chance Maynard story goes viral if she were fat or black or physically not an ideal body type.

Kate Pollack said...

How beauty affects medical treatment and public perception is certainly of interest to me. When I was 17, I had spinal surgery. The doctors told my parents afterwards that they had tried to make the scar the smallest scar possible because I was "so beautiful". I thought it was odd for them to have come to this conclusion about me when I was laying naked and unconscious on their operating table. I was not very concerned with the scar, I was concerned with being able to walk and the pain issues. A few years later, I was working at a local gown shop. I helped young women select prom dresses. A customer of mine was in need of plus-size dresses (not a term that I would use, but anyway, they are all just dresses...). She had undergone the same surgery I had and was talking to me about it, and she had the same surgeon. I saw her scar. It was huge and had some kind of weird bump on it. I was struck by the size of her scar and how it was a very dark red. I wondered to myself if the doctors did not feel the need to make her scar as small as mine because they did not think that she was pretty enough to deserve that attention due to her size. This led me to notice many things about beauty and medical/mental health issues as well. Women in Hollywood like Linda Darnell and Marilyn Monroe are considered "tragic beauties", as if their mental health issues were somehow more intriguing, as people do not believe that a woman considered beautiful could suffer from such issues. I believe the same things are at work in the Maynard case. It is hard for people to believe that someone like her could have this type of illness or situation, and more sympathy will be garnered if she is presented as a "tragic beauty". Her image is being used, however, to further the sensationalism, as you have written.

william Peace said...

Kate, Your comment made me think that in many ways Maynard is not different from the select few that die via assisted suicide in WA and OR. She has been in complete and utter control of her entire, though short, life. Instead of imaging what she can do with the short time she has left in her life, she has instead opted to not live. I would speculate fear is a major variable in her decision making. Fear of losing her beauty, fear of disability, fear of end of life.
Your mention of scars post surgery brought me back to 1976 when I had massive spinal cord surgery. I wanted a marly scar because my brother told me "chicks dig scars". Oh how stupid I was as a youth!