‘About Damn Time’: Disabilities Get Represented at Emmys and Beyond
Selma Blair's appearance offers positive, and authentic, presence and pride
If there’s anything last week’s Emmy Awards reaffirmed for me, it’s that I love Lizzo. More than her music, I adore her as a person and admire what she represents. When her show, “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” won Outstanding Competition Program, the “About Damn Time” singer gave an acceptance speech that encapsulated her strength and character:
“When I was a little girl, all I wanted was to see was me in the media — someone fat like me, Black like me, beautiful like me. If I could go back and tell little Lizzo something, I’d be like, ‘You’re going to see that person, but b****, it’s going to have to be you.’”
Representation really seemed to be the theme of the night. We’re seeing more diversity on the screen and more firsts among the nominees. Usually, that diversity relates to race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, but Lizzo brought the focus to body positivity. That really hits home with me as my body has changed so much due to sarcoidosis, arthritis, and the medications I take for them.
Another moment in the show that touched me even more was when disabled actress Selma Blair took the stage to present the final award, showing something too often left out of the diversity conversation. Blair, who’s been open about her 2018 multiple sclerosis diagnosis, relied on a cane to walk to the stage. The crowd gave her a standing ovation just for being there. Just for being, really.
I rushed to Twitter to see the response, and I wasn’t disappointed.
“Selma Blair unapologetically using her mobility aid we love to see it!!!”
“Yes to Selma Blair wearing her cane while her hands needed to be occupied in the way all disabled people know how, so smooth”
“YES!!! ACCESSIBILITY DEVICES ON THE EMMYS STAGE!!! Love this!
Selma Blair looking GORGEOUS and GLAM AS HELL with her cane!”
The disability community celebrated this rare representation on a deeper level. It wasn’t just that Blair exists. It was, to paraphrase Lizzo, to see us in the media. Someone sick like us. Disabled like us. Beautiful like us.
Too often, disabled people are left out of stage and screen productions. In the rare instance that we’re included, the disabled character is usually a villain or an object of pity. Occasionally, they show someone “conquering illness” by performing an extreme feat that most able-bodied people wouldn’t attempt. That last is often used against us, implying that we’re just not trying hard enough to get better. Comedian and Paralympian Josh Sundquist, perhaps the most fitting person to do so, recently railed against it on Instagram.
The Blair respect continued a few days later with her first episode as a contestant on this season’s “Dancing With the Stars.” Her performance and the video shown before it were beautiful for their realness. She didn’t “overcome MS.” We saw she was nervous when she put down her cane. We saw her struggle with speech and movement. And we saw her smile, beaming with pride.
Years ago, I didn’t understand the idea of “pride” events. It didn’t make sense to me to be “proud” of aspects of ourselves that we don’t have any say in. I’m not “proud” to be white; I just am. I’m not “proud” to be heterosexual; I just am. I’m not “proud” to be sick and disabled; I just am.
What I’ve realized, though, is that it’s really about the opposite. For centuries, marginalized people have been made to feel shame for qualities they had no control over. They were forced to hide parts of who they were (and too many still are). Pride is refusing to be shamed, refusing to be “less than.” It’s being on a stage with any accessibility aids necessary, with any communication impairments, and powerfully saying “I am.” Representation makes pride possible.
Watching Blair perform reminds me of the basic description I often give of myself: I’m a happy hippie trying to do some good in the world, living with a bunch of chronic illnesses that only think they can stop me. Of course, I still have limits; I can’t simply do anything I put my mind to. That’s not “letting sarcoidosis win”; it’s the reality of my diseased and disabled body. I can’t climb a rock wall anymore, I can’t do the yoga pose downward-facing dog, and I can’t work a full-time job. Sarcoidosis won’t let me do any of that.
But illness and disability can’t stop the important things. I can still do some good in the world, albeit in different ways. I can still beam with disability pride and encourage others to do the same. We can even feature sarcoidosis in the media. And as Lizzo so eloquently puts it, “It’s about damn time.”
Note: Sarcoidosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sarcoidosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sarcoidosis.