Can Disability Be Sexy?
A series of photographs spoofing the often racy advertisements from clothing retailer American Apparel is questioning traditional ideas of beauty in a most provocative way.
The photos are of Jes Sachse, a 25-year-old Canadian college student with a rare genetic condition known as Freeman-Sheldon syndrome. She has unique facial features, a curved spine and her right leg is a bit shorter than her left, but Sachse is not lacking in attitude.
The series dubbed “American Able” includes 13 recreations of actual American Apparel ads. In one called “Tight,” Sachse appears in a leotard to strut her stuff before an oversized window. In another ad called “Workout,” Sachse is shown wearing nothing more than a headband and green shorts.
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The work produced by Sachse’s friend, photographer Holly Norris, 21, is appearing in Toronto subway stations this month on more than 270 electronic screens as part of a photography festival.
“What I hope comes of this is that people can view disability differently and see that people with disabilities are sexual,” Sachse says. “So many people are trying to come to my aid and protect me from being exploited and they want to prevent disabled people from living their lives.”
The project began nearly two years ago as an assignment for a women and popular culture class that Norris was taking as an undergraduate at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. Norris thought it would be fun to spoof American Apparel advertising, because the company claims that models in its print ads are just normal, everyday girls, though they all seem to share similar body types.
“This idea of who is beautiful and what’s sexy that we see in the media all the time isn’t necessarily what beauty is to me or to you,” says Norris, who received permission from American Apparel to display the work publicly.
As a child, Sachse says she was taught to deny that she was different. But over the years she instead developed pride in her body. Most of the clothing used in the photos actually belongs to Sachse who says she likes to dress stylishly.
“I look confident in the photos and I look just how I feel about the work, about the idea, about my body,” she says.