As I’ve been reading the Disability Studies Reader edited by Lennard J. Davis (you can find this under the Bibliography tab, however I am using the second edition), I’ve learned how normalcy has been constructed by society. Here’s a brief history:
During the seventeenth century, the word “ideal” begins to gain popularity. The “ideal” standard of being was the Roman gods. An example would be Aphrodite as the ideal standard of beauty. So what does this mean? This means that NO human could actually reach this ideal standard. Davis gives an example of the painting by Francois-Andre Vincent called Zeuxis Choosing as Models the Most Beautiful Girls of the Town of Crotona (1789), where all the beautiful women of Crotona line up for Zeuxis to choose the ideal feature of each of their bodies in order to create the figure of Aphrodite (4).
On the other hand, the grotesque represented “common humanity” (4). The grotesque didn’t have the same connotations as it does today. It was only a signifier for commonality.
Later, the French statistician, Adolphe Quetelet contributed the notion of the “normal as an imperative,” creating the concept of the “l’homme moyen” or the average man (4). With the creation of the average man, came the way to represent the middle class as normal, making the “average” an ideal in itself. This did not only apply to class.
Think of how many times we use the word average to describe everything. Average height, average weight, average time, average looks… average EVERYTHING. To be in the average weight category for a certain age and gender is to be within the normal margins, right? This concept of average equaling normalcy is problematic, right? Because what happens when we don’t fit within the average or normal margins? We become different, we get labeled, we become marginalized. This is why disabled persons are marginalized at all. Because we as a society have created this idea of what it means to be normal and it only isolates those who don’t fit into that mold.
So what? So what is that we need to help others understand that “normal” isn’t the end all be all way to exist. To have a disability, be it a physical impairment or a learning impairment doesn’t equate to a subpar standard of being, just a different one.
After all, none of us reach the ideal according to seventeenth century logic, so let’s talk when you reach the standard of a Roman god, okay? Okay.
Davis, Lennard J. “Constructing Normalcy.” The Disability Studies Reader. 2nd Ed. Edited by Lennard J. Davis. New York, NY : Routledge, 2006.