America Ferrera’s Barbie Speech: Feeling Heard Not Only in My Womanhood But Also in My Disability – My Re-Interpreted Version

Against a white background are seven Barbie dolls and two Ken dolls with a variety of different skin tones and ethnic background. One Barbie has a purple prosthetic leg, one sits in a manual wheelchair with a pink frame, another Barbie has a curvy figure, another wears glasses and one has a pink hearing aid. One Ken has vitiligo.

Spoiler alert: Major spoilers for Barbie: The Movie (Proceed with caution)

The following is my re-interpretation, as a woman with cerebral palsy, of America Ferrera’s phenomenal anti-patriarchy speech about the cognitive dissonance of being a woman in society in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie: The Movie.

“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.” (America Ferrera, Barbie: The Movie)

You are expected to work hard on your mobility and not want or need accessibility, but if you overdo it and hurt yourself in the process you are irresponsible.

If you say you love and accept your body, disability and all, then you must either be lying or being complacent and lazy; but, if you are unhappy with your body and wish all of your symptoms would go away, then you should love yourself or else you are ungrateful to be alive and proof that life with a disability is not worth it.

If your disability is immediately visible, you are told to hide it and be ashamed, but if your disability is not visible, you are shamed and told your access needs are your fault and invalid compared to those of people with visible disabilities.

Society constantly pushes the notion that you should hate your Disabled body, but if you ever hate your body even for a moment and express that you do, you scare people or are seen as sad, weak, or like your life is less worthy.

You are expected to fight for accessibility, recognizing that these needs are important, but you are also expected to overcome your disability and not need accessibility (whatever the heck that means).

You are expected to do what you need to do to stay as healthy as possible with your disability, but if in that process some tasks become easier for you than they were before, then you are «not really Disabled» and your remaining access needs and healthcare needs are invalidated.

You are expected to inspire others and make all your access needs disappear, but if you talk about your experience with disability or disability rights issues you are self-important, annoying or irrelevant.

You have to embrace body-positivity but if you love and appreciate your Disabled body and don’t want or need a cure to live a long, fulfilling life, then you are told you are complacent or you don’t deserve to take up space or that having a body like yours is sad.

We have to be representation for our Disabled community, but when we make content that does this, we are making everything unnecessarily about ourselves.

You have to be independent and never ask for help from others or else you are a burden that doesn’t work hard enough, but if you are fearful of asking for help, then you are considered immature and childish.

You have to wish your disability was invisible as it would do away with all these ridiculous expectations or inappropriate comments, but when your disability is invisible you are also disrespected and discriminated against.

You have to know your place and accept that you won’t be able to do everything or that “not everything can or should be adapted” but if you don’t do something because it’s unhealthy for you or because safe opportunities that meet all your access needs are unavailable then you are a quitter or “not inspirational enough” and are told you must try harder.

You fight for and support the rights and equitable treatment of other minority groups you aren’t a part of, but most of the people who support disability rights and equity have been directly impacted by ableism, either as Disabled people or as people who love or are exposed to Disabled people on a regular basis.

People are surprised to see you go out for fun if you are Disabled, but if you stay in because you are low on spoons you are boring, a party pooper, or “it’s all in your head.”

There is an unwritten expectation that if you are born with CP you have to be smart to compensate for your disability, yet you are sometimes the last pick for a group project because “you move slowly, so that must mean you are dumb.”

You are told to take your time so you don’t hurt yourself or because your brain sends messages to your body slowly but you are also told that you have to try harder to adapt to the fast pace of the world because the world can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t wait for you.

You are told that visible features of your disability make you automatically less beautiful (or even make looking at you “uncomfortable”) yet you are still expected to doll up so you can be conventionally beautiful.

You are taught to try not to use mobility aids because they are “sad” but if you avoid using or wearing something you need then you are irresponsible and ableist.

If you are a feminist you are told it is great to not wear heels, but if you can’t wear heels due to your disability some will tell you it’s strange, “less pretty” or sad.

If you meet many conventional beauty standards when your symptoms are not visible, and thus have experienced very little schoolyard bullying, then the ableism you have experienced isn’t real, serious ableism, but despite this societal-level gaslighting you are expected to stand up to ableism you experience, however subtle it may be.

If you are an assertive Disabled woman who shares her ideas you are intimidating, but if you aren’t outspoken you are a doormat with a complex who is letting her internalized ableism win.

You have to grow up in a world that takes actions that imply Disabled lives are less worthy than others, but if you ever have negative thoughts about yourself or grieve that the world sees people like you like this then you are weak or dramatic.

You are encouraged to use your experience with disability to help others, but if it influences your values or career you are told that “your disability should not be a relevant part of who you are.”

“I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know” says America Ferrera’s character (Barbie: The Movie). And I will add to it my twist: I am tired of watching myself and every single Disabled woman and person I know or have contact with tie ourselves into knots so that people will accept us as we are and see us as valuable. So I would like to try not to do it. I will not justify my existence or loving and respecting myself, my needs and my Disabled body. Who would want to justify their whole life?

Originally published in How CP Feels by Deborah Bergel on 11 August 2023. Read more at howcpfeels.wordpress.com

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