Jackie Molen has chosen an unusual occupation: circus freak.
Molen was born with proximal femoral focal deficiency - which is to say, she has only one tiny leg. She says, in the L.A. Times, that she grew up doing gymnastics and martial arts and didn't experience teasing. She's clearly a competent, capable woman. And yet, she's opted to be part of a sideshow, along with a two-headed turtle and various formaldehyde-preserved animals as "the Human Tripod." The other human attraction is a man with shortened arms known as "Flipper Boy."
Sideshows - or freak shows - have a long and ignominious history that most of us are aware of: various forms of exploitation, sometimes, as in the case of different human "exotics," couched in scientific or educational terms and, later, presented baldly as pure, lurid entertainment. In the 18th and 19th centuries, impoverished families might sell disabled children to carnivals; later, it was often the only form of employment for someone "freakish." And a public lacking in novelty or entertainment and more often than not schooled in binaries, lined up.
That was my first thought when I read about this. Well, after "why would she do that?" Are people really interested in gawking at those with disabilities? Is this entertaining or interesting or fun? For one thing, we've seen it all: nothing can shock or repel - and while we could certainly stand to see far more people with disabilities and special needs in almost every facet of our lives, this is hardly what disability advocates have in mind. Says one spokesman, "You can find people willing to do that for a living, but that doesn't mean it's good for society," in that it continues to define such people by their disabilities and doesn't do a whole lot to change societal misconceptions.
Molen says she thinks of herself as an advocate. "I feel like I'm educating people about diversity and how people can be born different...I'm in there doing amazing things. . . . This show is about what I can do. It's not a pity party. I'm proud to be a freak." Well, you know, great that she feels good about her life choices. That she's owning the term "freak." And if that's what she wants to do, I'm not standing in her way. But I'm also not standing in line to see it, let alone paying: there are plenty of people "doing amazing things" and living in an inspirational way that's important to changing our perceptions of what people can accomplish. The weird thing is, Molen says she gave up acting because "they would always typecast me in the beginning to play kids or animals." Well, she's certainly not pigeonholing herself now!