On Being Different

There’s something about being different that both scares and fascinates me. On one hand, I try to be different, to be my own individual with my own combination of idiosyncrasies that no one else possesses. Yet, I’m scared of being judged for my differences, for my individuality, and being deemed a “weirdo” in society.

Lucy Grealy and Nancy Mairs both focus their pieces on being different from the rest of society through their physical disabilities, but they each offer a differing opinion on coping with such deviations from the norm. In “Mirrorings”, Lucy Grealy focuses on a transforming view of identity from her initial survivor’s perspective. When she was nine, she was diagnosed with cancer and, subsequently, had a portion of her jaw removed to prevent it from spreading. She grew up constantly being taunted for the way she looked, specifically because her face was different from what was considered “normal”, and as a result, she “developed a form of defensive egomania” to supplant a sense of low self-esteem about her physical appearance: “I felt that I was the only one walking about in the world who understood what was really important” (81). Her self-consciousness about her appearance followed with her into adulthood: “I spent a great deal of time looking in the mirror in private, positioning my head to show off my eyes and nose…. But I could not bring myself to see them for more than a moment: I looked in the mirror and saw not the normal upper half of my face but only the disfigured lower half” (84), and even after she underwent successful surgeries following eighteen years of physical remodeling on her face, she questioned whether her face belonged to her, because she spend her entire life trying to focus on something other than her physical appearance. By the end, however, she comes to a revelation of the “shedding of an image” that brings some sort of closure for her.

Unlike Grealy’s self-denial, Mairs — in “On Being a Cripple” — readily accepts that she is different from the general public, although with reservations about the shortcomings that multiple sclerosis has affected in her mentality. Although she “lead[s], on the whole, an ordinary life, probably like the one I would have led had I not had MS” (48), she holds the constant fear of being sympathized just because she’s crippled. She is critical of the way she looks and acts, but has come to accept the disease — over time — as part of who she is.

Although I can relate to both readings, I found myself being able to relate more to Mairs’s. When I broke my left ankle, I ended up confined to crutches — and, later on, a supportive boot — for almost a year. It was readily apparent I was limping on one side of my body, and coming back to college after taking some time off because of the injury was initially met with anticipation because I knew I would be looked at for the way I walked and the way I looked with a huge boot on my left foot to support and hold my ankle. My friend would sometimes refer to me as a handicapped, and while I resented that label, I nevertheless admitted that I was temporarily disabled. I was still able to do most of the things that I used to do, save for more intensive physical routines such as running or jumping, just as Mair’s was able to live an ordinary life despite the progressions of her disease.

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