Tag Archives: Disability

Easy Beauty/Difficult Beauty

Picture of book cover and author. Author photo is from chest up, in white top and black jacket, with white skin and black hair

Debbie says:

This is Part I of a two-part blog post; the second part will come after I get a chance to read Easy Beauty: A Memoir by Chloé Cooper Jones. I came across this book because Tressie McMillan Cottom, one of the most perceptive and compelling thinkers I know, interviewed Cooper Jones in Cottom’s capacity as a guest host on the Ezra Klein Show. The interview is stunning, and it makes reading the book inevitable, though it may take me a few weeks to get to it.

Cooper Jones is severely disabled, from birth, with a visible disability and significant chronic pain. The interview (and by extension the book) is not about disability, but Cooper Jones takes her own body, and her lived experience, as the starting point for thinking about beauty–in general and in specific. She credits the concept of “easy beauty” to  philosopher Bernard Bosanquet.  “Easy beauty” describes the things that most people immediately perceive as beautiful: a sunset, a rose, a laughing child. “Difficult beauty” describes things that take longer to learn to appreciate, perhaps requiring some knowledge, or some exposure or experience. Cooper-Jones gives the example of some abstract art, or some music in a vernacular we don’t understand as a kind of difficult beauty:  once we know enough about what the work is and what its intention is, we can learn to find it beautiful.

Closer to the realm of this blog’s main focus, she talks about beauty and the disabled body: physical (conventional) beauty is an attribute that some people have, and most people aspire to in some way. Beauty products are sold primarily to the aspirational: lose weight this way, use this cream or serum, buy this shampoo and you will get closer to beauty. However, the visibly disabled are simply excised from this entire world of chasing beauty: since nothing they can buy, or use, or try will ever let them into the world defined as “beauty,” they simply go unmentioned and unnoticed. Cooper Jones attributes her intellectual achievements, which are very substantial, to the early awareness that if she couldn’t be “beautiful,” she could be smart.

Even the interview has a great deal more to chew on: Cooper Jones is a parent, and raising her son has been a major factor in her conscious effort to re-imagine the world around her. Having grown up with the very natural assumption that people are either cruel or indifferent and independence is the only goal, having a small person to parent made her decide that she didn’t want to pass those preconceptions on, and since children learn from what they see, she would have to reformulate her own expectations and behavior into something she wanted her son to learn: neither an easy nor a quick process, and one with many false starts and failure modes.

Under Cottom’s incisive questioning, Cooper-Jones goes lots of places in this interview: to the Beyoncé concert that provided her with an epiphany about being your whole self, and the party for Peter Dinklage where she got a front seat at the performance of other people’s expectations about her commonalities with Dinklage … and her own. Both of these are mentioned in most reviews of the book, but no one mentions her throwaway comment about Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (paraphrased): “Beth has no personality, and no flaws. She’s just there to be sick and die, and for her death to have an effect on her sisters.” For me, that exemplifies Cooper Jones’ ability to turn your brain around in a couple of sentences … and since the whole book is about her turning her own brain around, it’s no surprise that her skill in that is extraordinary.

Whether or not you plan to read the book, listen to the interview, because first, Cottom is clearly entranced with the book and the author, and her enthusiasm lights up the entire conversation and, second, Cottom is no stranger to thinking about easy and difficult beauty, and is completely willing to engage with Cooper Jones at the level this work needs and deserves.

I’ll be back in the next four to six weeks to finish this up with my reactions to the book, and I’d love to hear yours.


Thanks to waywardcats for the pointer to the interview.

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Paula Carozzo: Inclusive Activist

Debbie says:

Paula Carozzo is engaged in redefining disability. With tens of thousands of followers on both Tiktok and Instagram, she’s engaged in activism, storytelling, and artistic practice. Andrea Cheng’s article at Refinery29 describes how, after a tonsillectomy when she was 5 years old, in Venezuela, Carozzo suffered “non-traumatic” brain damage, which may have been a result of the surgery. The brain damage

caused cerebral palsy, a condition that occurs when the brain can’t properly send messages to muscles, affecting a person’s ability to move and maintain posture, which can lead to secondary conditions, including scoliosis and spasticity. For Carozzo and her family, grappling with her diagnosis was hard enough to contend with, but without the support or the familiarity of their homeland, the experience was “the toughest of our lives.” 


“We were immigrants. We didn’t know the language, so I was going to school and not understanding what we were doing, all while trying to figure out my treatments to make me ‘better.’ At the time, we just wanted the cure,” says the 26-year-old activist and creator.


No question: Carozzo is very conventionally attractive. Despite the palsy and its consequences, she went to school in PR and marketing, and got jobs that might very well not have been available to someone with the same disability and a different body type and style. According to Cheng, however,
she eventually became restless by the banality of it all — the same kind of clients, the same kind of press releases, day in and day out. She was craving something with meaning and purpose. What could she do with the skills she learned in PR? How could her work make an impact? 
“One night, I started writing ideas and captions about what I wanted to talk about, the awareness I wanted to create, what kind of content I wanted to make,” Carozzo recalls. “I called a friend of mine who was a photographer, and I said, ‘This is an idea I have, but there’s one thing I want in every picture: my canes.’”


So the TikTok video above is an anomaly; it’s one of very few that don’t show a cane. We see her walking with a cane, dancing with a cane, posing with a cane (she apparently has 18 canes).  That video also makes a point that Carozzo expresses in her conversation with Cheng:
“There are pros and cons when you’re visible in this digital era,” Carozzo says. “I’m educating people about my identity as a disabled woman, as a disabled Latina, but most importantly, letting them know that they do have a safe space to show up as who they are, that they’re not alone.” 
Carozzo asks her followers to show up, and she does the same, using social media as something of a mirror. One example: When she started creating Reels, she had to really come to terms with the way she walks. “It was so hard to start creating Reels because I hated the way I walked,” she confesses. “It was something I never accepted until I started creating videos of myself and how I walked. I think that when you mirror an aspect of you that you don’t like, you’re really giving yourself a chance to look in and think, It’s time to accept it and move forward.”


Asking people “to show up” is a double-edged sword. For people who are ready, or close to ready, it can be an enormous gift. For people who are not ready — or simply aren’t moving in that direction and don’t want to — it can feel like a demand, an expectation, to be someone you can’t be or don’t choose to be. Nonetheless, a conventionally attractive, seemingly fearless, highly visible disabled immigrant woman is out there in the world, making the invisible visible, demonstrating and encouraging bravery. (“Seemingly fearless” because no one is fearless, and Carozzo has a TikTok where she shows the work it took to film her sitting on a wall with no back, and talks about how scared she was.)


No one is obligated to show themselves fully, let alone courageously. And at the same time, everyone who does opens up the space for the next person. Carozzo’s big following stems not only from her skill with imagery and iconography, but also from her genuine desire to live her life, support other disabled people in living their own lives, and demand of the able-bodied that they make room for her and her people.


Thanks to Mona Eltahawy at Feminist Giant for her regular Global Roundup, and to Samiha Hossain, who curated this one.

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