BY H. BARRY WALDMAN DDS, MPH, PHD, STEVEN P. PERLMAN DDS, MSCD, DHL (HON) AND MISHA GAREY, DDS • PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICK GUIDOTTI/POSITIVE EXPOSURE
The reality is that we don’t need mirrors or beauty parlors to tell us that our children are beautiful – we know it!
“…true life is not the life of the flesh but the life of the spirit.” – (Baha’u’llah)1
A recent television series on the Public Broadcasting channel, How We Got to Now, reviewed the historic invention of clear glass and the amazing series of events which led to the use of glass filaments for transmission of our voices and technical information. Along the way, we developed glass mirrors which permitted our forbearers for the first time (and now you and your family and all others) to truly view ourselves as others see us. Yes, there were bronze mirrors and reflections on still water, but none matched the clarity of a glass mirror. We spend untold periods of time before mirrors evaluating our bodies, deciding on the appropriate clothing to enhance or even shield aspects of our body that do not conform to accepted or preferred body shapes. Then there are hairstyles and coloring which consume hours of clipping and modeling to conform to the latest rage.
The reflections, however, may reinforce the reality that some of us just don’t “fit into the standard normals” of our community. We may look too fat, too skinny, short or tall and our faces are “just different,” including different sizes of noses, eye shapes and facial hair. Our personalities may well be affected by our abilities to adapt to the realities of our “differences” in the awareness of our mirror reflections. Highlighting these differences is the all too common awareness and concern of our skin colors. “Questions about skin color came from European contact with the wider world; the answer often came from the Book of Genesis, with its sacred history of the people of the Earth and their descent from Noah and his sons.”2 “Of all these discussions, the interpretation of Genesis 9 to tie dark skin, Africans, and servile status to the ‘curse of Ham’ was by far the most influential.” 3 In Genesis 9:25-256 Noah intones, “Curse be Canaan; lowest of slaves should be to his brothers after Ham, son of Noah and father of Canaan, shames Noah by discovering him drunk and ‘lying uncovered in his tent.’ By extension Negroes and black Moors were descended from Ham the cursed son of Noah.”4
The irony is that some perceptions and attitudes regarding skin color have changed over time. In the past, darkened skin color often was the sure sign of “lower class” field workers whose toil in the sun was rewarded with the sun tanning of exposed skin surfaces. By contrast, the aristocracy residing indoor in palatial settings emphasized their “whiteness” with powdered wigs and faces (with females even using arsenic powder to enhance their pale pallor and fireplace shields to prevent the heat from melting their white masks).
All this was transformed with advent of jet airplanes – the rich could now afford the desired suntans in faraway exotic places while the pale peasants labored in offices lit by fluorescent lights; many of whom frequent tanning salons to somehow connect with the mirror reflections of the wealthy.
Incidentally, there was a similar exchange when, in the past, the peasants couldn’t afford white bread which required additional milling expenses. They existed on the coarse “natural” bread while the rich luxuriated on white bread. Today the roles (or rolls?) have changed with the recognition that the extra milling for white bread removes many of the nutrients of bread. The working class now eats “fortified” white bread and the wealthier can afford the coarse dark breads.
LOOKING AT THE REFLECTIONS OF INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES
“The biggest problem for parents of a child with special needs? Other people” 5
“Jane is used to her 10-year-old son being gawked at ‘as if he were a circus freak’ but she will never be reconciled to it. ‘Children are one thing, they don’t know any better. But these are adults. They look at Johnny and their mouths fall open and they just stare. And I think: didn’t anyone ever tell them how rude that is.’”5
“This, she says, is what you are up against when you have a child with special needs: other people tend not to be very kind. Which is particularly awful ‘because you’ve already got so much on your plate as it is.’” 5
Another parent, Amanda would like people to understand that her children with special needs are her children. “This is my life. It’s not a bed of roses, but we try to make the best of it every day. What would be nice is if people were kind and considerate once in a while, and gave us a bit of space. We’re dealing with issues that most people haven’t got a clue about, and it’s intrusive when you get someone coming up to you and saying, he needs a clip round the ear when one of them has a tantrum.” 5
RESPONDING TO COMMENTS ON THE REFLECTIONS OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES
“Science is affirming what we’ve suspected all along – laughter is good medicine… Having a disability is no joke. But it can be a laughing matter. Pain, suffering, isolation, stress, depression, financial hardships – the problems can seem never ending… In my opinion, language was invented in order for people to communicate, whereas humor was invented in order for people to complain. Dealing with a chronic disease can trigger anger – and humor is a wonderful way to help process the negative emotions.” 6
Humor redirects anger, instead of avoiding or denying it. This redirection can defuse a lot of rage, bringing with it a sense of calm, relief and a fresh perspective. The underlying circumstances that
SO WHAT IS A “MORE BEAUTIFUL PARLOR”?
Women frequent beauty parlors (e.g. hair salons, nail spas with aficionados and a range of emporiums which cater to the current styles). Men, at least those with sufficient hair, visit barbers and stylists. (Yes, there are unisex enhancement centers too.) The availability of mirrors provides each of us with a sense of our own beauty. In essence, these self-image improvement centers are our “more beautiful parlors” which add to our own self-esteem and our personal self-beauty. The reality is that we don’t need mirrors or beauty parlors to tell us that our children are beautiful – we know it!
There are many ways to measure beauty that a mirror cannot reflect; in particular is “the life of the spirit.” If you have any doubt that there is more than a single standard to measure beauty, use the phrase “beautiful children with disabilities” to scan the Google search engine. There were dozens of photos were but a minuscule fraction of about 4,540,000 images of these special beautiful children that we located (Click on the link in References section).7 •
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Barry Waldman, DDS, MPH, PhD – Distinguished Teaching Professor, Department of General Dentistry at Stony Brook University, NY; E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven P. Perlman, DDS, MScD, DHL (Hon) – Global Clinical Director, Special Olympics, Special Smiles and Clinical Professor of Pediatric Dentistry, The Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Private pediatric dentistry practice
– Lynn MA. Dr. Misha Garey at the Director of Dental Services at the Orange Grove Center.
- Vafai S. The Bahai Faith. Chapter 2: Understanding ourselves. West Palm Beach Fl: Palabra Pub, 2011.
- Koslofsky C. Knowing skin min early modern Europe. History Compass, 2014; 12(10): 794-806.
- Kidd Forging of races. 39-41, 72; in Koslofsky.
- Hennepe Reframing conceptions 526-528; in Koslofsky.
- Moorhead J. The biggest problem for parents of a child with special needs? Other people. The
Guardian. August 16, 2013. Web site:http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/aug/16/children-disabilities-special-needs-mumsnet-campaign
- Buxman K. What’s So Funny About … Web site: http://invisibledisabilities.org/coping-with-invisibledisabilities/
karyn-buxman-whats-so-funny-about Accessed October 30, 2014.
- Beautiful children with disabilities. Web site: https://www.google.com/images?q=beautiful+children+
with+disabilities&rls=com. Accessed November 1, 2014.