Jenna Lyons and the Aesthetic Outcasts
Posted on June 23, 2014
Dear Jenna Lyons,
I actually met you once. You happened to be a guest on the TV show where I worked. This was years ago… before I got sick. I wasn’t very good at that job and felt a bit razzled when I prepped you. You looked at me when I spoke. I felt respected. I morphed into an avid J. Crew shopper shortly after, I even got myself in a little trouble with a J. Crew credit card. Despite my budgeting woes, I still believe that you displayed the high standard that I now hold J. Crew to.
That sense of being seen and heard is something I believe J. Crew is capable of giving each and every one of its customers. When I think about the lack of dignity that surrounds the world of assistive devices, I realize the power J. Crew has to change the conversation.
The ICF (International Classification of Functioning) in attempting to create a universal language of disability made an important decision in 2001 to use positive descriptions of human functioning rather than the negative consequences of disease. In doing so, the World Health Organization aims to change the way we perceive disability. A large number of those who have a disability will live long and healthy lives. They just happen to have an impairment that either limits activity or restricts participation and inclusion. It is the hope of disability activists that this language standard will set trends such as mainstream acceptance of varying disabilities… i.e. the marketing of assistive devices in mainstream retailers.
I recently learned that you have a condition called incontinentia pigmenti for which you wear dentures. And to be totally honest, I am struggling to write the word ‘dentures’ in this post. An image of your impeccable self picking up some Polident at the drug store keeps flashing in my mind. But that’s the discomfort of assistive devices. I should look away. It’s grotesque. Dirty. Shameful. Hidden. But that’s not you, someone so clearly attuned to the aesthetic.
Upon Googling, the first headline I found said “J.Crew’s Lyons Emerges a Swan After Childhood Disorder”… so as to imply that you had previously been an ugly duckling.
Where is the dignity in calling a child ugly? Where is the dignity in saying that a child with incontinentia pigmenti has the potential to emerge out of this ugly state they have found themselves in? Wouldn’t it be dignifying to tell a child that there is beauty in those things that make us different? The child who has bad vision gets to pick out a fantastic pair of glasses. Don’t all children deserve better options for assistive devices?
I don’t believe options would have been harmful to you then. And I don’t believe it would be harmful to you or your bottom line now. Did you know that NPR’s This American Life just added transcripts to their content and their search traffic increased 7%. Inclusion can be a business model.
There may not be a market in J. Crew for dentures. Or maybe there’s just not a market yet. I could never have imagined seeing a prosthetic leg for sale in a mainstream retailer before discovering Alleles. And that’s all dentures are… they’re just a prosthetic. And if we rely on medical terminology, my cane is also a prosthetic.
When you speak about your incontinentia pigmenti and your (ok, I’ll say it) dentures, you are making a difference through your shared experience. But has it occurred to you that you can also make a difference through inclusion?
Sell a cane. Sell some dentures. Sell whatever it is that you think fits J. Crew’s brand. But sell something. Please.
Thank you for your time.
P.S. Nice Glasses
P.P.S. Will you and everyone you ever (and never) met please sign #YesJCrewCane?
Update: I just wrote a new post called What You Need To Know About Jenna Lyons’ Watermelon Skirt.