Update October 4, 2017: “Public Stripping” is a term I recently learned about from activist/writer Lisa Blumberg.
After reading her account of how the medical establishment used her like a medical or teaching mannequin – without consent from anybody – I learned that I was not alone.
Never EVER let the medical establishment do this without consent from you AND your child. ****************
Have you ever been embarrassed? Not some mild “Whoops, you have a bit of food stuck on the corner of your mouth” sort of moment, but rather, a truly emotionally charged event? I was about seven or eight years old when just such an embarrassing moment happened to me.
I was in the hospital at the time and the center of attention. Each morning, my orthopedic doctor would show me off to a gaggle of his interns. He would then detail all of the primary features that my particular type of dwarfism came with.
Believe it or not, this was not the embarrassing moment I’m referring to, as I was getting used to these daily “show and tell” sessions. No, my embarrassing moment was much worse, and I never saw it coming.
One day, an orderly took me to an “examination”. I was actually happy for the change of scenery, and jumped at the chance to get out of my room. After a short journey through the hospital the orderly wheeled me into my “examination” room. It was very plain, with three solid walls, and one large curtain for the fourth wall. The orderly left and time passed, the way it usually does in a hospital: Slowly and boringly.
My doctor finally entered the room, and asked me to take off my hospital gown. Only wearing my underwear now, the curtain opened and I realize I was on a small stage, standing nearly naked in front of a class full of medical students. My doctor, ignorant of the emotional impact his actions would have on me, droned on to his students, pointing out my scoliosis, my pigeon toes, my short stubby hands, and so on.
Not once did anyone speak to me directly, or ask me anything personal. It was just a mechanical and mechanistic overview of all things dwarfish. Throughout the whole session, I was simply referred to as “the patient”.
Nobody at the hospital ever explained beforehand that I would be used in this massive show and tell session. No on ever asked me or my parents for permission to do this. I was already dealing with enough body image problems, but no one ever thought of the profound and negative emotional impact this day would have on me.
At that moment, I felt like I was nothing: Not a person at all but a thing. I was too young to fully understand what else I felt, and the after affects dragged on for many years.
Feeling ashamed of my body was one side affect that lasted longer than I would have liked. I remember hiding my hands in my coat pockets whenever possible, right up until college. Debilitating stage fright was another affect. Eventually, I came to realize that my doctor had been so very wrong to have used me as a teaching mannequin.
Like a good jiu-jitsu master, I held on for dear life until I could reverse the tables, and submit this dominating opponent called “low self-esteem”. By my mid-thirties, I had worked out all feelings of shame towards my body. My stage fright demons were also thoroughly beaten back.
The other thing I realized was that the performer in me was born on that overwhelmingly embarrassing day. That “show and tell” room where I learned about shame had three walls and one curtain in front of me.
A stage on the other hand is the complete opposite: There are no walls, and the curtain is now behind me. Each time I step up onto that stage I get to choose what I present: The music, stories and art that are inside me, and not the physical shell that surrounds me.