Building the Perfect Beast
by Lucy Gwin

Drawing of Siamese twin with two heads, four legs.


"The strangely formed body has represented absolute Otherness in all times and places since human history began."
Leslie Fiedler, Freaks.

"The ‘normal’ person sees the disabled person and is turned to stone, in some sense, by the image."
Lennard J. Davis in The Body and Physical Difference.





At left, ‘Total Idiocy.’ at right, ‘A sound mind in a sound body.’ from New Physiognomy; or, Signs of Character, by Samuel R. Wells, 1883, in Seeing the Insane by sander l. gilman, 1982.

A clubfooted figure.A squinting man.A cross-eyed man.A blind man.
Woodcuts from the 18th century from Quaint Woodcuts, Theodore Menten, 1974.

"By definition, of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human. On this assumption we exercise varieties of discrimination, through which we effectively, if often unthinkingly, reduce his life chances....

"We tend to impute a wide range of imperfections on the basis of the original one, and at the same time to impute some desirable but undesired attributes, often of a supernatural cast, such as ‘sixth sense,’ or ‘understanding.’
Erving Goffman, Stigma

"People with disabilities are said to be fated or unsalvageable and thus somehow stubbornly inhuman."
David T. Mitchell, Sharon L. Snyder,The Body and Physical DifferenceIllustration.

"Freaks are the animal hybrid skulking at the edge of the jungle."
Leslie Fiedler, Freaks


Right, grotesque from watch tower, czechoslavakia, 17th century. 


....Our word for normal is "non-disabled" -- everything we’re not.

Make no mistake about it, the beast under construction is the Norm. The Other, once explained, labeled and put away, is the means by which normalcy maintains its sacred boundaries....


Note: Concepts for this pictorial history were gleaned from the writings of Douglas Biklen, Robert Bogdan, Leslie Fiedler, Leonard Roy Frank, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Sander Gilman, Erving Goffman, Sharon Groch, David Hevey, Simi Linton, John McKnight, David Mitchell, John O’Brien, Sharon Snyder, Steven Taylor and Wolf Wolfensberger, among others. Except when it appears in quotation marks, text for this article has been translated from the academic by the writer, who bears the blame for any inaccuracies, wrong-headed ideas or too-sweeping generalizations.