What makes a push girl? Push girls are strong, independent women with a fierce determination to go for what they want and not let anyone tell them otherwise. Push girls are funny, loyal to their friends, and always ready for the next big adventure. They’re teen activists, Paralympic athletes, politicians and everything in between. And when they hear “can’t,” they say “watch me.” Being a push girl isn’t about your ability status or background: It’s about what you make of yourself.
“Breaking the Ice” was a breath of fun in the midst of my long, hot summer. I started grinning almost as soon as the girls began pouring off the ski lift and I just couldn’t stop until the end of the episode. There’s something transcendent about watching people push their comfort zones and have fun, and in the case of the push girls, it was wonderful to see them doing something as a group that felt so freeing for all of them. The push girls never stop challenging themselves, and they’re stronger when they do it together.
There’s one thing you can say for sure about the push girls: They’re all strong women, and they’re not afraid to show it. In a world where women are supposed to be meek — especially women who use wheelchairs for mobility — Auti, Angela, Tiphany, Mia and Chelsie are not afraid to go up against the establishment. This week, on “Drama Town,” we saw more of their independent spirits and were reminded of the tensions that sometimes arise in everyone’s life. The hallmark of a push girl is the ability to work through that drama, though, and that’s just what they did.
Every January, Long Beach, California’s Aquarium of the Pacific hosts the Festival of Human Abilities, celebrating the talent of disabled artists, performers and athletes. For two programming-packed days, visitors can wander a venue where the full spectrum of humanity is on display, doing things that are truly amazing — no matter who you are. On tonight’s PUSH GIRLS, you’ll get a little taste of the festival, and we’re betting it’ll make you want to see even more.
This week on PUSH GIRLS, “Freaky Deaky” showed us some hazards of dating while you’re a wheelchair user, while still letting us see the girls having fun. As Auti, whom I’ve come to think of as the mother hen, reminded us, there’s an element of danger involved in going on a date when you have paralysis, because it involves a deep level of trust very early in your relationship. Tiphany related a scary story about being tipped out of her chair, underscoring the vulnerability wheelchair users experience in intimate relationships.
Michele Kaplan wants us to mind the gap. The space between a subway car and the platform might not seem like a big deal if you’re bipedal, but it can pose a safety hazard if you’re using a wheelchair, cane or walker. Michele got fed up on July 10 when she tried to board a train in a supposedly accessible station and her powerchair got stuck in the gap. She was forced to rely on “two burly-looking passengers” to get her chair out of the doors and onto the train. When she got home, she decided to fight back. Michele started up a Tumblr and set up a petition, and she’s been putting the word out ever since.
As the new USA Network miniseries Political Animals is reminding us, politics can get rather catty. Clearly based on a highly fictionalized version of Hillary Clinton’s life, the drama is full of snappy lines, strong women and, of course, Sigourney Weaver as Hillary stand-in Elaine Barrish. The claws come when she spars with Susan Berg, a reporter determined to climb back into the spotlight while fighting the snark-laden world of Washington politics. We always enjoy seeing a good cat fight in the political arena, but let’s not forget the real cats in politics.
A very emotional PUSH GIRLS this week on “In the Fast Lane,” as we saw Tiphany talking about her past and returning to the site of her car accident 10 years after the fact. She might have been declared dead on the scene, but she rolled confidently along the side of the highway with her family to confront the reality that her accident affected more people than just her: “My accident didn’t just happen to me. It affected a lot of people.”
USA Paralympics is gearing up for the Paralympic games in London with nominations for Team USA, and as they roll out, we’re meeting some star disabled athletes from across the country — and our fair share of push girls, because many of the women athletes on the Paralympic team have some incredible stories to tell. The Summer Paralympics run from August 29 to September 9, and they’re going to be well worth tuning in to if you want to check out some of the best athletes in the world.
A 2011 study found that less than one percent of regular characters on scripted shows were disabled, and that number was falling. That’s pretty remarkable when you consider that approximately 20% of the population is disabled; talk about some disproportionate representation in pop culture. And it gets worse: Most disabled characters are not even played by people with disabilities. The practice of using nondisabled actors in disabled roles is known as “cripface,” and it’s a serious problem in Hollywood. That’s why actors like RJ Mitte, who plays Walter Jr. on Breaking Bad — premiering this Sunday — are especially important.
This week’s Chelsie-centric episode was an intimate and revealing look into the difficult adjustment period that comes with newly acquired disability. Chelsie is lucky to have four fabulous mentors, but she struggles with the changes going on in her life and in her body, and it was really refreshing to get an honest look at that. She was performing in front of her family for the first time, which was understandably nerve-wracking, and things didn’t go quite according to plan, but she held her head up high and got back out on the dance floor, which is hard for any of us to do when we feel like we’ve failed.
We’ve already seen wheelchair dance on PUSH GIRLS (and we’ll be seeing more tonight), but some of you may be experiencing this art form for the first time on the show. If you want to see even more, you’re in luck, because there’s a thriving worldwide wheelchair dance community and chances are you can find a performance near you if you live in an urban area. Attending a live show can be quite a thrill, but since I can’t drag you all to a performance, we’ll do our best with the two-dimensional version.
This week on PUSH GIRLS, we got a very intimate look at the different ways in which people react to disability. There was a stark contrast not just between Chelsie, who’s still adjusting to her paralysis, but between Mia, Auti, Tiphany, and Angela, and it was fascinating to see the women getting “Fired Up,” in an episode that got very emotional. It’s hard to predict your reaction to a major life change, but I liked the takeaway that Mia left us with: You can start again at any age.
Christopher Voelker has been a full-time wheelchair user since the age of 16, when he developed quadriplegia after a motocross accident. Always intrigued by photography, he decided to pursue it as a professional career, despite the considerable barriers for people with disabilities in the industry. Largely self-taught, today he’s an internationally recognized fashion, art, and celebrity photographer with an impressive portfolio that includes some very well-known names, including some of our very own PUSH GIRLS.
Lots of relationship drama on PUSH GIRLS this week, from Angela and Dustin having a serious conversation about the direction of their relationship to Mia and Tiphany going on a speed dating adventure. All the girls are at different phases, relationshipwise; I love watching Auti and Erik’s incredibly strong, loving marriage as much as I enjoy seeing Tiphany explore the relationship world because she’s still searching for what, and who, she wants.
In a busy world, it can be tough to make time to find a partner. That’s why some genius invented speed dating, and some people are really pushing the limits when it comes to creativity in that department. Goodbye gongs, hello rare culinary ingredients. This is speed dating for the 21st century.
10. Edwardian-themed Football Speed Dating
Say that ten times fast, and pick a suitable pseudonym so you can prepare to play table football with a random mate, all while living in the Golden Age (without the hideously restrictive bathing suits). Beware: Small talk is strictly banned, but at least you can work out nerves with your competitive streak.
Check out the “Hey Girl, What Have You Done Lately?” Tumblr for some awesome push girls throughout the ages, from Joan of Arc to Hillary Clinton. Each of them has done something fantastic, and wants to know what you have done lately. If you need a lesson in taking life by the horns and fighting prejudice to rise to one of the highest offices in the land, visit Shirley Chisolm, first Black woman elected to Congress. Maybe you’d like to learn more about modern activists like Kasha Nabagasera, who’s protecting LGBQT Ugandans from execution. Or maybe you just want to follow to get your daily fix of amazing ladies.
“Hope It’s Not Too Late” came with some real talk on relationships and abortion. It was also a very intimate episode for us. Auti really put herself out there with some personal scenes this week where she took us to the fertility clinic (and into the ob-gyn exam room, yikes!) to get evaluated as she and Eric start working on a baby. And she revealed that she had an abortion in her youth, shortly after her accident.
Sunaura Taylor’s work, like Chicken Truck, seen above, is striking and haunting: rows of battery hens in cages and downed calves speak to her commitment to animal welfare activism, while detailed and intimate oil portraits bring people to life on the canvas, and self-portraits depict her disability and connect it with a larger social context. She has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that causes joint contractures, and uses a wheelchair for mobility. To paint, she uses her mouth to hold the brush, and her work has made quite a mark in the art world; she’s received a number of awards for her painting and her work has been displayed in some distinguished places.
Tonight on PUSH GIRLS we learned more about Mia’s relationship with her mother while we celebrated Angela’s 10th anniversary of survival, and there was plenty of fun too, like Chelsie’s first pair of post-wheels heels. As Auti and Tiphany pointed out when they took her on a shopping trip, your first pair of heels after a major spinal cord injury is, as our Vice President would say, a BFD, because using a chair for mobility doesn’t mean you can’t be sexy.
At 75, you’d think Ernestine Shepherd would be in retirement, perhaps volunteering with some local organizations and puttering in her garden. But you’d be wrong, because she’s actually the Guinness World Record holder for oldest female competitive bodybuilder; and she only started training at 71! Did I mention that she goes on a 10 mile run every morning before hitting the gym, and that both of these things probably occur at hours when most of us are asleep (or staying out late)? And if you think Ernestine is a fluke, check out Tao Porchon-Lynch, who happens to be the world’s oldest yogini and yoga instructor at…wait for it…93.
Japanese para-athlete Maya Nakanishi was having some trouble pulling funding together for her trip to the Paralympic games in London this summer, so she decided to get creative; she made a seminude calendar. A time-honored fundraising tradition, the nude calendar takes it to a whole new level when the subject is a visibly disabled woman who’s also an athlete. It’s like a clash of everything people think they know about bodies and disabilities, and it’s a project that definitely gets Maya Push Girl status!
‘I don’t regret having become nude. I’m very happy that I was able to show Maya Nakanishi as I am.’ (NDTV Sports)
Looking at the images from her calendar, what I’m struck by is her amazingly toned and honed body. This is an athlete’s body. It’s all power and strength and compressed energy. It’s a body that’s turned her into a record holder, but it’s also a body that she can play with, and have fun with; I love that we see her wearing several different legs, turning the prosthesis into an accessory that enriches her life, rather than a symbol of “lesser than.”
You like us! You really like us! “[PUSH GIRLS] is accomplishing something else: proving that it is possible to set a new standard for reality-type television.” “It’s a solid show of just the kind it’s nice to see as networks explore where they can go with reality programming.” “If you dismiss all reality TV as empty-headed trash, PUSH GIRLS should make you reconsider.”
Tonight’s episode was called Everyone Stares. And that’s a fact. Get ready to see a whole lot of sexy on PUSH GIRLS, because the premiere episode was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to frank talk on dating and relationships for women thinking about issues like finding life partners and choosing whether to have children (btw, sponsor a lady’s uterus, why don’t you). One of the things I loved about the first episode was the unabashed exploration of sexuality for wheelchair users, since it’s such a taboo topic, something we’re not supposed to talk about; everyone assumes wheelchair users can’t or don’t have sex.