"EYE-OPENING, POWERFUL AND EMOTIONALLY NUANCED."THE DAILY BEAST
Push Girls
A SUNDANCE TV ORIGINAL SERIES
starring Angela Rockwood, Tiphany Adams, Auti Angel, Mia Schaikewitz and Chelsie Hill

Getting a leg up to the Olympics: Japanese athlete strips down to get to London

Nakanishi in a bent pose, showing off her prosthetic.

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.”

Some of her legs are tools she uses for competition. They make her faster and more powerful; in fact, there’s a huge controversy about prosthetic legs and whether they create an unfair advantage, which really flips beliefs about disability on their heads! Who knew fifty years ago that people would be debating whether Oscar Pistorious should be allowed to compete with nondisabled athletes because he might have an edge on them.

Other legs are for fun. They’re decorative and pretty. There’s a shift happening when it comes to conversations about form, function, and prostheses. Notably, there’s less of a focus on making “realistic” legs that are designed to look like those of non-amputees, to hide disability and turn it into an object of shame. Instead, some amputees are embracing the possibilities. Why not have designer legs? Why not be bold and confrontational with a pair of statement legs, just like a statement necklace? Why not flip assumptions about amputation by turning it into a feature, not a bug?

I look down at my boring old legs and see that they never change, although I can dress them up with different shoes or fun socks or skirts. I imagine what it would be like to grow six inches…or shrink six inches…or have amazing filigree legs with ornate floral designs. What kinds of legs would you make for yourself, if you had a choice?

It reminds me of Aimee Mullins’ TED Talk about her 12 pairs of legs. There’s a great quote from that talk:

So people once considered to be disabled can now become the architects of their own identities and indeed continue to change those identities by designing their bodies from a place of empowerment.

This push girl doesn’t just want to break records and compete with elites in London. She also advocates for disabled athletes in Japan and wants to help people with disabilities follow their dreams.

Want to buy a copy of her calendar and help Maya (and her legs) get to the Paralympics?

If you can’t stand up, stand out! PUSH GIRLS airs on Mondays at 10P.