Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Cerrie Burnell's Arm


The BBC recently introduced new presenters on their popular children's show, CBeebies: Alex Winters and Cerrie Burnell. They're pictured at left, in a publicity still. Both young, white, conventionally attractive, with big grins for the camera. They're dressed in kid-friendly purple and green sweaters, sitting on a comfy couch with satiny pillows. And Cerrie has a noticeably short arm, ending just below the elbow.

Well, that last detail of the picture is apparently a problem for some parents. They say her appearance is "unsuitable" for a children's show, that the sight of her will "scare" children, even to the point of giving them nightmares. Complaints have been filed. Message boards on the subject brim with panic and ignorance. And it is the parents' problem, not the kids' concern: as Lucy Mangan writes about physical difference in a Guardian editorial on the subject, "To a young child, it is just another element of a large and confusing world that they want to inquire about, no more fearsome or embarrassing than any other."

So, of course kids are going to ask, that's what they do--and they're going to take their cues from how their parents answer those questions. Not just the words, either, but the tone, the body language--I posted some tips here a few years ago.

And think about this--if you're telling your children this lovely young woman is too frightful to behold, what are you telling them more generally about beauty? about perfection? What kind of impossible box are you asking them to fit into, and stay inside, for your approval?

34 comments:

Emma said...

I was going to blog about this but haven't had the chance yet. It's so petty. And the parents are missing the key point... it's a part of life. Part of me wonders what would happen to one of these children if five, ten years down the line they lose their arm and then remember how mummy and daddy said the lady on the TV was scary because she didn't have an arm.

andy m said...

i have no problem with the fact that she has one arm, but does she really need to show it off as she does.i do not see the need to make such an emphasis on the fact that she is disabled.

Penny L. Richards said...

I haven't seen footage, but it appears from the stills that Burnell uses the end of her arm for many tasks--so she's not "showing it off" by exposing it, she's just dressing in the most functional way for how she uses her arms--just like most of us do.

And there are surely a number of kids watching (and not only disabled kids) who identify a great deal with her because her difference is visible, and learn from her comfort and ease with it.

Conformity, or even pretended conformity, shouldn't be the price of inclusion.

Zannyb said...

I really can't understand why so many people are being petty and ignorant!! What about the children shown on Something special is that scaring children too?? The only thing scaring the children is the ignorant parents!!! what about other disabled people in the world?? All these parents are doing is teaching their children they are all scary!! It's no wonder our world is filled with prejudice!! it's being taught from an early age, whatever happened to Equal rights and opportunities??

smarterdeals.com said...
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Nate said...

Awesome, BBC!! {applause} HA! The PARENTS are the ones that are uncomfortable and they don't want their kids asking them that they don't have answers to.

@andy m: are you serious? It ISN'T a big deal, so she's not acting like it is - and wears her shirt just like anybody else would - she's not pointing out her disability by not hiding it. :/ She is not ashamed of it, so neither should we be.

Eric said...

That's unbelievably ridiculous. The "worst" thing a kid usually does when confronted with something like that is stare (simple curiosity) or directly ask the person what's up with their arm (or legs/face/whatever). They don't mean any harm, and the only discomfort caused is usually on the part of the parent.

Her arm doesn't scare kids, it scares parents that don't know how to deal with it.

I expect and encourage my daughter to be inquisitive, and I'm not embarrassed when she is. Kids being kids is no cause for shame.

Nor is dogs being dogs, but that's a pet peeve for another day ;)

clairlewis said...

hi there thought you might be inteersted in my blog here... the press have totally misrepresented the public - i have started a facebook group which now lists nearly 30,000 supporters

http://clairlewis.livejournal.com/1160.html

http://clairlewis.livejournal.com/935.html

Clair Lewis (Disabled people's Direct Action Network)

clairlewis said...

see my new blog re the real news - please spread the word http://clairlewis.livejournal.com/1716.html

Penny L. Richards said...

Hi Claire--thanks for the links. I joined the Facebook group yesterday, in fact.

While the reaction against Cerrie Burnell is probably a minority view, it's still a real problem. In this case, it's not which side is louder, but that the "disability is scary" perspective is still so widely held and so easily expressed.

dan said...

We should all go to the BBC/Cbeebies forum and show our support for Cerrie. Shes a beautiful role model for children with limb differences.


http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbcbeebies/F2704763?thread=6359400

Chris said...

How great is it that children will be able to see a positive role model like Ms. Burnell. Commercial TV needs more people of her caliber, talent and with her personality.

Nigel said...

My daughter also has the exact same disability as Cerrie and it doesn't bother her or the other children at her school or wherever we go, in fact, they find it interesting and not something that gives them nightmares. My daughter shows her arm and doesn't hide it, and why should she?? It's part of her and her unique personality and I commend the BBC for employing such a talented individual. Come on people, get a grip. The people who have made the complaints should be looked at for discrimination as they obviously have closed minds on the world out there.

Anonymous said...

It's creepy the way she is showing it!

Tom B said...

What if she had a punctured eye, would it still be cool to show it to the children on TV ?
Not everybody has the same threshold for these kind of things, it is also tolerance to accept that people can be shocked by the sight of her stump, being a public person I believe she could conceal it.

Penny L. Richards said...

Tom B--not sure how the "punctured eye" analogy works. Of course we generally shield children from the sight of traumatic injury, pain, blood, etc., where possible. But Burnell's arm exhibits none of those. A child might well see an arm like Burnell's on a classmate or teacher, or on a neighbor at the grocery store, just in the course of ordinary living. They don't need to be protected from such a sight.

Anonymous said...

Cerrie burnell is a favourite presenter of mine, and I think that it is shocking the way she has been treated by the BBC. The East Sussex Disability Association support her and are currently running a forum to rally support:

Have your say on the recent press coverage about CBBC presenter Cerrie burnell.

They're a strong voice in the sector - please support them.

MackMac said...

It's all down to ignorance in all true honesty. Parents are throwing issues and prejudices at her because she's disabled as they claim that they "scare" their children. What have they got to be scared of though?

If parents disapprove of her being a bad role model because of her arm. What role models does that make the parents to their children?

I'm pleased to note that the BBC has promoted equality in society which is setting a great example to many.

At the end of the day, we're all human which some people simply forget when they throw issues. Nobody's perfect and everybody's different. If we were all perfect and the same, the world literally be a boring place.

I've blogged about this by the way and have a look at what you think of it ;)

MackMac said...

this is the link of my blog I forgot to add:

http://mackmac.blogspot.com/2009/03/you-show-them-cerrie-its-parents-who.html

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V.W. said...

All this talk about Cerrie being a negative influence is incredibly ridiculous. Being that she is a pioneer, of such, she can only prove to be a positive influence. Has it ever crossed anyone's mind that Cerrie will probably be a great encouragement to children with a disability. Cerrie Burnell Rocks!!

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