Stacey Lim wants to start a discussion about disability, beauty and ability.
Not just a private chat, but a public dialogue, an exhibition of views.
She's doing it through "(dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability and ability," an exhibit that opened Thursday, Feb. 8, at Central Michigan University's Clarke Historical Library and runs through August.
Lim, a CMU audiology faculty member, was born with profound hearing loss — and a fondness for fashion. Combining those two aspects of herself has been one of her life's passions. Another is to diminish the stigma that wearers of assistive devices feel by encouraging the manufacture of fashionable devices, and to raise awareness of the issue.
"I think being able to express yourself physically help breaks down the negative stereotypes of people with disabilities," she said.
Fashion to friendship
An interest in fashion is what brought together Lim and Tameka Ellington, the co-creator of the exhibit.
Lim first met Ellington at Kent State University when the two doctoral students were waiting outside their statistics class. Ellington, a fashion designer, saw Lim knitting a scarf, and they began sharing their interest in fashion. They became fast friends and decided they wanted to do fashion research together.
“I think being able
to express yourself physically help breaks down the negative stereotypes of
people with disabilities.” — Stacey Lim
They soon co-authored a study on how wearing hearing aids and cochlear implants affects teenagers' self-esteem. While presenting their findings at a health and fashion symposium, they attended a session on fashionable prosthetic limbs.
"We started looking at what was out there and began running into a community of people making more fashionable prostheses, hearing aids and other devices — those that would match a person's personality," Lim said.
Impulse to exhibit
Coincidentally, Kent State has the world's largest collection of hearing aids.
"I got to walk by it every day," said Lim. "It got me thinking that we can do better than that. We can show other things, like clothing that people have made, or other prostheses."
The pair began assembling a collection of assistive devices of historical, current and visionary design.
Lim began talking with Kent State and CMU about hosting an exhibition when she joined the faculty here in 2013.
Their first exhibition was at Kent State from September 2016-March 2017. Lim said it was well received.
The CMU opening
Lim opened the CMU exhibit in collaboration with fashion merchandising and design students from CMU's College of Education and Human Services. The students have added designs to the surfaces of prosthetic legs donated by Springer Prosthetic & Orthotic Services for a juried competition sponsored by CMU's Threads fashion show.
The student designs will be on display at the library. Ian R. Mull, Threads advisor and instructor in fashion merchandising and design, presented awards to the first-, second- and third-place winners, along with a viewer's choice award.
In addition, the exhibit includes stories of current and former students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have disabilities or have been involved in disability work. The stories were the result of interviews conducted by CMU students along with history department faculty member Brittany Bayless Fremion, Adam Strom of Due South Productions, and Lim.