[Review] Rebekah Taussig’s Sitting Pretty

Rebekah Taussig’s Sitting Pretty is the kind of book I never know I need until I pick it up. The kind of book that connects with the deepest hidden parts of how I feel about and engage with the world. The kind of book from a perspective that understands because they, too, have lived it. Her and I do not have the same disability, but our experiences connect all the same. If I learn anything about being disabled in the world the longer and deeper I’m in it, it’s that the experience of disabled people trying to live in a society that would prefer to pretend you aren’t there is shockingly (or not) universal.

I, too, was only made aware of how different I was because kids at school made sure I knew what normality meant, and that I was on the outside of it. I, too, have battled the Social Security office for supplemental income only to realize accepting it is conditional on not having a job at all. I, too, have descended into sheer and blinding panic over losing medical insurance and the pressing need to have a job with good coverage just so I can afford to live, and battled over finding truly accessible housing. It’s a hard battle to keep fighting, and one no disabled person really gets a choice in entering into.

But it isn’t without its shining moments either. Reading this book was like finally being seen, heard, and deeply understood. Feeling that connection on the level of my disability is incredibly rare, and Taussig’s vulnerability, charm, and wit about it felt like a gift. Every complex emotion about how difficult it is — or even what it means — to connect with people, she understands. The revelatory discovery that society’s structure is the problem, not how you live in it, didn’t really hit me until college either. Up ‘til then I had been beating myself up and feeling like a burden in the world almost daily, because I didn’t see anything in the world telling me that I was even worth a second glance. My family is a rock solid base I am eternally grateful for, but the world at large very clearly wanted to erase me from existence, and for a time I believed that was as much as I was worthy of. But then, something clicked in me, and it keeps clicking today.

The first time I saw someone like myself in media (that wasn’t, like, a villain or a token friend, or someone who needed to be made over to be worthy of love) was in a Target Halloween ad. A little girl with crutches was in an Elsa costume in the middle of the page, no larger or smaller than anyone else, but there. And I cried. I was in college, and it was the first time I saw something I always knew deep inside of me I needed to see. I’ve seen it more often in the years since, but the feeling never changes. A rush of happiness and validation that yes! I belong here just as much as you do! My presence in this world matters! We don’t need media to tell us that, of course, but to think media has no effect on social thought is folly. I didn’t cry over that Target ad just because it was something I needed to see. I did it because there are kids in the world out there who need to see it too. Who would get just as excited about seeing themselves on that page as I did.

This is part of Taussig’s point, of course. Growing up and going through the world disabled means growing through and with a unique kind of pain, physical and otherwise, that shifts and morphs but never truly leaves. The pain of knowing how different you are, feeling people’s eyes on you no matter where you go, having safety concerns entirely unique to your body and mental state. Seeing someone else put down in words about being afraid of things like taking an Uber because, what if they withheld my mobility aid? I wouldn’t be able to get away as quickly as other people; or being the only visibly disabled person in the room and feeling other people’s tension rise when something awkward happens; or the quandary of do I really have the energy to speak up about this societal overlook or can I just put up with the inconvenience? was uniquely refreshing.

Many things she discusses in Sitting Pretty I have only in recent years begun to puzzle over, and finding solidarity in someone being worried about the same things for the same reasons was comforting in a way I didn’t really know I needed. We’re all shut up in quarantine right now, and it’s a very lonely experience, but this book was a much needed reminder that every question I ask myself about my place in the world and my abilities to navigate it is not unique to me.

I write about representation in media for the same reasons it feels like Rebekah Taussig wrote this book: if we want the world to truly be a better place, we have to have as many voices at the table as possible. Even when the stories aren’t centered on a disabled person, their input can and should be considered. We’ve gone a long time being overlooked, but any world that overlooks minorities of any kind is an incomplete one. Disabled people aren’t asking to be the center of every conversation. Just to be included. To be seen. To be heard. Improving the world for us, believe it or not, improves the world for everyone else, too.

I cannot recommend Sitting Pretty loudly enough. A vital and vulnerable memoir about the importance of inclusion and the rough edges of growth of understanding.

I would like to thank HarperCollins and NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. This one means so much.

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Katelyn Nelson

Katelyn Nelson

Katelyn Nelson’s writing interests lean mostly toward pop culture analysis and representation. She tweets @24th_Doctor, mostly about horror.