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Why Lea Michele’s Neck Brace Comments Make Me Want to Scream

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Have you watched “Scream Queens“? You know, the new show where Lea Michele plays an awkward, nerdy type who also wears a metal neck brace? She’s trying to get into the “in” sorority.

Well, I watched it. I tried hard to remember it’s a satire, a snarky comedy reflecting a superficial world. However, it was hard. You see, I wore that metal neck brace for three months. I wore it to bed, I wore it to work. I wore it to presentations in front of clients and colleagues. I wore it everywhere. I wore it well.

I remember when the neurosurgeon explained, after two years of searching, that my skull was fused to half of my first vertebra from birth. That my first vertebra is in two pieces. That the junction at my cranium and spine is unstable, and cartilage is building up at the brainstem. That the angle is abnormal. That from my skull to my fourth cervical vertebra (C4), I was fused with boney blocks rather than free moving vertebrae. That this congenital condition called –>

I will never forget the look on my mom’s face as the orthotics specialist fitted me in that metal brace. She saw what had been invisible for 42 years. A birth defect we had no control over was now trying to take control of my life. She had fear, pain and worry written all over her. I stood strong. Afterward we went out to eat at a burger joint in a small Iowa college town. It was loud and filled with young adults who were looking at me. I couldn’t eat my burger as I wished. I couldn’t move my jaw. The noise caused me more pain. I couldn’t move my head, but I was going to have to get used to it. I had no choice. I did not choose this.

So, as I watched “Scream Queens,” I wondered, why is a neck brace used as a prop to make someone appear less worthy, less cool, less attractive? But again I realized this is “comedy.” I tried to shake it off.

Then Lea appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” As Lea explains, she has to “up her game” on his show after wearing “that neck brace” and explains (mockingly, I believe) that her character on “Scream Queens” has severe scoliosis. (People with KFS can also have scoliosis.) Jimmy holds up an image of the “prop,” which is actually a SOMI brace. Lea also shares that she leaves her hair naturally curly and wears no makeup while in character.

This makes me want to scream, queen.

When you wear a metal neck brace for medical reasons and can’t remove it for months, doing your hair and makeup can be challenging. You try hard to look your best when you don’t feel good physically, and you’re physically limited.

And then there’s “Neckbrace,” her nickname on the show. Would you call someone “Feeding Tube”  or “Wheelchair” or “Prosthetic Leg” or “Chest Port”? Hell no, you wouldn’t. Would you use multiple sclerosis, cancer or ALS as the condition in this manner? Again, no. Newsflash people wearing a neck brace like that can have serious medical conditions.

In another article, the former “Glee” star explains that there must be no better way to show people something completely different from her character in “Glee,” Rachel Berry, than a neck brace. In an interview with “Variety,” she also says her character will get a makeover, omitting the neck brace. So, does neck brace equals “outcast and misfit needs a makeover”?

You look fine, Lea. But the comments being made, and the way the neck brace is being used, are ugly. What if you really needed that brace and had to wear it for longer than a few hours? What if it protected you from becoming paralyzed? What if it wasn’t a joke? Would you say that if you were in a wheelchair? Is it OK to use a medical brace as comedy to make a person less acceptable? Less beautiful? Unable to fit in, and in need of a makeover where a neck brace removed reveals beauty?

Young ones with spine conditions have enough trouble with the painful medical issues they face the visible physical differences and the needed braces without them being mocked and made into joke on TV by the “in” crowd.

I rocked that neck brace and four others. I’m wearing one right now, beautifully. This is for all of those who have worn a neck brace or a halo for months. You are kings and queens. You are The Mighty.

Lead photo source: YouTube video screenshot

Originally published: October 15, 2015
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