Tuesday, May 26, 2009

top women speakers? Aimee Mullins

Aimee Mullins is on our burgeoning list of today's top women speakers because reader Beth Schachter asked her friends for suggestions. Her fellow Toastmaster Merry Beekman came forward with Mullins, who has spoken twice at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference, which generously makes videos available for its talks.

This talk, "Aimee Mullins and her 12 pairs of legs," puts a dozen unusual prosthetic legs on stage with Mullins, whose own legs were amputated below the knee in infancy, as she was born without fibular bones. From her bio:
She learned to walk on prosthetics, then to run -- competing at the national and international level as a champion sprinter, and setting world records at the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. At Georgetown, where she double-majored in history and diplomacy, she became the first double amputee to compete in NCAA Division 1 track and field.
She has gone on to model and act, but has become a visible proponent of advances in prosthetics.

In this talk, Mullins uses some of the techniques already noted from our top women speakers of today. She moves around the stage, using the space and her props--the prosthetics--to underscore her points and illustrate the slides further. Notice how she keeps her arms where they can be instantly useful for gesturing, bent at the elbow; it's also a relaxed look that keeps her hands free, which helps her delivery. She focuses on telling personal stories, another key to speaking without notes.

What's fascinating, too, about this talk is its discussion of beauty and disability. Mullins tackles it, and so do the commenters on this TED page featuring her speech. Here's a sample:
Such a brilliant athlete and spokeswoman for the differently abled gets it, but then why did she pose as a half-naked cat? It's ridiculous. She doesn't need photos like that to make her beautiful, and she should not seek acceptance from the skin-deep fashion industry to prove her beauty. All it said to me was that yes, even women without legs can be heavily objectified. The same industry she is so happy to be accepted in is the one that helped make her feel different in the first place! Everyone commenting on this speech admires Ms. Mullins for her true beauty, and I am afraid the mixed message of the photo shoot is trying to take credit for it. I%u2019d like to see a picture of her, fully clothed, without any prosthetics on- that would be a bold, beautiful move.

Is she helping push the diversity of what we consider beautiful, or becoming objectified? Whatever your view, she's a compelling speaker.

Related posts:

What should I do with my hands?

Another eloquent woman on disability

About this series: One of my readers noted he was having trouble finding examples (especially on video) of top women speakers of today--plenty from the past, few from today. So I'm working to compile a list of the top 10 women speakers. Please send me your nominees! I'm looking for nominees from the present day, particularly those for which video examples can be found. You can mention your nominee and any video links in the comments below; send them to me on Twitter; or email me at info[at]dontgetcaught[dot]biz.

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