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Jen Lee Reeves Headshot

Not Joining the Freakshow

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My daughter was born almost seven years ago. She was born beautiful and perfect with five fingers and 10 toes. I noticed her limb difference first, before the nurses and the doctor in the labor and delivery room. Her left arm stopped growing in utero after it formed the humerus bone and a growth plate. She does not have a left elbow, forearm or hand.

She is perfect.

My husband and I knew she was perfect the moment I asked the hospital staff if she was okay. They said yes, everything is okay. And we believed that immediately.

From that point forward I was on a quest to make sure my daughter could grow up with confidence, strength and an ability to live a life without fear or embarrassment. We are all different. My daughter's difference is more obvious than others. I started writing a blog before she was born and it morphed into a site focused on special needs advocacy and stories that make you smile. Born Just Right is a community of support to families around the world looking for ideas on how to advocate and support children and adults with a limb difference or any type of physical difference. We lean on each other to offer ideas on how to communicate and encourage more typical-looking people to ask questions instead of point and stare.

A new show on the AMC network could make my quest and the quest of so many people more difficult. In February 2013, the cable outlet plans to air a reality show called Freakshow.

If you watch the show's trailer, you'll see people who are totally okay with being called "freaks." It focuses on the employees who work at a Venice, Calif., business that focuses on the non-typical, from animals to adults. It's an old-time, carnie-style show that pushes back the advances of the special needs communities by generations. Many of the people who are featured in the AMC show trailer have limb differences. Some people don't have arms. Some people don't have legs. I'm so glad they are happy with the adult they've grown into. What troubles me is this show is focusing on the word "freak" instead of focusing on how adults with differences can be celebrated.

As she grows older, my 7-year-old is not afraid to speak up if a child uses words like "gross" or "disgusting." But often, adults at her school tell me she's not phased by periodic rude glances or questions. She is on a quest to educate. But not all kids with limb differences have the flexibility and patience that naturally comes from my daughter. I know of children who shy away from crowded environments or try to hide their difference. Even without a show that focuses on terms like "freakshow," these children feel isolated.

AMC has funded some amazing shows. It is known for smart programming. In the best case scenario, the network is trying to create conflict leading up to its launch to pull in viewers and the show ends up focusing on the human and positive sides of limb differences. But it's hard to give that concept much credit given the title of the show.

The only positive aspect of this show is it has come out when she's too young to notice. But I worry that won't be the case for her peers. I hope I can help educate its viewers that when a small group of adults are okay with the title "freak," it isn't okay to use it at will. My daughter is not a freak. She is strong and confident and I will help her and the limb difference community fight this show's glorification of misconceptions.

Jen Lee Reeves manages the Born Just Right community online and on Facebook. She's a former journalist-turned-non-profit social media trainer. The opinions she writes here are her opinions and do not represent her employer.