So imagine my mama, who is becoming more adept at social media/using the internet than I am (embarrassing) saying, “Shayna. Have you heard about the newest winner of America’s Next Top Model? He’s deaf, dark haired, blue-eyed, and handsome.” Since I have been living under a ROCK for the past month (finals finals finals), my answer was no. Since I have no intentions of emerging out from under said rock to interact with the world just yet, I spent the past two days watching an entire season of America’s Next Top Model (with closed captions) like it was going out of style (lol never).
Sure, cycle 22 may have been the most dramatic season I’ve ever seen, but it was also the most intriguing, and that is because of Nyle. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be on a T.V. show, especially considering my deafness. However, Nyle’s task is one that even I cannot pretend to comprehend.
Nyle is a member of the Deaf community, which means he uses nonverbal communication and sign language as his means of expressing himself. The other 21 contestants were hearing individuals. No matter what kind of drama those other people got up to, if Nyle was in the shot, I was focused on him.
And not just ’cause he’s cute, okay? Okay.
It was so inspiring to see Nyle keep up with the others. His reasons for doing the show (proving that deaf/Deaf people can do anything) and his method of going about it just blew my mind. He was so composed and so patient, and while I can’t say I fully understand what it is like to be in his shoes, I feel that I understand more so than the average person.
When Nyle’s phone, which was one of his primary forms of communication with the other contestants (via various talk-to-text and sign-to-speech technologies) was taken from him so another contestant could take selfies, I felt his anger and his frustration. Obviously, what that contestant did was not cool and it should not have happened. At the same time, I understand Nyle’s desire to keep peace and not disrupt the vibe, choosing instead to internalize the frustration rather than express it. Many times, I have been in social situations where my hearing impairment was either forgotten or just completely disregarded, sometimes maliciously. Still, I wanted to give others the benefit of the doubt, to allow them the naiveté of not having to adopt another person’s perspective or burden.
When Nyle was a cast member on Tyra Banks’ music video, I was so stoked to see him keep time with the music (with some help from the crew and Tyra). He even did better than some hearing individuals!
When Nyle had to do a photoshoot in the pitch black of night (no sight AND no sound?!) I felt that bewilderment and desperation to succeed, in spite of a so-called “disability.” I was reminded of various nighttime talks I would have with my friends, around campfires, on buses, or just because. I remember feeling lost, like I had no anchor to hold on to, no visual cues, no facial expressions — just sound, which for me, and most other deaf individuals, is not always enough.
When Nyle had to walk the final runway to the sound of violins (no bass? Really, people, really?) I was taken back to my days as a songleader in high school, where I was able to perform in front of large crowds despite the fact that I couldn’t always hear the music. I had a job to do and an image to sell, and deafness didn’t really have a place in that description.
When Nyle won, I could not comprehend how he must have felt. Yes, I understand pretty much every step of his story. I feel his pain, confusion, frustration, excitement, determination, and enthusiasm. He handled feeling invisible (because no one else spoke his language) with absolute poise and maturity. He kept his wit and humor despite the difficulty on many fronts — social, modeling, and beyond. Yes, I too, have been in similar shoes. But Nyle DiMarco did it without spoken language. As a result, I was positively mind-boggled. I once heard a person say, “blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from other people.” Watching Nyle DiMarco, and keeping in mind my own experiences, I just know this isn’t true.
We are all bound by the human condition, and we all have different battles. A deaf/Deaf individual can connect to another person just as well as the next person. But other people have different obstacles to face and overcome. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t any one type of minority group keeping up with a majority. I think it is high time we all understood that life is the story of individuals not only keeping up with each other, but also holding each other up.
Seeing how Nyle found ways to reach his fellow contestants and seeing how they, Tyra, the judges, and the crew reached out to him was something special. As a deaf individual, it is reinforcing to see someone similar to me go out on a limb like that and succeed. Not necessarily because I feel like I can’t do it too, but simply because it is beautiful. It is progress. It is not a solution, it is not a clear announcement that okay, now being deaf is totally mainstreamed and normal, but I’d say it’s a start. A fierce one, at that.
Nyle DiMarco is helping amplify the voices (and signs) of so many deaf/Deaf people coming out of their shells and sharing their stories. His journey has been awe-inspiring from the get-go, and there is nowhere for him to go but up. Many thanks to Nyle, to America’s Next Top Model, and to the viewers who had open minds for helping to redefine what beauty is in the 21st century.