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Deaf Representation in Mainstream Media: Is it Higher than Ever Before?

It is safe to say that there has certainly been an increase in deaf representation in the mainstream media over the past year. One of the biggest deaf actresses in the country, Rose Ayling-Ellis went on to win entertainment show Strictly Come Dancing last December, HBO released And Just Like That, the iconic spin-off series to Sex & the City which explored Steve’s age-related hearing loss, and Marvel finally provided into audience with an in-depth insight into the noise-induced hearing loss of Clint Barton in the Hawkeye miniseries. This is an eagerly anticipated increase, given the estimated 11 million people who are affected by hearing loss in the United Kingdom alone; a vast proportion, and community of individuals who have previously been underrepresented. 

Deaf representation in mainstream media is quickly becoming a proliferating trend. Just this year, history was made at the 94th Academy Awards when Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) won all three of its Oscar nominations. The film itself was named Best Picture; Tony Kotsur became the first deaf Oscar winner in 35 years for his performance of Frank Rossi, and writer/director Sian Heder accepted the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The narrative follows the journey of Rubi Rossi, the only hearing member of her deaf family, and who despite possessing the ability to hear, uses sign language to communicate with her deaf father, mother, and brother. It has been celebrated for its use of real-life deaf actors, for making sign language the centrepiece of the film, and for paving the way for a greater representation of hearing loss in the wider world.

In less than a month after the success of CODA at the Academy Awards, Mattel announced that their upcoming line of Barbie dolls will feature hearing aids to allow young children with hearing loss to “see themselves reflected in the product”. Barbie with a hearing aid will be the latest addition to the Fashionista collection, which has previously featured Barbies in wheelchairs, Barbies with different body shapes and skins tones, and even Barbies with prosthetic limbs, and conditions like vitiligo. It appears to be part of a long-awaited and highly applauded project to both celebrate diversity and help young children understand the importance of inclusion by encouraging them to play with dolls who may or may not resemble themselves. In the past, young children have observed Barbie with her long blonde hair and skinny body and wondered “why doesn’t she look like me?”, so by reimagining Barbie to embrace all shapes, sizes, and disabilities, she will both encourage self-confidence, body positivity in children, and prevent them from feeling like outcasts. These are the steps taken by Mattel over recent years to bring Barbie into the modern era. There are over 45,000 children with hearing loss in United Kingdom alone, and around 850 babies are born deaf every year, so Barbie with hearing aids will be a welcome addition to the homes of many young children.

In many ways, teenagers and young adults can be just as impressionable as children when it comes to the beauty standards imposed on society by mainstream media. In the past, the popular reality show Love Island signed a range of photoshopped social media influencers to broadcast on screens across the country, but even this has taken a turn in recent weeks. They have announced that they have signed Natasha Ghouri, the first deaf contestant to be appear on the show. The 23-year-old dancer wears a cochlear implant to help her with hearing loss and has showcased her medical device in a range of adverts in the past, including ASOS. She has already made a statement to say that “representation matters” and that she is “proud to represent her community”. Love Island has also undergone a revamp to encourage diversity and inclusion, as Natasha is the second disabled contestant to appear on the show. Hugo Hammond was present in the previous series, with a condition known as clubfoot.

In response to whether deaf representation is higher that ever before, many would argue that it is, as hearing loss and hearing aids are making regular appearances in TV shows, advertisements, and products across the country, and it is great to see those with hearing loss represented in mainstream media – a mass news giant which influences the minds of many. It will certainly do wonders for raising deaf awareness in hearing communities, creating idols for young deaf generations, and reducing boundaries between the deaf and the hearing.