Lessons from Andre the Giant

For today's blog, I begin with a simple statement. We should all try and be more like Andre the Giant. I recognize this is a strange way to begin any blog, but once I explain myself I hope to find some disability positive underpinnings to this aspiration.

Andre the Giant, for those who don't know, was the professional wrestler and actor who was affected by a rare form of gigantism that caused him to stand at an impressive 7’4 and weigh 540 pounds. Recently, I read Carey Elwes’ memoir of making “The Princess Bride”, the film for which Andre was best known. The memoir spends a lot of time talking about the man that they called the gentle giant, much of it hilarious and much of it incredibly poignant with regards to disability. They talk about a man who children would either be terrified of our run right up to. They talk about a man who, unlike his costars, could never blend into a crowd. And they talk about a man who, despite his physical differences (and the pain that accompanied them), was always happy and smiling and never judged anyone for their reaction to him. This got me thinking about being disability positive and how we should all take a lesson from how Andre, or Fezik to any Princess Bride fans out there, carried himself in his daily life.

Growing up with a significant physical disability myself, I have often been subjected to stares and to people being hesitant to approach me. As I see it, there are two basic ways to handle this hesitancy. The first is to be assertive in trying to educate others as to why they don't have to be cautious around me or my disability. The second is to just be positive, friendly and welcoming and let those remain cautious figure it out for themselves. There are definitely cases where the first approach is needed, where education would be hugely beneficial. But in thinking about the way that Andre the Giant handled both celebrity and hesitancy, I prefer the positive and welcoming angle to promoting acceptance of disability.

A couple of times in Elwes’ memoir, he quotes Andre the giant as saying things like (and I'm paraphrasing here) “Its okay that people react like that, I know that I am frightening". Here was a man stood out more physically than most of us with a disability do and who on a daily basis would have people running from him or staring at him. And yet, he was happy with who he was and, on some level, celebrated what his body gave him such as a long and successful wrestling career. He could have remained sheltered or been ashamed of who he was, but he didn't. He could have let the stares and the awkward encounters get to him, but he didn’t. Instead, he embraced his difference as an asset and found an incredible personal strength from it. That, in a nutshell, is what I think disability positive is all about.

So, Andre, although you may have died in 1993, I am still learning from you and your attitudes today. Thank you!