America’s Next Top Model 9 contestant Heather Kuzmich, who was eliminated last week, told The New York Times that she did the show because “[i]t was a point in my life where I was thinking either Asperger’s was going to define me or I was going to be able to work around it.”
Too bad she went on a reality show that wouldn’t let her be defined by much else. While she took stunning photos and “was voted the viewer favorite eight weeks in a row, making her one of the most popular contestants in the show’s four-and-a-half-year history,” as the Times notes, the show never stopped defining Heather by her disability, constantly inserting clips where Heather said things like, “I do have a disability. It’s Asperger’s syndrome. It does affect the way I pay attention and the way I react about people.”
Perhaps more egregious were the moments week after week when Tyra Banks insisted upon condescendingly lecturing her fellow judges–and viewers–about Asperger’s, discussing it with the deep understanding one would have after skimming the first sentence of a Wikipedia entry.
Heather tells the paper that while the editing overstated her conflict with the other models, but that ultimately, the exposure paid off. “I’m used to people kind of ignoring me. … At first I was really worried people would laugh at me because I was so very awkward. I got the exact opposite. … I had no idea it would be this big. My mom is beside herself. She watched me when I was a kid not have any friends, and she saw me struggle. She’s glad people are starting to understand this,” she said.