A lot of the time when I’m tasked with watching documentaries, the subject matter or the people involved get me quite angry and I end up shouting at the screen. Occasionally though, I’m touched by the inspirational stories that I see in certain programmes. It was certainly the latter emotion that I felt when watching Channel 4’s The Human Mannequin, which focuses on 18 year old Louise Wedderburn who has a rare bone disease, known as FOP, which essentially sees the body’s muscles become bone and will eventually cause each of her joints to be frozen in place.
Louise, who is one of only 800 people with the condition, is cared for her by her mother and her older sister Samantha, however with the latter leaving the family home after her wedding, things are about to change for Louise. Instead of some people who would simply give up after the disease slowly worked its way through their bodies, Louise is determined to do something with her life and aspires to have a career in fashion. A subscriber to Elle Magazine for the last seven years, Louise’s dream would to be a stylist, however the fact that FOP will eventually see her freeze completely in place means that this wish may never come true…
The earlier scenes show Louise’s flair for style as we look through the wardrobe at her collection of dresses and shoes, some of which she won’t be able to wear again. It seems that Louise’s eye for fashion comes from her grandmother Valerie, who herself has a collection of vintage clothing and takes credit for her granddaughter’s passion for styling, even though she’s worried that her condition will prevent her from fulfilling her career goals. Louise’s mother also takes us through how her condition developed when she hit puberty, and gradually, her joints began to get frozen in place meaning that she had to have a lot of time off school. The condition also caused the relationship between her parents to deteriorate and eventually her father, who was unable to deal with his daughter’s disability, left the family home. The documentary begins to liven up when Louise gets an offer of some work experience during London Fashion Week, however at the same time, her leg begins to inflame, causing the movement in it to be inflamed which may mean she’ll have to decline the offer of the job. Luckily she discovers that for now, she’ll still be able to move the leg so, along with Samantha acting as her career, she jets off to London Fashion Week.
When in London, Louise is tasked with helping to apply the make-up of several of the models as well as give her opinion on certain hairstyles for the big fashion show the next day. On the day of the show itself, Louise’s job is to check that all of the models’ hair and make-up looks perfect before they go on stage; a stressful task that may see her FOP kick-in. Thankfully she is able to carry out her duties without too much bother, though she does occasionally have to rest in a corner when she becomes too overwhelmed, and her efforts during the show are applaud. There is more good news when she visits the only FOP charity and learns that they’re currently researching a method to block the faulty gene which means by the time she’s 22, there may be a cure for her condition. Louise’s career seemed to be taking another step in the right direction when she was offered a few days working as an intern at Elle Magazine. As we saw Louise packing to go to London, her grandmother was arranging some accessories to take with her and hoped that at least one picture of her granddaughter would be taken wearing one of these items.
Elle Magazine got Louise working straight away, getting her out on the streets to assist on a feature about the most fashionable clothes that people wear to work. This saw Louise’s eye for style at work and in turn it impressed those around her who also wanted to take some pictures of Louise, including one with her grandmother’s handbag. Back at the office, Louise’s next job was to write an article on make-up trends, however the stress of her writer’s block made her FOP flare up once again and saw her mother having to come to her aide. Despite these struggles, Louise’s article was eventually written and the editor was so impressed that she put it up on the magazine’s blog with Louise feeling very proud about her first article. As Louise’s time at Elle drew to an end, the editor was impressed how she didn’t let her disability get in the way of her work, with her only worrying being the fast-paced nature of fashion journalism. Back at home, and spurred on by her time at the magazine, Louise had decided to start up her own fashion blog and styling business named Peaches and Rose. Her new business meant that she could do a lot of work from her home where she had the support of her mother, and after watching this girl for a mere 45 minutes, I really wanted her business to be a success, and more than that, I hoped that the cure that was talked about earlier in the film would eventually be discovered.
I do find Channel 4’s documentaries can be quite flippant at times, the recent My Tattoo Addiction would be an example of that, however here I was almost instantly absorbed in Louise’s story and thought she was an absolutely inspiring person. Instead of just feeling sorry for herself and spending all her days in a darkened room, she is someone who follows through with their ambition as much as they can without their condition getting them down. During the course of the documentary, you could really see her passion for fashion and how this eye for style could well see her working for one of the more famous fashion magazines. Throughout The Human Mannequin, I found myself getting really emotional such as in the scene where Louise’s leg inflammation may have prevented her going to London Fashion Week, or when her grandmother saw the pictures of Louise with her handbag that had been put up on Elle’s website. The scene in which Louise and her mother found out that there may be a cure for the condition in Louise’s lifetime was also a moment of great joy, and you could see in their faces that they weren’t expecting to hear the news.
I honestly can’t recommend this documentary enough as it really highlights how none of us should let our problems drag us down and instead follow our dreams as much as we can. I got the impression that Louise is someone who wouldn’t want to be described as inspirational, but that’s what I would call her as by the end of the show, she’d even set up her own company. Instead of making me angry, The Human Mannequin gave me hope that there are people out there who ignore the hurdles that life puts in their way and instead achieve as much as they can with the skills that they have been given.
Did you enjoy The Human Mannequin? Did you find it as emotional as I did? Leave Your Comments Below.