culture & community

    The Inspiration Porn Problem (or; Disabled, Normal, & a Bit Bitchy)

    by Meghan — August 16, 2019
    Inspiration porn! Silhouette of person in wheelchair with hands raised in triumph. And a background of a radiant orange sun.

    Have you ever heard of inspiration porn? It is one of the irritating social burdens that individuals with disabilities have to face on a regular basis.

    You want to know something I hate? I mean to truly honest to God loathe even more than the mean girls who made school a living hell for me. The thing I hate, is being told I’m an inspiration to able-bodied people for doing nothing remarkable whatsoever. I hate inspiration porn.

    If you’re wondering what that is here’s the definition borrowed from Wikipedia.

    Inspiration Porn: 

    • Inspiration porn is the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability.
    • The term was coined in 2012 by disability rights activist Stella Young in an editorial, We’re Not Here for Your Inspiration, in Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s webzine Ramp Up and further explored in her TEDx Talk I’m Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much. She rejected the idea that disabled people’s otherwise ordinary activities should be considered extraordinary solely because of disability.

    Here’s the thing. I’m not inspiring, I’m kind of a bitch actually. Just ask my sisters! In all seriousness though, when people tell me I’m inspiring I cringe because I’m really only existing in the world, I’m living my life – that’s it. It feels patronizing and limiting to tell me I’m inspiring for simply being.

    People will say – in the nicest most innocuous way – that my attitude toward life is “inspiring” and my internal reaction is to say,

    “Well, being bitter didn’t fix anything so I may as well get glad in the same pants I got mad in.”

    I’ll let you in on a few little secrets…

    • I hate my body at least once a week. I’m not talking about disking the way I look, though that’s part of it sure. What I mean is, I hate the fact that my body doesn’t function anywhere near the way an able-bodied person’s does.
    • I’m impatient.
    • I’m bossy.
    • I’m a people pleaser…I wish I wasn’t.
    • I can be shallow, I can be catty, and I can hold a major league grudge.
    • I’m passive aggressive as all hell.

    My point:

    Being human is not inspiring, it’s normal.

    I guess others see disabled people as inspiring because they can’t really wrap their heads around what it is to live a life so vastly different from their own. Where they see hardship, the disabled person sees the only life they know.

    When I see inspiration porn it’s usually an individual with a disability doing something entirely normal; like going to prom, or playing sports. The local news covers it, or it goes viral on Youtube, giving millions of able-bodied people the warm fuzzies. The person doing the reporting, or the team who plays with the disabled person, gets lauded as being compassionate, kind, and inclusive. They get credit for being associated with someone with a disability. Then, on the other side of the coin, the disabled person’s differences are put under a spotlight. Furthering the stereotype that the normal rights of passage have a rarefied air for us. And that’s just not true.

    Inspiration porn has reached new heights with the advent of social media. There’s something different about this generation’s need to publicly share even the most mundane of things. Lucky for me, Facebook wasn’t even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerburg’s eye when I attended my prom. So I was spared becoming fodder for the inspiration porn monster. Back then, I asked my date to prom and we went. The only fanfare it got was our mothers getting a little misty eyed that we surpassed another milestone together. Pretty normal stuff really. In all honesty, prom was boring and not worth the hype, but I’m glad I went because it is an experience everyone should have. However, you and your date certainly shouldn’t be glorified, or go viral online, just because one of you has a disability.

    Weighing whether something is inspiration porn is something I consider before sharing on social media platforms. Is this really inspirational? Does it feed into the usual stereotypes? Does it have value in changing the perception of disability or have some kind of educational aspect?

    My rules are simple. If it feeds the stereotyping beast, I don’t share it. If it is somehow educating people, or if it serves an actual purpose (like some of the blogs and Instagrammers I follow), then I share it.

    A great example of how to turn inspiration porn on its ear and use the social media monster for good, rather than evil, is @mizzoumum‘s account on Instagram. Two of her four daughters have Down syndrome. Hazel is seemingly very reserved (what I’ve seen via Instagram stories) but she has a great smile that lights up her whole face. Then there’s Reese, she has personality out the wazoo!

    I found their Instagram page while going through the beauty tutorial tag. And stopped to watch one of Reese’s awesome beauty tutorials. Reese knows every product and its purpose. Though what drew me in, was her mother Nicole’s honest yet hilarious commentary during the filming of the tutorial. Things like…. “We went from decent smokey eye to cat whiskers in three seconds flat, okay then.” Or my personal favorite was “Oh unibrow… Are we going Frida Kahlo?” Nicole’s just filming her kids doing something she likes but it’s an entertaining feed.

    I stuck around and also found out that Team Reezel does a scholarship fund in conjunction with Ruby’s Rainbow. They’re a non-profit organization providing scholarships for people with Down syndrome, who are attending college and gaining their degrees. Tertiary education programs for the intellectually disabled are relatively new and get little in the way of press. Using her platform to entertain, and possibly inspire, Nicole is also educating and shedding light on important topics. I find that admirable.

    When my sister Katie tells me I inspire her, or that she admires me, I don’t get offended because the things she admires have nothing to do with my disability. She admires me because I’m her big sister and she looks up to the example I set.

    People with disabilities don’t mind getting credit for something they’ve done, but if I haven’t done anything? Don’t say I inspire you. It makes me feel really, really, small. I can only hope you’ll have something to ponder if you feel the urge to tell a disabled person that they’re “so inspiring”, or before you hit the share button.

    Title photo created by kjpargeter –

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