Recently, I’ve seen a lot of feedback from fellow advocates and activists in the disability community regarding what is now termed as “inspiration porn.” I figure it’s long been the giant, pink elephant in the room, so it’s high time I addressed it as well, at the risk of sounding redundant. Whenever an issue like this becomes too prevalent, I feel the need to add my voice to the shouting crowd.
Most of you know by now (I’d be very disappointed if you didn’t!) that I despise the term “disabled.” I believe it to be an ugly term that is unfortunately used to liken human beings to damaged, defective machinery.
Take a moment to read that again. The term “disabled” equates people whom it describes to damaged, defective machinery.
Think about each time you board a plane and are subjected to all the safety instructions. What is one of the key regulations they always tell you?
“Please refrain from tampering or disabling the smoke detectors.”
I rest my case.
So, what exactly does this all have to do with the so-termed “inspiration porn” frenzy? Everything. You see, inspiration porn is the use of photos of people with disabilities coupled with phrases like “never give up” or “no excuses.”
What the hell does not giving up have to do with living with a disability? You have no idea how many times I’ve given up or wanted to give up something, for reasons not having absolutely anything to do with my having spina bifida.
So, please, before you think of this as just another bitter diatribe filled with cynicism, allow me to break down for you why I have such a huge problem with inspiration porn:
- It assumes that everything people with disabilities do is supposed to be “inspiring.”
Do you know what it’s like to live up to that kind of pressure? I mean, that mentality is dangerous to the mental health of those of us with disabilities, because it implies that if, on any given day, we choose to give up– drop that class, end that relationship, gain those 10 pounds while on summer vacation– we failed. That’s right. Your paltry attempts at gleaming inspiration from us make it all the more challenging for us to live our lives– as normally as possible.
The harsh reality is that we all, at one point or another, give up. But, that’s okay. No, I’m not being defeatist here. I’m simply pointing out that we all fall and pick ourselves up, and that’s normal. So, why hold a select group of us to a very unrealistic standard of accomplishment when you simply can’t seem to get your own act together? Focus on yourself, and stop comparing yourself to others. Wasn’t that your mama’s advice to you in the first place?
A meme I created a few months ago to portray the absurdity of the mainstream media– and the general public– in assuming our lives are “worse” than the lives of others. Feel free to share or re-pin!
- It also sets the bar very low for people with disabilities.
Yeah, you read that right. Unless we’re playing wheelchair limbo, there’s no need to lower your standards for people with disabilities. That’s insulting.
When I was preparing to graduate with my Associate’s Degree, I was so thrilled after participating in the graduation ceremony rehearsal. After all, I was taking the next step in my academic career. I’ll never forget the douse of cold water I received, from a college administrator no less, when she congratulated me– because I was able to walk across the stage. Of course, I’m sure she didn’t realize that I’ve been able to walk since I was two. I don’t think about it anymore.
My offense to her condescending remark was two-fold: First, it implies that there is “something wrong” with not being able to walk. So, I took offense on behalf of all of my friends who aren’t able to walk. Does it make their lives any less fulfilling? I think not.
Second, and most important to me, I was celebrating what was, to me, a great accomplishment– I was halfway done with my undergraduate education, and all she could focus on was the fact that I walked across the stage. Well, thanks, lady! If I had known the bar was set so low for me, I wouldn’t have bothered with two and a half painstaking years of hard work and sixty-plus credits. I needn’t have tried so hard if all it would have taken to consider myself a “success” was take five or six steps across a stage. 😉
Think carefully about the remarks you make, or hear others make, to people with disabilities. “I’m so proud of you for going to college.” “You got a job? That’s incredible! I didn’t know people like you could work.” “I can’t believe you danced the entire night.” “Wow, you downed that mojito in record time, even with spina bifida!”
Yep, I sure did. And I enjoyed every last sip. Make one more comment like that, and you’ll force me to have another. It’s on you.
- It overlooks the fact that you can be inspired by people without disabilities.
Sure, you think it’s wonderful that I can push my wheelchair all by myself, but did you ever stop and admire the single woman who is struggling to raise three kids while working full-time? Maybe even while in poor health?
Oh, that’s right. Her “issues” aren’t as obvious as mine. It’s completely disingenuous to assume that my accomplishments are somehow more kick-ass than the achievements of someone else, just because my so-perceived “obstacles” may be a little more noticeable. In fact, I’ll come right out and say it– it’s downright hypocritical. Granted, I realize I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of adult issues, even during the first ten years of my life. But that’s not my entire life, and I’m sure that if you instead focused your attention on the accomplishments of real heroes– the young woman who has been working at her family’s non-profit since she was a teenager; the young man who just made a documentary about homelessness; the young woman who took on her school board so her child with autism could enjoy quality education– you’d realize that your emotional energy is far better spent on genuine admiration rather than condescension.
- It ignores the fact that it’s okay to not get a gold star each time we accomplish a simple task, like making our beds or getting an assignment in on time.
That being said, like anyone else, we’re human. We love being congratulated for the same milestones that others like to have recognized, too: graduations, birthdays, weddings, having a baby, getting a job or promotion, or receiving an award. We just don’t want– or need to have The Disability Angle thrown in our faces every single time.
I’m genuinely happy whenever I do something that inspires someone for a legitimate reason. I love inspiring people to live up to their potential. I just don’t wish for people to think that somehow, my potential is less than theirs. That would be a costly mistake. 😉
And if any of you ever have any questions or concerns about what is usually considered “acceptable” by a person with a disability, I’d be happy to chat about it. You know where to find me– I’ll be sipping my mojito like a champ.