There is an insidious phrase gaining popularity over the last few years called “Inspiration Porn”. Lene Andersen (Health care writer, RA and disability advocate, and wheelchair user) states:
“Porn involves the objectification of one group of people for the benefit of another group. Using people with a disability or chronic illness who are somehow managing to go about their lives as inspiration for non-disabled people to feel better about their lives or motivation to get off their arse meets the definition.“
In condemning what is called “Inspiration Porn”, one argument basically states:
“A wheelchair athlete should not be considered inspiring just because they use a wheelchair, but instead because “they are a world-class athlete who competes on the international level with some of the fastest, strongest, most amazing athletes in the world.“
Oh, pardon, I see, only the very best get to be inspiring. Bull crap! That elitist attitude, “only the best can inspire”, is the very same thing we see everywhere outside of the disabled community: Only superstars get to be considered special and inspiring, while the rest of us peasants grovel admiringly at their feet. If you doubt me, just watch any talk show, or Entertainment Tonight style show, and you will see what I mean.
Every little thing that a star athlete, super model, pop star, and famous actor does is magnified, even the everyday stuff. How often have we seen interviewers coo at their beloved media royalty “OH, you actually cooked a meal/changed a diaper/played with your children this weekend? How FANTASTIC! Tell our listeners more!” What drivel!
For many of us with disabilities, doing daily chores can be like an ultimate chess match, combined with the physical effort of climbing Mount Everest. Should we complain about it? Certainly not! Should we be proud of our efforts? Absolutely!
We don’t ask for medals, or media interviews, but please, don’t get all high and mighty if someone uses our courageous images to put a little inspiration into someone’s life.
Another argument goes like this:
“Inspiration porn is a dangerous thing because, even if the intentions are good, it implies that the average disabled person is weak or lacks independence.”
Really? Couldn’t it be instead when a person with a disability receives a compliment like “You are amazing” that it is just an expression of the fact at least some able-bodied people see their own weaknesses by comparison? Weakness like when they call in sick for no good reason, or do not take a single walk the whole weekend just because of their own laziness?
Personally, I’m thankful when someone recognizes how hard it is for me to get around, and says that I’m inspiring: A lot of pain, sweat and tears went into my rehab when I was a child. Even I forget how awesome an effort I put in to get back on my feet. But just because I forget that fact does not mean others have to ignore it as well, or god forbid, avoid complimenting me for it.
Also consider that overachievers often don’t realize just how hard it is to be doing what it is they are doing. Overachievers, whether they have a disability or not, often feel they are doing nothing special, and that you are being silly, or worse, when you compliment them. What galls me is that it is mostly these overachievers, successful and outspoken in their given fields, that are using derogatory terms for these inspirational images of people with disabilities, as if our lives are not grandiose enough to be considered inspiring.
How each of us responds to any compliment is our own personal responsibility, and reflects our own state of mind much more than the stranger complimenting us. The truth is, just as a stranger knows nothing about you, the reverse is also true: You know nothing about the stranger who is complimenting you. Maybe that stranger has a sibling or even a child that has a disability, and that relative has given up, whereas you have chosen to rise above your limitations.
Sometimes, a compliment is just a compliment, and an inspirational image is just an inspirational image. When we try to over-think things, and come up with clever terms like “Inspiration Porn” it just boomerangs back on us in all the wrong ways, and becomes a public domain label that everyone gets to slap on those of us who have a disability.
I encourage everyone to continue to be inspiring to one another, whether you have a disability or not, and whether your victories are big or small. And to those who would call that inspiration porn I say, “If you don’t think we are inspiring enough for YOU to be inspired, that’s your problem, not ours.”