Disability

You Ask, I Answer: What Is Inspiration Porn? What Does It Look Like?

This post is from my ongoing question-and-answer series, “You Ask, I Answer” in which I take questions that you send me and attempt to answer them (this might be a good time to say if you have a question, go ahead and write me here! It’s all anonymous)

Reader asks, 

What is inspiration porn, Meriah, and why do you say it? It sounds awful.”

Here’s a short vlog I made on this subject:

What is Inspiration Porn?

Video Summary:

  1. Definition of Inspiration Porn: “Inspiration porn is the portrayal of people who experience disability as inspirational solely or in part on the basis of their disability.” (wikipedia)
  2. It doesn’t celebrate us; it makes you pity us and/or  feel guilted into trying harder or doing more for yourself
  3. It objectifies us
  4. We’re more than our disabilities BUT we are very much our disabilities! Our disabilities are very much a part of who we are!
  5. Most of us don’t want the disability aspect of ourselves negated, minimized or expanded. It simply exists. So, don’t make us more or less than we actually are, and don’t say it doesn’t matter when it does.

So, What is Inspiration Porn Exactly?

Like I was saying above, it’ basically objectifying someone with a disability to make someone without a disability feel better about themselves. Our culture is rife with memes and stories related to inspiration porn. These images and stories are an easy way for most people (who are raised believing that disability is a bad thing) to feel a little better about themselves and this world.

Classic inspiration porn memes include these ones, which I’m sure most of you have seen online at one point or another:

See, every single one one of those memes is not about the disabled person.

Oh, those memes feature a disabled person! But the real focus of them is not the disabled person. They are precisely tailored for a non-disabled person, and are only using the disabled person to prove their point or make the non-disabled person feel like they should be trying harder.

They are not about celebrating a person with a disability; they are about using that person, because somehow that person’s life is deemed (by a non-disabled person) as pretty rough.

They are not really looking at the person.

Have you seen this image?

I’ll bet you have. It has been all over the internet:

little girl lying in bed painting
little girl lying in bed painting

All of the text that I saw that accompanied this meme were about how amazing this little girl was because, holy cow!

SHE WAS PAINTING!

Well, guess who else used to lie in bed and paint?

frida kahlo lying in bed and painting
frida kahlo lying in bed and painting

We don’t float pictures of Frida Kahlo around saying that our excuse is invalid, do we?

I don’t think so.

I think we say that Frida Kahlo was a bad-ass who had passion and did what she wanted to. She found a way to make what she wanted to happen.

Now, that is how to frame this stuff.

Look at each picture of someone with a disability who is doing something they love.

  • Man with prosthetics running » he got the tools to do something he wants to do!
  • Wheelchair using kid, dancing » kid is jamming!
  • Woman without arms drives across the United States using her mouth to steer the car » cool road trip!!!!!!
  • Girl with Down syndrome sings » I’ll bet that makes her happy!
kid using a wheelchair playing ball, smiling

This photo is of a CHILD who is playing BALL and the child looks really happy. Full stop.

This is a photo of a woman who is painting while holding the paintbrush in her mouth. She looks really happy. Full stop.

Questions to Ask Yourself To Determine If It’s Inspiration Porn:

  1. Why Are You Celebrating?

The first step in considering if something is inspiration porn or not is to figure out why you are celebrating.

Is this really worth celebrating? If someone painting something really crappy with their mouth, would you hold it up as this piece of total fabulousness, just because they painted it with their mouth (and all of us who use our hands think that sounds really hard)?

I mean, it’s not standard practice to give able-bodied people awards for just existing; should a disabled person get one? Or should a disabled person be held up on a pedestal because s/he is doing something they find enjoyable?

2. Who is The Image For?

Is this image clearly for people without disabilities? Or is it for the person in the photo or story?

I was going to ask you if you would feel comfortable sending the image to a friend with a disability, but I take that back, because I’ve received plenty of inspiration porn from well-meaning friends. That’s actually not a good litmus.

Consider though, who the message is for. Is it really about and for us with disabilities, or is it for people who don’t have a disability.

Inspiration Porn Hurts Us All

This stuff might seem like it’s all good – it’s designed to inspire, right?

But the problem is this: the disabled community has to fight hard for rights, opportunities and privileges. We have to fight for so much that people without disabilities take for granted. We have to fight for an education, fight to be included, fight to get hired and fight to get married, have sex. We even have to fight for the right to live.

When you promote this stuff, you undermine our fight by making us (yet again) objects of pity.

This perpetuates stereotypes that we are incapable and have nothing to offer (besides our cheerful attitudes and bright smiles, to make the lives of the non-disabled that much better!).

This hurts us by continuing to make it hard for us to receive our share of equality. It also hurts people without disabilities because they don’t get to see what we are really capable of, and they remain in a loop of fear about what disability actually means, which will come around to bite them if and when they become disabled themselves (or have a child with a disability).

 What Can You Do About It?

  1. Ask questions. If you see a meme on Facebook or Instagram that reeks of inspiration porn – the meme of the little girl painting, for example, comment on it by asking questions. Questions like, “she’s just doing something that she enjoys; why are you passing around a meme on this?”  make people pause. Not many like it when I ask these questions, but I  know for sure they make people pause. That’s a start.
  2. Go outside your comfort zone in self-reflection and analyzing. Think about why a particular image or story is appealing to you; is this something that you would really want to have out there if YOU were the disabled person? Why or why not?
  3. Check in with your friends with disabilities; did they like it? Why or why not? Also, please don’t be offended if your friend hates it and you secretly liked it! You want honesty, am I right?!
  4. For hard-core inspiration porn, speak directly with the person posting. Call them on it. Get it removed. Remember: this stuff HURTS us.
  5. Anything else? Comment on your suggestions!

In Sum:

It’s going to take time for disability to be seen in and of itself as not a big deal (and yet something with potential to be awesome). It’s going to take time for equal rights, education, opportunities and privileges to be ours.

But each one, teach one: we can make this a reality

More Resources:

View Stella Young’s class TED Talk in which she coined the term, “inspiration porn” itself. It’s brilliant:

Stella Young and Inspiration Porn: "We're Not Here for Your Inspiration"
See the Rewards I Offer on Patreon, But Most of All, Be a Part of Supporting Innovative Disability Work
A definitive guide to Inspiration Porn: what it looks like, who coined the phrase, what it means in daily life, why it hurts us all and what to do about it | disability | disability awareness | disability acceptance | disability awareness training material | inspiration porn | inspiration awareness | special needs | special needs awareness | disability diversity education |
Meriah
Meriah Nichols is a career counselor, teacher and blogger. Single mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one gifted 2E), she is also a Trekkie who likes her coffee hot and black.
Meriah on EmailMeriah on FacebookMeriah on GoogleMeriah on InstagramMeriah on LinkedinMeriah on PinterestMeriah on TwitterMeriah on Youtube

2 Comments

  1. Great article. I always tell people to ask – would this be inspiring if they were not disabled? If so, well then fine – climbing a mountain or winning a tournament etc is inspiring when TABs do it too. Getting out of the house or raising kids while disabled – not so much.

Write A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Font Resize
Contrast