Health

On Inspiration Porn

If you have had any interactions with anyone involved with the disability community – including if you follow me online, especially on Twitter – you’ve probably heard about the issue of inspiration porn. This is a facet of the greater issue of ableism, which is something that I have talked about regarding ableism at large and ableism in everyday life. Inspiration porn is one of the ways that people enact ableism probably without realizing that they’re being ableist, so it’s one of the aspects of interacting with people who have disabilities that are important to me.

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What inspiration porn is, why it's a problem, and how to prevent it. There are a lot of problems that the disability community faces, and inspiration porn is one of them.

What Is Inspiration Porn?

Inspiration porn is when you consider someone inspirational solely because they have a disability. Why are they inspirational? Because they exist? This doesn’t make sense to me. Find people inspirational because of what they do; maybe that includes success in the face of adversity, and maybe that adversity includes disability.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “I would never do this!” and I’m sure that, when thinking of it like this, you never would. But you’ve almost definitely seen inspiration porn, and maybe even shared it without realizing what it is and why it’s a problem. The first example that comes to mind are all the inspirational posters that feature people with some type of disability on them, like a wheelchair-bound athlete or a child with prosthetic legs. Often these posters have something like “The only disability is a bad attitude” (and don’t even get me started on why that quote is ableist) or “What’s your excuse?” on them. Another example is one of the posters for the new movie Breathe, which calls it “an inspirational love story.” Why is it inspirational? Because she loved him even when he became disabled? Because he loved her even though he was disabled? Because a disabled person experienced love? (And don’t even get me started on how there are loads of able-bodied actors who play disabled characters in movies like this.)

Let me give you an example of when someone did not turn me into inspiration porn (and please don’t consider this as tooting my own horn; I’m trying to give a real-world example from my experiences). When I was in high school, I went through a host of ankle problems, which included 3 surgeries and years of pain that was unmanaged and not understood. When I went to summer camp one year – in the middle of the New Hampshire woods – I spent part of those weeks on crutches. At the end of the session, everyone in my cabin got an award, and mine was for overcoming challenges and having a good attitude while I did it. In this case, I had done my best to enjoy camp while making my way around on crutches (btw – I did get driven around on a golf cart, so as far as I can remember, I did not experience ableism from the camp). In that case, there were very tangible things that I overcame and the counselors saw me overcome them on a daily basis.

Inspiration porn is something that the Internet (and the world) is full of. But it negatively affects disabled people, and here's the problem with it.

Why Is It a Problem?

Because disabled people don’t exist to inspire others, and simply living with a disability isn’t something that should inspire other people. Is it inspiring when someone does something amazing? Absolutely. Is it amazing to continue existing when you have a disability? No. Additionally, these things reduce people with disabilities down to their ability to inspire people. They become objects in some ways.

There are even more problems with inspiration porn. As Catherine Soper says, part of the root in it is that “We’ve been told that disability is a bad sad thing. Therefore by proxy anybody with a disability is overcoming a cruel fate, and is inspirational simply for living daily life.” (x) Soper points out in her piece that some people with disabilities will do inspiring things and some won’t, and that’s okay. Simply living with a disability isn’t inspiring. And as Soper says in her piece (and what she implies in the quote) having a disability isn’t always a terrible thing. For me, the cause of my disability – my chronic illnesses that caused chronic pain – isn’t the best, but the fact that I’m disabled isn’t a bad thing. It’s just how it is. Would I like to not have my chronic pain? Absolutely. Would I hate if my chronic pain mysteriously left and I was still disabled? No. The world would go on.

If you’re still wondering why inspiration porn is so bad, here’s a great Q&A piece about inspiration porn by Cara Liebowitz in which she explains it to an abled person. In it, she says, “Reducing a human being – and a stranger, at that – to “inspiring” or “brave” or any of those labels is problematic, because you’re filling in qualities that may or may not be true in order to make yourself feel better. It’s using disabled people as tools for your own betterment.” Like Soper points out, not all disabled people are going to do inspiring things. So how can you assume that a picture of a disabled person is a picture of someone who has done something inspiring or brave?

What Inspiration Porn Is & Why It's a Problem Click To Tweet

Solutions

The big thing is that you need to ask yourself, “What did this person do that is so inspiring and brave?” If your answer is, “They existed while under such horrible conditions,” when you don’t know for certain that they experienced horrible conditions, then you are using them as inspiration porn. Let me say that again: if the only inspirational thing someone has done is continue to exist, you are using them as inspiration porn. So the solution is to stop doing that and be more self-aware of why someone inspires you.

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