Inspiration Porn

The term inspiration porn was coined by disability activist and comedian Stella Young in an article for ABC’s magazine Ramp Up. Her definition is as follows:

Inspiration porn is an image of a person with a disability, often a kid, doing something completely ordinary – like playing, or talking, or running, or drawing a picture, or hitting a tennis ball – carrying a caption like “your excuse is invalid” or “before you quit, try“.” (Young, 2012)

The idea is that images show disabled people doing regular activities, but they are necessarily captioned with words like “What’s your excuse?” or “Before you quit, try…”

Slightly different from the supercrip images, these tropes can be seen as aimed at both disabled and non-disabled persons. The message is quite clearly how can you feel bad about your life when someone who is in a wheelchair or doesn’t have legs can smile through? There is also the implicit idea that the viewer does not want to be the disabled person, which further stigmatises.

Young claimed that media stereotypes reinforce the myth that living with disability requires a certain amount of courage, and that routine activities are carried out only with a lot of effort, pain and suffering. She pointed out that the most disabling thing she had encountered in her life was the physical environment, and that no amount of smiling would change that. In a TED Talk she made the famous quote that:

And that quote, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” the reason that that’s bullshit is because it’s just not true, because of the social model of disability. No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never. Smiling at a television screen isn’t going to make closed captions appear for people who are deaf. No amount of standing in the middle of a bookshop and radiating a positive attitude is going to turn all those books into braille. It’s just not going to happen.” (Young 2014)

Inspiration porn shames people with disabilities. It says that if we fail to be happy, to smile and to live lives that make those around us feel good, it’s because we’re not trying hard enough. Our attitude is just not positive enough. It’s our fault.” (Young, 2012)

While those who have bad attitudes or who don’t try their best to overcome their disabilities are labelled ‘bitter’ or ‘ungrateful’ Young wrote.

Inspiration porn also works to make heroes of those who help disabled people or befriend them. The story of Ben Moser making good on his promise to take Mary Lapkowicz to prom went viral, but all the media attention focused on Moser being a man of his word rather than on Lapkowicz and her experience of discrimination and disabling attitudes in society:

Such imagery further disables, as one critic wrote: “Moser and Lapkowicz are news because stigma makes it hard for people with disabilities to have close friends, especially with someone as iconic as a high school quarterback. The stigma disables” (David Perry for Al Jazeera).

On the other hand, there is a certain amount of controversy surrounding the issue of inspiration porn. It has already been pointed out that there are not enough role models for disabled people, and some disability theorists have insisted that any media attention whatsoever adds to the visibility of disabled people. Paralympians can be as inspiring as able-bodied athletes to both disabled and non-disabled audiences. Perhaps it all boils down to the kind of language which is being used, since the captions dictate how we interpret the images:

Most journalists seem utterly incapable of writing or talking about a person with a disability without using phrases like “overcoming disability”, “brave”, “suffers from”, “defying the odds”, “wheelchair bound” or, my personal favourite, “inspirational“” (Young 2012)

The story of Madeleine Stuart is a classic example. Rather than being an inspiration and challenging stereotypes of body conformity in the fashion industry, the before and after photos are often trotted out to promote fat shaming among her peers:

A story which should have been about an individual’s setting goals and working hard to achieve them and be accepted despite her disability is turned into a narrative about weight loss:

Just to remind you — this girl decided to become a model after successfully losing 44 pounds.”

This is to say that Stuart’s story should not be used to inspire others, but how this is done must be carefully considered to avoid charges of inspiration porn.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s