Inspiration Porn is actually insulting

(In this post, I’m speaking to people of the non-disabled world.)

So, you posted that totally inspirational picture on Facebook.  You know the one–the one with the little girl with the prosthetic legs, who also just so happens to be running and smiling.  The one with the heartwarming reminder that “the only disability is a bad attitude” (in case you don’t remember, or you missed it, I’ve linked to it here).  Or maybe what you shared was an inspirational story about a guy in a wheelchair who was still able to do this or that.

And it made you feel good.  You felt good that people with prosthetic limbs or people “confined” to wheelchairs can “still” smile, do things for themselves, and lead happy and fulfilling lives.  You felt good that you seized the opportunity to enlighten your friends and family about these kinds of stories.  You felt good that you were able to pepper the Facebook (or other social media) news-feed with a little cheer, de-monochroming the otherwise-negative landscape of bad news and mean people.

You might be sensing a slight mix of snark and hostility by now.  Surely, I’m leading up to something that isn’t so…well, inspiring.  You’re waiting for that other shoe to drop.  You might have your guns pointed at me – “what the hell kind of grinch would criticize me for sharing good news!  I’m enlightened!  I’m sensitive!  I’m forward-thinking!”  Or perhaps the crosshairs are aimed at your own chest – “aww man, what did I do now?  I can’t step this way, and I can’t step that way.  I can’t do anything right!  Everything I do is offensive!”

Relax – no one is sending you to Purgatory.  I simply want to add another view.

This view has been explored many times (link to Google search of “inspiration porn”), by many people, whose writing skills far outshine mine.

Their message is loud and clear: inspiration porn is problematic.  We’re not here to inspire you.

I’d like to add my voice to that chorus (see the bottom of this post for several of my favorite links).

I need you to know that I understand the temptation.  You’re trying to spread a little cheer.  You’re trying to Accentuate the Positive, be Upworthy and upbeat, and spice up your life with a little emotional happy-bling.

I totally get that.  Yes, I really do.  Because I have a confession to make…

I admit that years ago, I fell into this tempting trap, too.  There’s so much negativity in the news that I wanted to counteract it with something positive.  “Oh look–a disabled person doing an everyday thing!  How cool!”

And it is cool.  I’m certainly not saying that it’s not.  I’m glad they (WE) can do everyday things.

What’s not cool (at all) is the implied, usually unspoken, and sometimes unthought sentiment that follows: “And if they can do it (with their ‘fake’ legs, their wheelchairs, their canes and crutches, their mental challenges, their mental illness, etc, etc), then anyone should be able to!”  As in, “even these people can do this!  So what’s your excuse for not doing it, you able-bodied person you?”

Wait a minute–just what are you saying about “even these people”?  What are you getting at?  I’m guessing it’s not something that’s all that positive after all.

And when I came across the backlash against inspiration porn (link to AutisticHoya) while immersing myself in All Things Asperger’s/Autism (an activity in which, invariably and eventually, the subjects of disability and inspiration porn will arise), I froze, realizing the full ramifications of what I had been doing, and what I had already done.

Oh shit.  If one of my newfound, dearly-beloved Aspie/autistic friends saw me do this, they’d think I’m a monster!

Well, maybe not.  But while I was trying to show how informed I was, and trying to help my able-bodied friends and family become more informed, my newfound Aspie/autistic and disabled friends would definitely (and understandably) shake their heads, tsk-tsking at how informed I was not, and how uninformed I actually was.

Again, I realized the full ramifications of the damage I had inadvertently perpetrated and perpetuated.  In making such a big deal out of disabled people doing everyday things, even if my intentions were pure and positive, I was inadvertently putting them down.

Wait–why?

Because I was automatically assuming a lesser standard, a lesser ability; lowering the bar, flattening the curve a little.  This didn’t cross my mind consciously, but rather, subconsciously.  The irony is that I thought I was oh-so-enlightened.  (Irony can be a bitter pill sometimes.)

Disabled people don’t deserve that.

While I had been convinced that I was only doing good by spreading joy in the form of upbeat headlines, these very (wonderful) people were being exploited.  And although I wasn’t snapping the pictures and telling them that they were my inspiration myself, I was taking part in this exploitation by propagating it on social media.

No more.  I have learned the error of my ways.  I now have an entirely new lens through which to look at life, and this lens is much sharper, much clearer.

And that lens says, “don’t.”

Just don’t.

This lens reminds me that in a way, I’m part of that community.  And it’s ironic how the discovery and the diagnosis of a condition that is accused of lacking empathy…could actually give me more empathy.

Because now, the tables have turned, and I now realize that I’m a part of the “disability group” (at least, on my more salty-water days).  And I wouldn’t appreciate someone doing to me what I took part in doing to them.

For that, I’m truly sorry.  Seriously.  I wish I could go back and undo those “share” button actions.  I can certainly review my timeline and delete those shares, but I can’t make anyone un-see what I’ve already shared, or undo the re-shares performed by others.

What I can do from here on, is never again share another inspiration porn story/picture/meme/quote/etc.  I can also raise awareness about this topic amongst my non-autistic and non-disabled friends.  I can explain how, despite good intentions, this can bring real harm to the disabled community, reinforcing stereotypes and doing little more than making otherwise-empty people feel good about themselves for a few minutes.

The time is now.  Wait–scratch that–the time was long ago; it’s long overdue. ❤


Additional Resources:

Disabled People are not your feel-good back-pats” by Autistic Hoya

Explaining Inspiration Porn to non-disabled people” by The Body Is Not An Apology

Inspiration Porn is not OK: disability activists are not impressed with Super Bowl feel-good ads” by Salon

How to avoid ‘inspiration porn’ when talking about disability” by The Mighty

Disability as Inspiration: can greater exposure overcome this phenomenon?” by Abilities.com

A dissenting viewpoint: “Bring on the inspiration porn” by Psychology Today (potential trigger warning on this article, because they seem to kind of miss the point of our beef with this issue, and I’m not sure the authors themselves are disabled and/or may not have otherwise thought this (the full impact of this phenomenon) through).

***

(Image Credit: Wang Ling)

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5 Comments

    1. Totally agree 😊 Absolutely nothing wrong with inspiration, for sure! Not even anything wrong with inspiration involving people who are disabled or differently abled in any way. I’m with you; I can always use good news, motivation, and upbeat stuff ❤️ I’m just making the distinction between that (which is harmless and wonderful) and motivation/inspiration that implies (even if subtle) that anyone is less than anyone else is all 😊 But yes, we are very much on the same page; there’s too much negativity out there (which I try to ignore a lot of) and positive thoughts and messages are always welcome here, too 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You make a very good point, and you are right it is very patronising. One thing, the expression ‘Inspiration porn’. The pictures that first revolved around my head when reading that are not for polite company 😀 so maybe they ought to call it something else.

    Liked by 1 person

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