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The Disability Union

A Beginners Guide to Inspiration Porn

Inspiration Porn

Ask almost anyone with a visible disability, and they’ll tell you that they’ve been called an inspiration.  They might have even been called an inspiration that very day. Most people say it as a genuine compliment. To them it really is inspiring that, despite not having their level of ability, we’re still able to get out of bed everyday.  But this mindset, finding inspiration from those you perceive as “having it worse”, is harmful and perpetuates stereotypes. Disability, in and of itself, does not make someone inspiring. Can someone in a wheelchair be called an inspiration?  Sure. But not solely because they use a wheelchair to live their life. So what is the difference? When is someone with a disability actually inspiring vs. just living their life? And finally, why is inspiration porn harmful to everyone?

What is Inspiration Porn?

Before we get into it, it’s important to know what inspiration porn is.  The definition of inspiration porn is the portrayal of people with disabilities as inspiring solely on the basis of their disability.  The term was coined in 2012 by Stella Young. Young has an amazing TedTalk that goes over her experience with inspiration porn, which is a great beginner primer on the subject.  If you’ve ever seen pictures of someone with a disability doing something with the caption “the only disability is a bad attitude”, that’s one example.  First off, that just flat-out isn’t true. No amount of positive attitude is going to get someone in a wheelchair up a flight of stairs. This mentality is usually used to make one feel better about themself.  It’s sort of a “well look how much they struggle, I can’t complain!” sort of thing. We’ll come back to this later.

How to Spot It

Once you know what inspiration porn is, it’s easy to spot.  It all boils down to “why is this inspiring?” If your answer is “because the focus is on someone with a disability who happens to have done something”, then chances are it’s inspiration porn.  If the focus is on the thing someone has done or accomplished, it’s probably not inspiration porn. It’s complicated, sometimes stories skirt the line. The more you look out for it and try to find it, the easier it is to spot.

Why is Inspiration Porn Bad?

Inspiration porn perpetuates bad and outdated stereotypes.  First, it strips people with disabilities of any actual accomplishment.  People with disabilities don’t see getting up in the morning as doing anything special because it’s not.  We’re just living our lives just the same as everyone else. Having us on this pedestal puts pressure on us and makes it harder on our bad days.  On days we might not get out of bed, we can seem like a failure.

Viewing disability as inherently inspirational is also bad for people who aren’t disabled.  The thing about disability is that it can happen at any time. You can get hit by a bus and become paralyzed, you can get an infection and go blind, or you could have a stroke and lose the ability to move your right arm.  Having the mentality that every disabled person is inspirational becomes taxing. You can feel like you need to do something that deserves the title, deserves to be looked up to. The feeling of not being enough, after everything else, can send someone into a downward spiral.  If we were able to rid the world of inspiration porn and see people with disabilities as just people, becoming disabled later in life might be that much easier.

Inspiration porn is a tricky subject, and one that is often debated in disability circles.  What constitutes as inspiration porn can differ from person to person, but the general thought is still that it’s a problem.  Spotting it is an acquired skill that becomes easier over time. Once you do, it becomes clear just how harmful it can be to both people with and without disabilities.  

A Beginners Guide to Inspiration Porn

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