Inspiration Porn vs. Actual Inspiring People

Inspiration porn is an important term which both disabled and able-bodied people should be aware of because it affects the way able-bodied people view the disabled and sets unrealistic standards for disabled people to reach. The term was originally coined by disability rights activist Stella Young in 2012. She pointed out that most people only experience disabled people as objects of inspiration. To paraphrase her: to most, disabled people aren’t their classmates, colleagues or teachers, they are only ever seen on inspirational posters or giving speeches. To most, we are not there to be normal people, we are only there to inspire which is dehumanising and wrong. The TV show Speechless described inspiration porn as: “the portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people.”

The reason that Stella Young decided to call this ‘inspiration porn’ is because, just like real porn, it objectifies one group of people for the benefit of another. When people make inspirational posters with disabled people on them, it is objectifying them to inspire able-bodied people. And also like real porn, this sets unrealistic standards for disabled people to reach to be exceptional. Inspiration porn is all about realising that: disabled people shouldn’t be portrayed as inspirations just because of their disabilities and the way they look and not because of their actual actions, that their otherwise ordinary actions shouldn’t be considered extraordinary solely because of their disabilities, and that they are not exceptional merely for existing.

Although inspiration porn is important to be aware of and I myself have experienced the effects of it, I have also seen cases where disabled people have done actual inspirational things or have done incredible dances or acting performances and it has been called inspiration porn which is NOT TRUE. Not everything that disabled people do which goes viral is inspiration porn. It is therefore also important to be able to tell the difference between inspiration porn and actual inspiring people:

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Inspiration porn vs. actual inspiring people: The Difference

Here are three of the biggest differences between inspiration porn and actual inspiring people. These differences should make it easier to be able to tell the two apart.

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Difference 1 – Who is Doing It?

Inspiration Porn: Here are some examples of inspiration porn. The sad thing about inspiration porn is that it is done with good intentions, but even though it isn’t purposeful, it still sends a bad message about disability. Most of these pictures are taking advantage of what must be ordinary things for the disabled people involved (doing sports and spending time with their partner) and are using them to inspire. The first one is just sad – why should the boy in the picture be given a cookie for taking the disabled girl to prom? Presumably, he took her because he liked her – end of story. There would be no fuss about it if she was able-bodied but because she isn’t and it was made into an internet picture, the image makes it seem as if spending time with a disabled person is hard or unpleasant and therefore something the boy deserves to be awarded for.

Actual Inspiring People: The first big difference I see between inspiration porn and actual inspiring people is that disabled people often aren’t involved in the making of the first one. Inspiration porn may be made using pictures of disabled people, but they are pictures that have text written by able-bodied people on them – people who have written how they have ‘interpreted’ the picture. The captions which you put on a picture or meme shape the way the image is understood. It is the caption which takes an ordinary picture of a man with their disabled partner and turns them into objects of inspiration. The picture on the right uses text quoted from Stella Young herself and might have been something that she put together. One of the major questions you should ask yourself when you are trying to figure out the difference between inspiration porn and actual inspiring people is: ‘Does the disabled person look as if they are choosing to be portrayed as inspirational? Or is an able-bodied person making that decision for them by attaching their own inspirational message to something ordinary that a disabled person is doing?’

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Difference 2 – Would it Seem Weird to do to an Able-Bodied Person?

Inspiration Porn:  When I was a child, I had total strangers passing me on the street come up to me and tell me that I was brave and that I was their hero. But how would they know? They had absolutely no idea who I was! It was probably because they had grown up being taught that having a disability was terrible and therefore simply waking up in the morning and going about your daily life with one makes you extraordinary; that to be disabled and merely exist made you a hero of epic proportions. And for some rare cases, I’m sure that this is true, but you’d be surprised how many of us are living the same life as everyone else only with some extra tools to help us out where our bodies may differ from others.

In general, having a disability isn’t as horrific as most would presume. If you read my In My Feelings: Going to an Able-bodied School post you’d know that dealing with my body being different was easy, it was the way society reacted towards me that made me truly feel ‘disabled’. A famous quote from Stella Young is: “We are more disabled by the society that we live in than by our bodies and diagnoses.” If we help to raise awareness about things like inspiration porn and how you should treat disabled people then you are getting rid of one of the biggest difficulties of being disabled in the first place. That’s why combating ableism is so important. And that’s why it’s so ridiculous that people I don’t know would come up to me and congratulate me on simply waking up in the morning. One of the ways to spot the difference between inspiration porn and actual inspiring people is to ask yourself whether the same thing would be considered ‘inspiring’ if it was done by an able-bodied person: Would it be inspirational if an able-bodied person revolutionised theoretical physics? Yes. Would it be inspirational if an able-bodied person simply minding their own business passed you on the street? No.  

Actual Inspiring People: An example of a disabled person actually being inspiring is this blog. Many people have messaged me saying that my blog has inspired them and that’s okay since I am doing something out of the ordinary. It has taken bravery to be able to open up about my personal experiences, something which would still be difficult whether I was able-bodied or disabled.

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Difference 3 – How Do Our Standards for Disabled People Differ from Our Standards for Others?

Inspiration Porn: Some of the expectations for disabled people in society are extremely low which is how so much of what we do is considered to be extraordinary. I become angry when my taxi drivers tell me ‘good job’ for being able to put my own hands up so that they can put the seat-belt on me even though they don’t know me and don’t know if this is indeed a difficult thing for me to do (it is not). The expectations are so low that we get awarded for every little thing and put on a pedestal for basically living our lives.

Actual Inspiring People: Of course there are differences between disabled and able-bodied people and things have to be different for disabled people so that they can be included (ramps instead of stairs, different rules for sports, etc.) However, when it comes to how we are treated in society those differences and exceptions should end. We all need to ask ourselves if we have different standards for disabled people than we do for others.

When I went through some mental struggles a year ago, I didn’t want anyone to know. Of course there were other reasons why, but one of them was because so many people saw me as a determined, resilient pillar of strength. So many saw me as their hero. Trying to live up to the standard set for most disabled people to be inspirational is exhausting. I am far from perfect, let alone a talking inspiration on two legs. What I love about this blog is that opening up about my short-comings and the difficult times in my life where I have struggled is what most of my readers find inspirational instead of the fake ‘incredible’ me most other people see who gets awarded for merely lifting my hands up in the air.

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The Results: Inspiration Porn vs. Actual Inspiring People

Overall, the difference between inspiration porn and actual inspiring people is viewing disabled people as different for the wrong reasons. The standards and compliments people give us shouldn’t be any different from the standards and compliments they would award to anyone else. There is nothing wrong with being inspirational, but know that disabled people are so much more than just inspirations. Yes, we face more challenges than most which may make it easier for us to be, but some of us really are just living our lives with the bodies we’ve been given – no more, no less.

To quote Stella Young: “I want to live in a world where disability is not exceptional, it is the norm.” And I want to as well. In fact, I’d love to live in a world where instead of it being: ‘despite his disability, his dance performance was breath-taking’, it was: ‘his dance performance was breath-taking’ and instead of: ‘despite her disability, he invited her to prom’ it was just: ‘he invited her to prom’. I know it’s a pipe dream and a world where disabled people are truly seen as equal to those who aren’t is a long way off, but hopefully posts like this help to take one tiny step further towards that future.

It’s okay if you didn’t agree with everything in this post – the point of Thought Provokers is to get people thinking, debating and considering things they may not have before so I would love to hear your own opinions on Inspiration Porn vs. Actual Inspiring People below. See you next week!

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Image and Research Citations: (I highly recommend watching Stella Young’s TED talk on inspiration porn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8K9Gg164Bsw), https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-examples-of-inspiration-porn-that-are-often-consumed-and-ill-interpreted-Why, https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/05/disability-inspiration-porn/, https://www.quora.com/How-would-you-define-inspiration-porn-in-the-context-of-disabilities-and-what-are-your-thoughts-on-the-subject, https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-tuesday-edition-1.3575399/blogger-decries-inspiration-porn-of-disabled-students-being-asked-to-prom-1.3575672, https://themighty.com/2017/10/please-stop-spreading-inspiration-porn-about-disability/, https://ungluingstigma.com/2018/10/17/the-problem-with-inspiration-porn/, https://www.pyd.org/what-is-inspiration-porn-tiny-tim-disability/, https://www.womens-health.com/inspiration-porn, https://www.123rf.com/stock-photo/vector_-_upset_mood_with_raising_hands_-_retro_black_office_girl_cartoon_vector_illustration.html?oriSearch=ector+-+upset+mood+with+raising+hands+-+retro+black+office+girl+cartoon+vector+illustration&sti=m9cf49f5k84995g1ey|, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inspiration_porn, https://www.shutterstock.com/search/Professional+business+man+or+manager+show+his+appreciation+with+thumb+and+saying+good+job,

Published by thewheelchairteen

I am a black, disabled teenager living in the Netherlands, book nerd and film fanatic. I love blogging about my own crazy life and expressing my opinions about the society around me :)

3 thoughts on “Inspiration Porn vs. Actual Inspiring People

  1. What a great post explaining the difference between inspiration porn and insipiring people! I too hope we will eventually live in a world where ableism does not exist and where disabled people are seen as equal to abled people.

    Liked by 1 person

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