Musings About “Inspiration Porn”…

This week, I was introduced to a interesting concept by tumblr bloggers thoughts_of_nothing and and gimpunk some other tumblr bloggers with disabilities about which I’ve never heard: “inspiration porn”. It all focused around this picture, which I’m sure many readers have come across if they’ve spent any time on Facebook or Pinterest:

inspiration porn

Heck, it was on one of Running Steps’ Pinterest boards when I went to check. I’ve since removed it.  It had just never occurred to me that I should find it insulting – but I should have.  I’m going to be evaluating what I put up on the Pinterest boards much more closely from now on, to see if the pins fall into that “inspiration porn” category.

“Inspiration Porn”: Is the Label Fair? The Case Against

It’s not that Scott Hamilton (and Oscar Pistorius, the athlete in the picture) hasn’t accomplished amazing things. And the value of that particular piece of photography for people with disabilities is that it encourages those who may have the resources to take life by the horns, as Hamilton did, but are letting “I can’t, because I have a disability” hold them back to get back out there and start saying, “I can,” again.

“Inspiration Porn” Is the Label Fair? The Case For

Not everyone with disabilities has the resources and supports that Scott Hamilton had/has to get out there and make their dreams a reality. And for those that are in that boat – sometimes a positive attitude just isn’t enough. A positive attitude isn’t stopping the British government from people whose disabilities are far too severe to allow them to work from having their benefits cut off, forcing them to look for jobs that they have no hope of getting when they are in such ill health. Closer to home (for me), cuts to the Ontario Disability Support Program make accessing its Income support component significantly and increasingly difficult for new applicants each year, and cuts to both the Income Support and Employment Support programs make it more and more difficult for people who are on the program to move off of it.

All of this as the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the United States edges toward almost twice the rate for people without disabilities, and as New York City continues to put up stink about making even more than 1% of its taxis accessible.

Given these realities, slogans like, “The only disability is a bad attitude” are almost an affront. “Inspiration porn” only makes people with disabilities who are often trying very hard to cope with issues like chronic physical/mental/emotional pain, constant hospitalizations, fears about where the money to pay for housing/food/medical bills/their family’s needs is coming from (whether it’s because of unemployment or underemployment or income support cuts) feel badly because they can’t muster the support, strength, or enthusiasm to get out there and start living their dreams as people with disabilities.

So, is the “inspiration porn” label fair? Unfair? Somewhere in-between? I think I may need to think about it a bit more. It’s certainly an attention-getter, and it’s probably going to make my blog show up in more porn-related searches than usual, but I think I’ll let you decide from here.

Before I Get Attacked

I don’t think any of that means that Scott Hamilton should stop doing what he does. It’s not his fault that people are struggling. And, like I said, I think his message has a place. Not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone. Regardless of your life circumstances, a bad attitude will get *anyone* stuck like nothing else can.

But I do understand why some people with disabilities take have adopted the phrase “inspiration porn” for these kinds of images, and why it hits them particularly hard.

I need to think about this, and write some more about it. Have a great weekend, everyone.

thoughts_of_nothing’s blog about “inspiration porn”: http://thoughts-of-nothing.tumblr.com/post/22192050450/blogging-against-disablism-day

 

About Sarah

Due to a stroke, I've walked with a cane since I was 22 (I'm 34 now)...but I'm so much more than just the girl with the cane.

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  • Margot

    I see both sides, but I must admit I wouldn’t  have thought of the negative side. Having enough money, strength and support are needed before one can follow Scott Hamilton’s lead. Good point Sarah!

    • Taryn Ceperkovic

      There’s also the fact that the best attitude in the world can’t overcome the limitations of something like extreme chronic pain. 

      • http://girlwiththecane.com Sarah

        Margot, Taryn…thank you both for posting. The discussions and blogs that I read on this topic were eye-openers for me as well. As I recovered from my stroke, I’ve been surrounded by the support of family and friends (Margot being one of them), a universal health care system and disability supports that were easier to access than they are now…and my disabilities haven’t caused me chronic pain, Taryn, for which I’m very grateful. But some days…not grateful enough. A positive attitude is much more difficult to maintain when your body is in that kind of pain.

      • http://aftergadget.wordpress.com/ Sharon Wachsler

         Yes. This. Living with extreme exhaustion and chronic pain that is so severe that sometimes I can’t move or speak and have trouble breathing, that is not the same ball of wax as, for example, having a static disability but being healthy.

        I have a deep and long-held loathing of inspiration porn. I think the PWDs who think, “I can’t because I have a disability,” and need some inspiration to get them going are unicorns. Because every person I know with a disability is pretty much desperate to do more, achieve more, live up to their potential, show the world they’re worth something, and is constantly overdoing — often hurting themselves in the process — to try to “overcome” their disabilities. I have yet to meet anyone with a disability who just sits around thinking, “Oh poor me. I have all my basic needs met for food, safe and affordable housing, health care, money, social supports, etc., but I’m not going to take advantage of them because of my bad attitude.” Maybe such people exist, but I haven’t met them. The overwhelming majority of PWDs I know are struggling mightily in really difficult circumstances, usually including poverty, and are incredibly creative and tough in trying to get around limitations of both body/mind and society’s barriers.

        A big issue with inspiration porn is that it is intended for a nondisabled audience. All those “special interest stories” in newspapers or on TV about poster children and supercrips are to “inspire” nondisabled people because, “If that [pathetic] person can do that [mundane/amazing thing], then what’s wrong with me?”

        • http://www.runningsteps.ca/ GirlWithTheCane

          I agree with all your points, Sharon, but your last paragraph in particular has really struck me. I would imagine that that it’s partly for the reason you talked about that so many people with disabilities don’t like to be called “inspiring” – I don’t particularly like it myself, but I’ve never really thought about it in reference to inspiration porn. I think that you’ve really nailed, for me, why inspiration porn makes me uncomfortable, and it will definitely give me something to think about over the next little while…thank you for your comment…

        • Tiredofit

          Exactly, Sharon. You hit the nail on the head for me re: poverty. It grinds me that these posters are usually found in the offices or on the computers of relatively well off individuals who have the physical means to better themselves. While I struggle to scrape the clinic fee together for one stinkin’ physiotherapy visit that makes the difference as to whether I can move that day. The social supports are NOT there, the assistance is NOT there, the safe housing is NOT there—I’m saying the latter as having lived the nightmare of social housing, where mentally healthy, clean living people with disabilities are warehoused with addicts, drug dealers, prostitutes, violent families and those freshly out of prison. Which just of course adds to your stress and pain.

  • http://atomicgeography.com/ atomic geography

    It’s the use of the word “only” and an unqualified “disabilites” that is the problem.  Of course both are necessary to make the poster “inspirational”.  I mean how’s this for a slogan:  “One of the the things that can make things harder for a disabled person is a bad attitude, so if you have the resources try to find some postive aspects in your life.”  Kinda long.  And really, still not there.

    I mean, what about the word “disabilites” makes this OK?  Substitue “Racism”, “Homophobia”, “Poverty”  I could go on… for “Disability” with a suitable photo and are we OK with that?  or  my favorite – “The only Depression is a bad attitude.”

    • http://www.runningsteps.ca/ Sarah Levis

      I totally agree, atomic geography. When you take the picture for what it’s supposed to be – an “inspirational” poster – the quote is perfect. But the quote is problematic in fundamental ways, as you’ve pointed out. There are a lot of inherent assumptions (which I hate). And I hadn’t even thought of the points in your second paragraph…

  • Tiredofit

    Great article. As someone with a disabilty who has dated a man with a disability, going out in public can be a nightmare, with idiots projecting either pity or “inspiration porn fantasies” on you. And by the way, did this little girl’s family give permission for her to be photographed as she struggles? If not, how DARE Scott use a child’s picture to aggrandize his career. How does the little girl feel about being some tired executive’s poster child?

  • http://www.runningsteps.ca/ GirlWithTheCane

    Thanks for your comment. One would hope that Hamilton’s lawyers wouldn’t let him use a picture of a child without the family’s consent. I’d bet it was staged, in fact, which makes the whole “inspiration porn” aspect even more insidious. I’m sorry that you had to deal with this issue when you were with your partner. I don’t think that very many people get that we don’t necessarily like being regarded as a source of inspiration for everybody else…

  • http://ginlemonade.wordpress.com/ Lorna

    I seem to have repeated myself. Or something. Sorry. :)

  • Cat

    Oh. I took the quotation to mean the attitude of others- the “typical.” As in, the only thing making one disabled is those who decide what “able” is. After all, I can’t run around a track. I am unable, due to the state of my fitness, to be successful in that endeavor. Still, I’m not disabled. The only thing that might make me “disabled” in that sense would be the negative attitudes of those around me- those with the power to decide what “counts.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennis.harless.5 Dennis Harless

    Sorry for jumping in on this so late, There is a place for inspiration, but along with that there is a need for people to be able to accept that they have permanent limitations they are going to have no matter how much effort they put in. Encouraging a person to rehabilitate as much as they can is a positive. Consistently putting up examples of people who are extreme cases of recovery is setting an unrealistic goal and setting them up for failure if they don’t accomplish some sort of amazing recovery. I have my own blog and made an entry about what I call “Competetive recovery”. http://www.shottothedome.dinstudio.com/diary_1_86.html

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