The Negative Impact of ‘Inspiration Porn’

I just saw this picture under the title “Inspiration”:

inspiration

I nodded in agreement and immediately thought about posting it here, tweeting it, Facebooking it, etc. I like passing around pieces of media that will inspire.

But then I read the following article, which was linked in the comment section multiple times where the pic was posted: “We’re not here for your inspiration” by Stella Young.

And it made me think more than any article has that I have read this week.

An excerpt:

Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration porn; it’s there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective. So they can go, “Oh well if that kid who doesn’t have any legs can smile while he’s having an awesome time, I should never, EVER feel bad about my life”. It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think “well, it could be worse… I could be that person”.

 

In this way, these modified images exceptionalise and objectify those of us they claim to represent. It’s no coincidence that these genuinely adorable disabled kids in these images are never named: it doesn’t matter what their names are, they’re just there as objects of inspiration.

 

But using these images as feel-good tools, as “inspiration”, is based on an assumption that the people in them have terrible lives, and that it takes some extra kind of pluck or courage to live them.

 

For many of us, that is just not true.

It’s pretty humbling to realize the unexpected, unintended negative impact you may have doing something you think is positive.

It seems like a no-brainer to post a picture like the one above, doesn’t it? A little girl, born with no legs, is running next to double amputee and Olympian Oscar Pistorius. It really does make me think, “Wow, how could I ever feel bad about my life?”

I can’t say I feel wrong for feeling that way. It’s a genuine reaction. I mean no harm by it. I’m sure you don’t either, if that’s the reaction you have.

But the words of Ms. Young certainly are making me look at differently. Hers is a perspective I’ve never even considered.

If inspiration porn “shames people with disabilities,” as Ms. Young describes, I certainly don’t want to perpetuate it. I’d just never thought of it that way.

I’m not sure it’s a totally black and white debate, and the comment section of Ms. Young’s article provides a nice cross section of all the counter- and counter-counter-arguments, all of which are compelling.

It’s certainly something to think about the next time I’m getting ready to flippantly like, retweet, or post a picture such as the one above.

Inspiring people is a wonderful thing. Shaming people is certainly quite another. I didn’t realize the second outcome was occurring before reading Ms. Young’s article, but I’m sure glad I do now.

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Comments

  1. Jennifer MOrris says

    I am totally confused. I would think that the picture would be inspiration to the 2 people in it, AND for someone that NEEDS some inspiration in their life. I DO NOT understand Stella Young. If that were me in the picture, and someone posted that picture and was inspired and encouraged just by looking at me, I would FEEL wonderful about that. For someone to look at what I am doing while having such an incredible challenge would actually inspire me, and help me keep going when times get rough for me. I think Stella Young is being negative. I think that in todays crazy world with so much depressing news, and so much negativity, and violence, if you can look at a beautiful picture and be inspired, I THINK HOW WONDERFUL THAT IS!!!!!!!

    • Jerod Morris says

      See, that’s what I thought too. And I think that’s the more positive side of it that Ms. Young doesn’t really address. BUT…she comes at the topic from the perspective of someone who is disabled and thus would feel more viscerally the impact of constant “inspiration porn” as she describes it, so certainly it needs to be respected and attempted to be understood. I can see where she is coming from though, that you or I may post a picture like this thinking it honors the person on the picture when, in reality, the primary motivator is to make ourselves feel better or use it as a tool for our own motivation. But it also creates a separation. We look at this picture and smile because this person is DIFFERENT. Yes, it highlights their success and perseverance, but it also highlights the disability, the difference. I think part of Ms. Young’s point is that some disabled people don’t want to be looked as different. They want to lead as normal as life as anyone else. The constant “inspiration porn” can, I think, get in the way of that.

    • says

      Jennifer,
      Stella’s point is “how the heck do you even dare to assume their life is worse than yours?” What do you know about the people in the picture?

      Someone using me as an inspiration, makes me feel… helpless. Freak show exhibit. People have put me on a pedestal, and are expecting me to be SO brave and SO strong and SO courageous ALL THE TIME! I am SO inspirational, that I MAY NOT be a human being. Making me an inspiration, a symbol, reduces me to my disability. It strips me from everything else I am, especially from being an equal human being.

      Everyone’s life is hard, Jennifer. Yours, mine, everyone’s. Someone COULD look at you and your life and think “at least mine isn’t THAT bad”. How does that make YOU feel? Empowered? Encouraged? Inspired? I doubt that.

      The world is what you make it to be. If you think the world is “crazy, with so much depressing news, and so much negativity, and violence”, I suggest you change a point of view, and stop being so negative. Instead of criticizing Stella and calling her “negative”, be grateful, because she is showing you the world from a totally new point of view, she is enlightening you, she is telling you that these two people in the picture are NOT having a hard life with “incredible challenges”, but a normal life. TO THEM THEIR LIVES ARE JUST AS NORMAL AS YOURS IS TO YOU.

    • says

      What’s inspiring about it?

      The only thing that you see as inspirational is the fact they are running despite being amputees.

      You are able to run, yes? Able to get about, do things you want?

      Because that’s what we do. But you don’t find yourself inspirational for getting out and living life.

      I’m not an inspiration. I live my life day to day same as anyone else. I get out, go shopping, get groceries. I play video games, hang out with my friends. I’m trying to get into college and get a place of my own.

      A lot of people in the world do that.

      But because I use a wheelchair, all of a sudden it’s ‘inspirational’ that I do that.

      The thing about it is – You are seeing me as less of a human JUST because of my wheelchair ((Or in this case, his/her Prosthetics.))

      They are not inspirational. But because they are differently abled, you see them as such.

      Here’s a fun fact: Go look up how much Cheetas cost.

      Here, I’ll save you some trouble:

      15,000-18,000 per.

      In a sense, they are lucky for that. Not many would be able to afford that ((Granted, not many would NEED them – They are specially made for running. Not walking around, etc. on a day to day basis.))

      Next time you think of someone as inspirational – Ask yourself…Is it what they are doing that is, or is it their disability.

      If the latter – WHY?

      We can do what everyone else does ((For the most part, pending on what our disability is…)) We just do it differently.

      That shouldn’t be the cause of inspiration. And that is why we get so pissed…

  2. says

    I think this is great. I’ve wondered before if some of those people in the pictures might feel “used” for their disability, if that makes sense? How we might tout their picture around social media circles and think “go them, but glad it’s not me”. I don’t think people set out to be hurtful, but I can see how it would be to someone who deals with disabilities on a daily basis. I think how I would feel if someone could take a picture of my number one weakness, whether physical or mental, and post it with an “inspirational” quote, I think I’d feel embarrassed, and perhaps angry also. Everyone has certain things they deal with on a day to day basis, some are just more easily apparent to the eye or more challenging to the physical body, no one really wants their disadvantages sold on reddit or facebook.

    • Jerod Morris says

      For example, I would never post a picture of you with a caption, “Look, she has a mustache; see, whatever I’m going through is not that bad!” ;-)

      But on a serious note, I think you hit the heart of it: the “glad it’s not me” angle, which is implicit whenever pictures like these are posted with the kind of feel-good celebratory pity that they sometimes are. It’s a fine line…and maybe “pity” is a bad word here, but it sounds like that’s what people like Ms. Young FEEL it is. And at the end of day, as with anything involving communication, what’s more important than the intention of the communicator is what is received on the other end. So while I don’t think people like you, me, or anyone else should feel bad that our instinct is to post a picture like this with good intentions, it’s important to realize that it may be having unintended impact on the very people it’s meant to celebrate. And that’s not cool.

      • Jennifer MOrris says

        As I sit here and think about it, I can’t remember once looking at a picture like this and thinking, ‘thank God this is not me”. I look at these pictures and marvel at what they are doing. We can’t PRETEND that the person does not have a disability. Look at the Special Olympics. These athletes are fantastic. Should we not broadcast their events because some people might feel sorry for them?? Good Lord. I LOVE to see anybody that has a challenge in life to embrace and conquor it. It makes them stronger, and it makes people watching stronger too.

        • Jerod Morris says

          I just think, again, it comes down to HOW it’s done. The author of the article gives some examples of specific wording that is just very flip and not really thoughtful, where I can see her point that it seems like people looking at it and passing it around are doing so more with pity or “glad it’s not me mindset.” But I don’t think the author would have a problem with the Special Olympics. That’s different. With all of these there is a fine line. I don’t think the point is to vilify everyone who has had good intentions when viewing or sharing a pic like this; it’s to understand the effect it obviously can sometimes have.

          • says

            I have 0 issues with the special olympics.

            It really is the way they word things..

            ‘Your excuse is invalid.’
            ‘Whats your excuse?’
            ‘No excuse.’

            Those are three common ones..

            Do you not realize that that in and of itself can be belittling – Not only to disabled people in general – But to those with disabilities who CAN’T Do things? Or who have to limit themselves with what they do?

            The spoon theory is a good one in explaining this…

            I’ve had people tell me that I have no excuse for going out and doing things…I CAN – But I have to limit myself in WHAT I do. In how much I do.

            Which is aggravating when people tell me otherwise.

            “Oh, but THIS person can do it! And SHE’S Disabled too! Why can’t you?!’

            My muscles are weak. If I try and do things that others do, I won’t be able to do things tomorrow.

            Some days, even getting on the computer is a no-no because it’ll work my muscles too hard.

            But people don’t see that. They see ‘disabled’ think of inspiration porn, and it clicks.

            Not everyone is like this, but it is an example of something that has happened to me personally because of this shit.

            Another point of it is almost ALWAYS something that -everyone- does daily.

            The Paralympics are different in the sense of how hard they have trained to get there. They HAVE pushed themselves to the limit, and overcome MANY, MANY things – Including being able to do things able-bodied people wouldn’t be able to do.

            That IS inspirational.

            Walking or running – Such as in the pic above – is NOT.

  3. BCW says

    Yeah, I don’t agree. Its like this. I’m a chubby guy. Not fat, but def not in great shape. I ran a marathon last year. People thought it was awesome that I as a not totally fit guy was able to do it, despite carrying some extra pounds. You could say some were inspired to do it themselves. Do I think that was insulting? Absolutely not. Now I completely get that being chubby isn’t the same as having a disability, but the essence of being able to inspire someone is the same. Similarly, when I ran it, a 9 month pregnant woman did too. And guess what, I was inspired to do it again, and better because seeing that she did it when she had a more difficult circumstance than I did. I say this as a black man who has seen it with my own people, but sometimes I think people look for reasons to feel victimized.

  4. Georgia says

    Teenager with an “invisible disability” here. There are so many reasons disabled people generally despise inspiration porn, but this is my view of it. I understand that other people don’t see it from the same perspective, and probably will never be able to, but we aren’t looking for attention when we get annoyed about it. Generally, we want to be treated as and seen to be human beings, not oddities, not inspiration for someone who doesn’t even know our names, and not blamed for things we have no control over. The best attitude in the world is not going to fix us. Trying harder is not going to help many of us (in some cases, it could actually make people worse, if not kill them). A good attitude is not going to make a magic ramp appear over a set of stairs or shorten the distance between point A and point B.
    I’ve accepted my limitations. I can’t walk long distances. I can’t go out often. I can’t travel more than a couple hours without having several says resting afterwards. I can’t do sport, and I can’t go to school as much or do as much work as my friends (which, for the record, is the complete opposite of the pre-disabled me). I hate it, but that’s the way it is. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. It also doesn’t mean I’m a “bad disabled person” if I’m angry or depressed or upset from time to time, but people (family members included) still tell me to my face that if I “tried a little harder” or “thought positive” or “used my mind to its full potential” that I’d be able to get on with my life without my disability, or even still with my disability because “my friend is disabled and can hold down a full time job/climb mountains” (at which point I laugh because that’s completely out of the question for me). Inspiration porn tends to reinforce that belief (and people already think I’m lazy because I have my own disability parking card – I look normal, but I actually do need it). Yeah, that’s not going to happen. I’m generally a positive person, so if it’s all about attitude, I should be doing multisport with my dad and attending school full-time and getting all A’s while I’m at it.

    My personal rule of thumb – if you wouldn’t think a normal person would be inspirational doing the exact same thing (taking the bus, walking down the street, etc) then it’s probably not inspirational. Yes, it could be a big thing for them, but it’s probably just daily life. If it’s something you would be inspired by (Paralympics, finding a new planet, etc) then they are inspiring because of what they’re doing, not because they can do it while being disabled. Sophie Pascoe, for example, is inspiring because she’s winning heaps of medals at the Paralympics, not because she’s an amputee swimming.
    The photos by themselves don’t bother me. It’s when an “inspirational” quote, saying, or specific set of words is added that I roll my eyes and wonder whether the person who made it actually thought about what they were doing.

  5. says

    Nah. It’s there to say “if HE can find ways around his “disability”, difficulties, problems, obstacles, so can I.” Now, I know I’m not an Olympic athlete like Oscar Pistorius, those people have a whole different mindset, but… I see it like “if you want to run but have no feet, you make yourself feet”. How can I make myself “feet” so that I could run? Or do I need wheels? Or could I perhaps use a horse? Or what is it in running I wish I could do… perhaps I could do something else.
    My disability might not be as obvious, but it’s not less disabilitating.

    BTW, her name is Ellie Challis. You could have looked it up. She’s adorable, even with a name. And so is Oscar :-D

  6. ann says

    As a person with mental illness and possibly aspergers and a learning disorder in my life I feel I must speak out about what this ALSO does. It sets out to belittle mental illness and people with non-physical disablility as people who just need to try harder. There are people out there why are physically disable AND have mental illness or are on the spectrum and those people bear the brunt of both predujices. I consider myself to be disabled, but since I am not in a wheelchair I can be nobodys “inspiration”. This is demeaning to all disabled people.

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