Ableist Tropes 101: Inspiration Porn

Ableist Tropes 101: Inspiration Porn

Today I’m going to be continuing my Ableist Tropes 101 series! This is a series I started to help people recognise ableism. I’ve discussed the Disabled Villain and the Miracle Cure trope, and now it’s time to talk about Inspiration Porn. This topic is much more about how disabled people are presented in media, rather than fiction more specifically. However, as with everything, our real world impacts our fiction. Even the most well-meaning person can find themselves falling into thought patterns that align with inspiration porn, and that’s why it’s such an important topic. I also wanted to discuss this topic in time for the Paralympics, which is often framed in ways that fall into the idea of inspiration porn.

What is inspiration porn?

Inspiration porn is where disabled people’s accomplishments are uplifted for able-bodied people to feel inspired by them. These accomplishments could be something that anyone would find difficult to achieve, such as climbing a mountain, or they might be something as simple as going to prom. When these stories are presented as feel-good to an able-bodied audience, sometimes with little to no input from the disabled people themselves, it falls into the category of inspiration porn.

Remember those uplifting stories about disabled people being voted Prom King? Or those posters with disabled people that talk about positivity and overcoming difficulties? Those are examples of inspiration porn. I want to state that the disabled people in these videos and stories aren’t doing anything wrong, and I hope they are proud of their accomplishments; it’s the framing of these moments as ways to make able-bodied people feel good which is the problem.

Inspiration porn was a term created by disabled activist Stella Young. She chose the term ‘porn’ to highlight how people viewing these stories are receiving personal satisfaction through objectification. Inspiration porn is often thought of as well-meaning, but people don’t understand the ableist rhetoric it feeds into, or how it makes disabled people feel.

Why is inspiration porn ableist?

Inspiration porn isn’t actually about celebrating the accomplishments of a disabled person. It doesn’t allow for a complex understanding of the person; it doesn’t appreciate the ups and downs. It doesn’t call for change; it doesn’t discuss the real issues that disabled people face. Instead, it’s this hollow understanding of accomplishment based on making able-bodied people feel pity or inspired. Inspiration porn insinuates the idea that ‘if a disabled person can do it, so can everyone’. That’s an ableist statement because it’s based on the idea that disabled people are inherently lesser, that able-bodied people could easily accomplish what we have.

Many disabled people have heard backhanded compliments, often unsolicited, where people tell them how brave or inspirational they are. Often these comments are about mundane, everyday activities. Are we really brave for daring to go to university? Are we inspirational for going out with our friends for drinks? Would anyone say those things to people who weren’t disabled? Disabled people don’t exist to be your inspiration.

Inspiration porn is based on the idea that disability is a tragic, horrible experience. Instead of challenging stereotypes surrounding disability, inspiration porn upholds them because it’s reliant on ableist assumptions. You couldn’t get inspiration from stories of disabled people being happy if you didn’t think that being happy was difficult for us. It wouldn’t be uplifting if you didn’t negatively view disability.

Inspiration porn uses disabled people to individualize the idea of accomplishment. It ignores the systems that act as barriers to people achieving what they want in life. It ignores how marginalised people are not marginalised by their lack of self-belief, but by society. People are critiqued for not accomplishing more because ‘even a disabled person could do it’. It even adds to the idea that disabled people are lying about their support needs because media refuses to acknowledge that just because some disabled people are elite athletes doesn’t mean that all disabled people can be. Support needs vary so much from person to person, and even day by day. Disabled people shouldn’t have to measure their success by whether or not able-bodied people will find us inspirational. Sometimes success is running a marathon, sometimes it’s getting out of bed.

How does it present itself in fiction?

Unfortunately, inspiration porn does find its way into fiction. A lot of disabled characters written by non-disabled authors have elements of existing to be inspirational to readers. I don’t read a lot of sick lit, because this trope is so common in that genre. Disabled characters who ‘overcome their disability’, who act as inspiration to the main character (or readers), are often examples of inspiration porn.

When reading fiction with a disabled character, it’s important to think about who they’re being written for. Disabled characters should represent disabled people; they shouldn’t be there for able-bodied people.

How can you avoid writing inspiration porn?

It’s important to note that many people who create inspiration porn are trying to do a good thing. They’re not necessarily trying to objectify disabled people or fall into narratives that harm us.

I would recommend you think about how you consider disability. I hate to say it, but nearly everyone is ableist because that’s how society teaches us to be; you have to actively work on deconstructing that. It’s time to reject the idea that being disabled is bad, or that it inherently prevents us from accomplishing great things. It’s time to stop finding disabled people inspirational because of their disability.

Don’t share stories about real-life disabled people if they don’t have a voice. Don’t write a disabled character who’s not fully complex and multifaceted. Don’t talk about ‘overcoming disability’, instead, speak about the specific difficulties and address what needs to be changed to give more disabled people opportunities. Understand that being disabled is not a tragedy; it’s just who we are.

Did you enjoy this post? Were you aware about the ableism behind this trope before?

14 thoughts on “Ableist Tropes 101: Inspiration Porn

  1. Once again Bertie, an amazing post! I, personally, think that this one of the easiest ableist tropes to overlook because as you said it’s framed quite nicely and positively. My first contact with the term was through Jessica Kellgren-Fozard’s “Inspiration P*rn: Oscar Bait!” video, and it was surely eye opening to me as an able-bodied person. Can’t wait to read (and learn!) more with this series of posts!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I agree it’s super easy to overlook, I think it’s because to be aware of it you really have to inspect and challenge your own viewpoints, perhaps moreso than other tropes that stand out more explicitly as actively harmful. I love Jessica Kellgren-Fozard’s videos! They’re so good!

      Liked by 1 person

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