This image of a little girl happily running alongside Oscar Pistorius went viral. This image may seem harmless, in fact “inspirational” as if this little girl can be happy then “I can too”. Though in fact, images like this that involve a person who appears disadvantages and is often a child, along with a caption such as “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” are considered to be “inspiration porn”
Inspiration porn may seem like a vulgar term but it’s actually rather appropriate. This act of using a person with a disability, doing an ordinary deed and turning it into something extraordinary is what constitutes inspiration porn. It is “porn” in the sense that it is trying to satisfy the desire for “typical people” or those in the “privileged position” to feel inspired. It creates an element of a paradox; are we celebrating those who have adapted or are we exploiting them for our own gain?
The issue with inspiration porn is that these images in fact marginalize instead of empower. Images are powerful and images such as this are sending the wrong message. It suggests, “if these individuals can do it, I surely can too”. This development of pity produces us to think about ourselves more positively in that “I really shouldn’t feel sorry for myself, look at these children” while discarding those imaged. It turns the imaged into objects that we use, in order to feel better about ourselves or to provide “perspective”. The act patronizing as we use everyday situations and characteristics that an individual has no choice over to create “amazing” people. This act marginalizes those imaged in inspirational porn, as we wouldn’t consider someone who doesn’t have obvious signs of adversity “amazing” for running, walking or smiling. The subjects use for inspiration porn tend to be to use images of children. This be because children tend to appear to be more innocent, resilient and undeserving of their situation thus perpetuating the notion “if they can do it, I can too.” It is problematic for many reasons such as privacy, exploitation and for the protection of the child.
Often parents want to relish in all of their children’s milestones, yet it is difficult to do that and prevent the production of pity. This mother of a child who has Cerebral Palsy explains how it is a paradox that is unavoidable. These images that are sometimes argued to spread acceptance also make us, as the “typical population” feel better. These children do not choose their situation, and the majority of them have not actively decided to be a source of inspiration. The process is trying to create inspirational people who are only expected to everyday tasks to be deemed inspirational. While there are individuals such as Nick Vujicic, whose youtube video has been viewed 46 million times and has chosen to use his circumstances to inspire others, this is different as it is an active choice. Often when these motivational speakers are imaged and turned into a sensation they are paired with their own quotes, allowing them to speak to their situation. Instead a caption such as “what’s your excuse” along with the image of a child, actively limits our expectations of that individual and a community as a whole.
While it has been prominently disability activist who have been fighting against
inspirational porn and spreading the awareness I argue that it extends beyond the disability community. Inspirational images are created by using any group of people who visibly appears to be “disadvantaged” . This especially resonates for those living in poverty. To try to gain a “western perspective” we use images that seem distressing and of children to provide us with inspiration and motivation for our lives. These individuals do not have a choice and they are not named thus projecting them as objects that we use to exploit for inspiration. A following example is this image that is used to create motivation for marathon runners. The image has trivialized the situation of these children, in hopes of making a marathon runner work harder. Inspirational porn is an issue that extends to a broader scope and can be seen in many different dimensions.
An image may seem to be harmless but I urge that you pay attention to the message that the image is sending. Ask yourself is this image creating “inspiration porn” or is it actually spreading awareness. It is a fine line between these two ideas and inspirational images exist to benefit the “typical population” and to hurt the marginalized.
Examples of inspiration porn: