Body-positive blogger explains why you shouldn't call disabled people 'an inspiration'

Contributing Writer
Yahoo Lifestyle
Blogger Imogen May. (Photo: Instagram/Megan Jayne Crabbe)
Blogger Imogen May. (Photo: Instagram/Megan Jayne Crabbe)

Body-positive blogger Imogen May doesn’t want people to call her “an inspiration.”

May, “The Feeding of the Fox” blogger and Instagram influencer from the U.K., wrote a post about why she dislikes people calling her an inspiration. Though she wrote the post in July, body-positive author Megan Jayne Crabbe re-shared it this week, May’s message remaining constant: “I am not an inspiration because I am a disabled person.”

I am not an inspiration because I am a disabled person. I am not brave, I do not endure or suffer and I am absolutely not an inspiration. When you say those things, you make my life & in turn my body less worthy than yours. Your good health is a privilege. But that doesn’t in turn make my body somehow unfortunate or undesirable. Saying you couldn’t battle what I do suggests that a) I possess something you don’t (I don’t) or that b) living in my own skin is so horrifically unbearable you need super powers in order to manage it. I realise that feels to you like a compliment, that it comes from a place of kindness, a compliment, but it is insulting. In reality many won’t have any idea of what it is like to live the life I have lived in an impaired body, so your frame of reference for what might or might not be difficult is both limited & likely impacted upon by what the media have told you about my life as a cripple (similar to how you’ve been told you have to look as a woman, and we’ve all agreed that’s bullshit, right?) My body is more than my impairment, it’s more than any perceived limitations. Suggesting I’m inspiring due to a blip in my genetic code means that everything I have worked for as a person is worthless & that my impaired body is the only part of me anyone sees. I want to inspire you because I write powerfully & love radically. I want to encourage you because I am an ally in this political movement. I want to be seen as a critical thinking with important messages. So be aware, when you repost disabled bodies, when you talk about us in comments, when you praise us. We don’t want to be your inspiration porn we want to be noticed, acknowledged & appreciated for what we offer as people

A post shared by Imogen’s Body Lovin’ (@the_feeding_of_the_fox) on Jul 10, 2017 at 3:59am PDT

 

May has a genetic impairment and often writes of its relation to body image. Many have applauded her for speaking out about her personal struggle with her impairment as well as with body image, but have done so with language that May believes is not only insulting but also damaging to those in the disabled community.

“I am not brave, I do not endure or suffer and I am absolutely not an inspiration,” she wrote. “When you say those things, you make my life & in turn my body less worthy than yours. … Saying you couldn’t battle what I do suggests that a) I possess something you don’t (I don’t) or that b) living in my own skin is so horrifically unbearable you need super powers in order to manage it.”

May tells Yahoo Lifestyle that although she feels it isn’t her responsibility to educate others, she chooses to speak out to give a voice to the voiceless and flip the pitied and misunderstood narrative so often placed on disabled groups.

“When people use language that was developed to oppress us, segregate us, belittle us, or categorize us, you are perpetuating the oppression we face,” she explains. “Whilst the language of other minority groups may be a little easier to remove from your dictionary, ablest words are thrown around without thought, and often those who use them are oblivious to their historical, political, ties.”

I remember women around me when I was young talking about other women ‘giving up’, they would discuss the ways in witch her appearance suggested this woman had ‘stopped caring’ and what that must say about her life. As I grew, and started interacting with other women of all ages, I remember people discussing having felt like they’d ‘given up’ before they did something transformative ‘for them selves’ and changed their lives. Now they were firmly back in the world, looking and feeling so much better about them selves. I felt so sad for those who couldn’t make the changes they needed in order to ‘reclaim’ their lives, until I raised my own white flag and realised that those women could quite possibly have given them selves the best gift a woman could ever give herself. This is me, given up. My white flag is flying and I am calling time on the constant fighting. Fighting against my body, against my impairment, against the societal beliefs that beautiful is the most important thing a woman can be. I give up following fashion ‘rules’, dressing for my body shape or age. I give up punishing my already extra hard working body. I give up hiding my queerness and my self expression. I give up monitoring my calorific intake like I’m a computer. I give up shrinking my body, my political thoughts and in turn my entire being. For all those anxious about the next thing they feel they should transform in order to convince the world they’re ‘working on themselves’ .. I’ve left you a white flag, folded in your knicker draw. You have permission to raise it whenever.

A post shared by Imogen's Body Lovin' (@the_feeding_of_the_fox) on Dec 2, 2017 at 3:12pm PST


Other disabled men and women have written about this concept before. Like May, they say the term is belittling and presumptuous.

“We are not perfect, angelic human beings by virtue of having a disability. Life just doesn’t work that way, and you can’t pigeonhole us as brave or permanently optimistic or whatever innocuous stereotype helps you process our disabilities better,” writer Erin Tatum wrote in a piece for the website Everyday Feminism.

She explained that calling a disabled person an inspiration also fails to account for and acknowledge a person’s unique experiences with disability. In other words, it lumps a group of people together without understanding the complexities of their lives.

“Having a disability puts us in the same community, but it doesn’t make us all the same,” she wrote. “Suggesting that all disabled people are inspirational just because we’re disabled robs us of the cultural and socioeconomic contexts that have created and continue to foster our diversity.”

May agrees.

“My body is more than my impairment, it’s more than any perceived limitations,” she wrote. “Suggesting I’m inspiring due to a blip in my genetic code means that everything I have worked for as a person is worthless and that my impaired body is the only part of me anyone sees.”

I’d never considered my self to have an issue with exercise particularly, mostly because my impairment makes moving in many different ways difficult. I can’t run, I dislocate joints, I’m in pain and I’m always fighting exhaustion. But in the last few days I’ve had a chance to do something I never let my self do at home – rest. I’m not an ultra marathon runner, I’m not busting out high weights or stood in yoga poses for hours a day, but I am terrible at stopping and grating my self permission to stop. My book of choice this holiday is @bodyposipanda’s Body Positive Power, a wonderfully powerful catalog of all things Body Positive. I’ve just finished the chapter on movement and it’s really offered an interesting reflection on my current relationship with activity and rest. This week I have been in less pain and am struggling less with fatigue, the connection? I’ve not spent the day standing for fear of sitting for too long or walking places just because I felt I should move some more before I eat. The lengths my disordered brain will go to, to concise me that I still need to be doing at least *something* to alter my body is shocking. So my vow for my arrival home is to work seriously on a balance of joyful movement and true rest. In the meanwhile, I’m just going to have another hour on the sun lounger ☀️

A post shared by Imogen’s Body Lovin’ (@the_feeding_of_the_fox) on Oct 7, 2017 at 9:41am PDT

 

She wants people to appreciate her for her, not just one part of what makes up who she is.

“I want to inspire you because I write powerfully & love radically. I want to encourage you because I am an ally in this political movement. I want to be seen as a critical thinking with important messages,” her post continued. “So be aware, when you repost disabled bodies, when you talk about us in comments, when you praise us. We don’t want to be your inspiration porn we want to be noticed, acknowledged & appreciated for what we offer as people.”

She knows her post is provocative, but she wants people, perhaps many of the 14,000 Instagram users who liked her post on Crabbe’s page, to engage in a more “radical conversation around the politics of disabled people.”

“I hope my Instagram posts encourage that,” she says. “I hope they have a thirst for justice and a passion for the human rights of my community. We’ve been waiting a long time for you to join us.”

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