I have a friend named Kimmie, who is a darling dumpling of a girl. She has the biggest heart, dives into everything with abounding enthusiasm, and is a honestly, truly shirt-off-her-back person.
We were chatting online about how Big Far, my service dog, and I were walking at the mall, and people’s interesting reactions to us. A stranger had said something along the lines of, “When I see you two out here, I tell myself, ‘If you can walk a mile a day, what’s my excuse?'”
I was trying to tell her how weird and awkward it felt for this stranger to basically say, “You’re obviously not as able-bodied as I am, but here you are! And if someone as messed up as you are can do it, then someone as fully fit, someone so not you should be able to do at least that.”
Kimmie’s response was that no, I was an inspiration. I had gone through and continue to go through so much, and it inspires strange mall lady and Kimmie herself to keep going.
I tried to explain that I don’t want to be someone else’s inspiration, I just want to walk my dog inside, where it’s cool.
Kimmie was belligerent at this point. It was my responsibility to be inspirational whether I wanted to or not. I was flabbergasted. I didn’t have to words to tell her what was sputtering around in my head. But I’ve been thinking about it since.
There are a lot of smart people talking about this as well — the term “inspiration porn” is one I’ve come across only in the last six months or so. These writers have helped me turn my churning thoughts into a cohesive diatribe. Here’s my favorite bit on inspiration porn:
It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think “well, it could be worse … I could be that person,” Stella Young, ABC, The Drum.
I’m just walking my dog. You, strange mall lady, would never think an able-bodied person walking a dog was inspirational. So you, knowing nothing, have made extreme assumptions about me. You feel it’s okay to come tell me that my life is obviously so hard and so different than yours that I should be recognized for walking the dog.
And you’ve turned me in to the other. By singling me out like that, you’ve culled me from the herd of humanity, pushed me to the fringes. Strange mall lady, we’re both white women of a certain age, living in the same area of this city, probably of similar social and economic backgrounds, with more in common than not. Except now I’m other. I’m no longer, in your mind, equal to you.
I don’t want to be someone’s inspiration. Walking with my service dog shouldn’t make me other.
And so I remain,