Wednesday, May 20, 2015

At the Intersection of Self Advocacy, Representation, and Inspiration Porn

Madeline Stuart, Model credit Twitter
With a heavy heart, I am watching  as the story of Madeline Stuart, of Brisbane, Australia goes viral in entirely the wrong way.  Madeline, a Down Syndrome self advocate, wanted to make the kind of breakthough impact child model Valentina Guerrero and actors Pascal Duquenne and Lauren Potter have made in representation for her community globally. She wanted to be taken seriously as a model. She made the decision to train and be as fit as she could and a year later, she reached her goal and got a model shoot. This was an amazing thing to accomplish and it shows the kind of iron will I've seen again and again in the neurodivergent community.

Here's the problem. Beyond the usual "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" style inspiration porn generated by Maddy's success, her before and after photographs are being used in the worst possible way to promote fat shaming of her peers, to impose the myth of indistinguishability, and  objectifying stereotypes that could actually harm her peers. Maddy has several after photos, but the one being promoted is the one of her in a bikini. The story became one about her weight loss rather than her setting a goal for herself in order to improve the quality of life for herself and her neurodivergent peers and doing the work to achieve that goal.

Maddy at a photo shoot credit Facebook
This is what should not be happening. This should not be used to fat shame Maddy's peers who are not thin. This should not be used to objectify Down women in particular or neurodivergent women in general. This should not be used to dictate to disabled people that they should strive to be as indistinguishable from their peers as possible. But that is exactly what is happening.

Maddy Stuart, representing  credit Twitter
I am happy for Maddy that she has accomplished a major goal in her life. I believe it is the responsibility of the disability rights community to redirect the conversation about Maddy's success and give Maddy's voice back to her, along with the understanding that weight loss or make up didn't transform Maddy Stuart. Maddy knew and knows who she is. Others not being able to see the reality of her beauty is their problem not any lack of hers.

The take away from her story should simply be that once again, we need to include disabled adults in society completely, not just as interesting exotics, tokens, or exceptions, cease using them as fetish objects and allow them to set their own goals because they are perfectly capable of meeting and exceeding them.

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