So I’ve been thinking a bit about being inspiring to others, and then read a post on Fit is a Feminist Issue the other day about being inspiring and it made me want to post something here about it.

Awhile back someone commented on one of my running blogs saying:

I love hearing about your running. Each time I think ‘one day that will be me. One day I’ll be well enough to run’. It’s inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing.

And I was kind of shocked, in a happy way, reading that. First off, I started blogging my runs because I find it motivating in a way that’s hard to describe, and I wasn’t really sure anyone else would read them let alone enjoy reading them.

Also I never would have imagined it to be inspiring to anyone. It’s not like I’m running marathons or anything, I’m out there going slow and not very far.

While I can’t speak for the person who left that comment, I started thinking about it though, and realized that it makes sense in many ways to find more inspiration in seeing someone else through the process of something than just the end result, if that end result is something that you don’t feel like you could do. Just seeing someone else run a marathon would not for me be as inspiring as seeing someone else who struggles with running talk about the whole process of training for it, seeing the progress, set backs, frustrations- because that can make you think “Maybe I could do that.”

Also I looked up the commenter’s blog after reading that and it made sense to see that it was someone else who is struggling with chronic illness. It makes sense to find inspiration from someone else like us doing something we would like to do. I know for myself I also struggle with fitness being primarily dominated by people who are generally healthy- as most areas of life are. I don’t think it shouldn’t be of course, people with chronic conditions are a slight minority and even then the effects are vastly different based on condition and individual. I personally struggle though with remembering that I can’t expect my training to look just like someone else who is generally in good health. Our experiences will be different. So when I do meet other folks who lift or run and have similar health issues as me, it is really great to see other people like myself doing these things as well.

So that’s my own background and what I’d been thinking about this before Natalie’s post on Fit is a Feminist Issue. In her post she takes issue with being called inspiring, coming from a perspective in which it seems she is often called “inspiring” by people who are different than her in a key way because of the idea that people like her don’t normally do that type of thing. In her case, the main issue she brought up was body size. Fat people aren’t expected to be active and athletic, leading to the “inspiring” thought process of “if even she can do that, I must be able to as well”. Which is a very different kind of inspiration, because it’s based on seeing that person as less than yourself. If even this person who should be less athletic than me based on X characteristic can do this, surely someone like me can as  well.

This is pretty common with both fat and disabled athletes. Many disability activists have also spoken out about “inspiration porn”. Stella Yound in her Tedx talk says these “inspirational” images of people with disabilities “objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people.”  This gets to the heart of what I think is the difference between when inspiring someone is great, and when it’s kind of icky. Seeing someone who is like you, such as someone with a similar disability or another fat person, doing something that you didn’t think you could, or that you are often told you can’t do because of that characteristic, can certainly be inspiring and it’s why it’s great to see more representation. Seeing more fat athletes or athletes with disabilities is great when it comes to providing encouragement to other fat people and people with disabilities, who can feel empowered by that to be more involved in aspects of fitness they enjoy.

It becomes kind of gross and really rude though when it’s taken as “inspiring” to people unlike the person in question.

This is so often the case of how images of athletes with disabilities are used. I see all the time people sharing images or video of athletes with clearly visible disabilities- typically people either born without certain limbs, or who have had them amputated, and the message is clearly stated- if this person can do it, then so can you. So can you because you are better than this person already because you aren’t disabled. The intended audience who are meant to be inspired aren’t other people with disabilities who think “that person is like me!”, it’s people without disabilities. And the reason it should be inspiring to people without disabilities is predicated on the social belief that people with disabilities are less than able-bodied people.

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