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Inspiration Porn

July 31, 2013

Recently, I became aware of a trend in media and entertainment many refer to as “inspiration porn.” Disability in Kid Lit has a good discussion of what that means, which I’ll sum up here. Basically, anything that a disabled person does, even if its just living normal life, is referred to as “inspiring,” even though it does nothing to bring awareness of the real challenges a disabled person faces with accessibility, ableism, and so on. It’s all about overcoming “adversity” and “being yourself” to fit in with the “normal” crowd.

I wonder if this is why some of the books I’ve seen about food allergies tend to be self-published instead of traditionally published, because the authors don’t realize they’ve slipped into “inspiration porn.” It makes for a shallow story with very little character growth. No wonder there’s little market for these stories outside of kids with food allergies who need to be “inspired” and feel “accepted.”

And really, why should authors stop at “you can fit in with the normal crowd”? Don’t we want our food allergic children to excel? To go beyond the curve? The story “here is Tommy who does something interesting all while having food allergies” really has much less impact than “Tommy, who has food allergies, does something awesome.” We admire Amelia Earhart, Sacajawea, and Marie Curie because they did cool things, not just because they were women. It shouldn’t be different for other groups, whether those are defined by race, sexuality, or disability.

And honestly, making food allergies a character trait rather than the point of the whole story is a lot closer to life. Yes, we spend a lot of time reading food labels, and we feel sad when there’s nothing at a party we can eat, and bullies chasing kids with peanut butter is a threat, but these conflicts don’t stop my son from living a normal life, nor should they stop them him from achieving any of his dreams (unless his dream is to be a peanut tester). Food allergy conflicts aren’t enough to carry an entire novel by themselves, nor are any of the other -isms. to “be yourself”.

I would love it if more characters in fiction had to deal with food allergies. I just want authors to do so without it being gimmicky.

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