The shame game

Something that really bothers me recently is this culture of body and disability shaming.  You’ve all seen these supposedly funny memes featuring somebody with a disability or is not very attractive with a message to tag so and so because they’re late for their date.  I’m not completely innocent – I’ve shared a few with family and but usually of a pig in lipstick because… well, you haven’t seen the company I keep.  For a few months over the end of last year, you couldn’t unlock your phone for fear of what you might find, and it has only become less common to post these images because of a huge uproar made on social media.

Society as a whole has decided what is and is not attractive, what is and is not normal, what is and is not acceptable.  Anybody who falls into the ‘is not’ category seems to be a fair target for these cruel people to mock.  I feel for the poor individuals who have had their images used, doubtlessly without knowledge and permission, and unwittingly look at the internet only to be confronted by a picture of themselves with a disparaging comment.  I’d be simultaneously heart-broken and filled with rage.  If you have curves or are carrying a few extra pounds and somebody takes a dislike to you, they won’t think twice about putting it online and furthering the western ideal of slimness being the goal everyone should aim for.  It doesn’t matter that the person might be perfectly happy with the way they look.  It doesn’t matter that they might already be depressed about their looks and the social media hatred has just driven them past breaking point.

However horrible this might be to an able person, it must be twice as hard for a disabled one.  Imagine being singled out for some condition you have no control over.  As soon as people notice your differences morals seem to go out the window in place of a potential few hundred shares of a picture.  Because a viral image of unknown origin is obviously more important than being a decent human being.  Ooh, I have an idea.  Someone find the maker of memes, mess him up, take photos and spread them online with smiley emojis.  I would be just as bad a person if I did that, which kinda defeats the object, but words haven’t stopped this trend.  I block them or report them as inappropriate content and I know plenty of people do the same but, for every one of us, there are a hundred more who will share as a bit of harmless fun.  If somebody used an image of me in my wheelchair and tried to make fun of it I might even feel sorry for them: I’d definitely rather be physically disabled than morally crippled.  People can lose weight, use products, get new clothes, whatever they want to minimise their chances of being body shamed.  Wheelchairs users can’t just practice walking, depressed people cannot just smile more, those with autism can’t just behave better.  People are all different and that should be discussed not mocked.  But disability shaming goes further than just a nasty picture or two.  It gets warped to a point where people think they are being positive when they are causing more damage than ever.

My news feed is full of images of children with various conditions shown to me because my friends have drawn into responding.  It might be a kid with Down’s syndrome asking you to say hello because no-one else will talk to a Down’s child.  Or a baby who was born without limbs but just wants to be held.  And people write their comments – ‘hug xx’, ‘hiya’.  Like that kid is ever going to know or care that a stranger halfway round the world feels sorry for them.  On one hands, I guess it’s nice that people are actually caring enough to bother but, generally, I think it just furthers the assumption that disability is abnormal.  Would we be sending ridiculous messages to an able child we will never meet?  Maybe I am mean and heartless for not joining in the pity party.  Maybe I’m crawling with jealousy that no-one has ever done that for me.  Maybe they’re just kids who want to run around pretending to be aeroplanes like other children.

All I can say for sure is that nobody deserves to be paraded up and down the interwebs because they don’t fit the societal, ideal of perfection.  Whether it’s my wheelchair, my glasses, my bad skin or my weird feet, I’m far from physically flawless but I’m intelligent, sensitive, caring and creative.  Make a meme about that.  Dare.

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