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How the #DisabledandCute Hashtag Is Smashing Stigmas

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There is an amazing hashtag on Twitter called #disabledandcute. It was started by writer Keah Brown and has become a favorite for those on “disability Twitter,” which is what we call the small corner of Twitter where us disabled folks hang out to talk and support each other. A quick search for the hashtag will flood your screen with images of hundreds of beautiful disabled people showing off pictures of themselves.

Why does this matter? Why should you care? And how is this different than the regular selfies everyone and their mother post every day?

It is different, and important, because of the stigma that exists around disabled people, attractiveness, and dateability.

Think about it, when’s the last time you saw an openly disabled person in a fashion magazine, in a ad campaign, or starring in a mainstream movie or television show? I say openly disabled to account for invisible disabilities. Even when there is a disabled character, more often than not they are played by someone who isn’t actually disabled, which leaves them to rely on stereotypes of that disability to create their character, especially if the script is not written by a disabled person.

Maybe you’re thinking, “sure, there’s a lack of representation, but that’s not the same as saying disabled people can’t be attractive.” Except it is. That’s why people talk about the effects of a lack of different body types in magazines and film, as well as the lack of people of color. When models are chosen for fashion shoots, or actors are chosen for roles as romantic leads, the entertainment industry is telling us, “this is what is attractive. This is what you should strive to look/act like and what you should look for in a partner.” So even without coming right out and saying, “disabled people are ugly,” the lack of representation in romantic or “attractive” roles absolutely tells abled and disabled people alike that disabilities are not attractive or acceptable.

Along with a lack of representation, there is an abundance of misrepresentation. Go back through your entertainment memory again, and try to think of the last time that you saw a romantic story with a disabled character that was not based around someone loving them “in spite of” their disability. Sometimes the story shows the love interest gallantly fighting to help their disabled love “overcome” or even cure their disability, again asserting that our disabilities are barriers to true love and happiness. Or they are lauded as saints for staying beside their disabled love, who has become a “burden” but they love them all the same. Or, we see a disabled character struggle to find love, because of their disability, only to realize that the only place they can find love is with another disabled person. This is not to say that disabled people can’t, or shouldn’t, have relationships with other disabled people, but those stories perpetuate the unspoken rule that says we have to stick with our own kind. And don’t even get me started on the countless films and TV shows where a disabled person is angry at the world because they have been deemed unlovable, so they become a villain who tries to take over Gotham, or the like. (Seriously, once you open your eyes to it, you start to realize how almost every villainous character ever is a disabled person.)

All of those work to assert the idea that disabled people are unattractive burdens who aren’t worthy of love, except for the occasional saints who must be worshiped because of their willingness to date/love a disabled person. It’s this lack of representation and presence of misrepresentation that leads to lower levels of marriage/committed partnerships for disabled women with higher rates of abusive relationships, according to this New York Times article. When the world is constantly telling you that you aren’t worthy of sexual desire, let alone love, then you are more likely to accept anyone who is willing to commit to you, even if that person is highly abusive. The really extra abhorrent twist? Those abusive partners are still held up as heroes by other abled people, simply because they are with a disabled person. To date/love/marry us is seen as the ultimate act of charity.

The truth is, a disability does not automatically make someone unattractive. We are human beings, as varied in looks and personality as any other group of people on this planet. Disabled people can be sexy, gorgeous, handsome, hot, attractive, desirable and yes, cute. We are no less deserving or capable of love than any abled person. We don’t have to accept whatever creep comes along out of desperation, so stop telling us we should. And our partners are not automatically saints for staying with us. They are people who love us as we are, for who we are, just like any other healthy relationship.

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Originally published: November 1, 2017
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