Have you seen Kylie Jenner’s lightly S&M flavored wheelchair photo shoot that appears in Interview magazine? I just saw it yesterday and boy has it sparked a lot of reaction. I first saw it in connection with #TheAbleistScript. In case you haven’t seen it here is the cover shot.
She has received criticism left, right, and center from the disabled community. I understand why. As a person who has used a power wheelchair since her teens I’ve had to deal with able-bodied people treating it like a toy, even my dad. Every wheelchair I’ve got with the exception of the one I have now he has insisted on driving first despite my protests. There are benefits to it, he can drive it without crashing into walls if necessary but it’s still annoying. If I was grounded that usually meant I was grounded from my wheelchair outside of school. My dad let my sister play with my chair while I was grounded. I understand peoples anger I really do, my knee-jerk reaction was similar to a Mentos soda rocket when I saw it at first. Two things happened then, one my mom reminded me that especially right now she is living in a fishbowl and that all art should be taken in context. The second thing that happened is I saw her state in an interview that she was using a wheelchair to signify how limited she felt. Then it really hit me was her life must be like lately. She is 18, your brain does not stop growing until 25, your super emotional, still don’t make the best decisions ever. She is a model, a profession which means you live your life in a fishbowl whether you want to or not, people see and interpret your tiniest action. Let’s not forget that she has a parent with five gold medals in track and who very recently openly transitions from male to female.
That is a very big mouthful to have to swallow at 18 years old. I don’t blame her for feeling trapped and confined. It’s also very likely that she does not know anyone who uses a wheelchair personally and so has never seen a person view a wheelchair as part of their personal identity. My first reaction was “how dare she portray disabled as plastic, as mannequin, as Wheelchair Fetish Barbie.” The second, third, fourth times I looked were different. Maybe she feels plastic and mannequin like. Maybe she feels trapped and confined by the pressure and responsibility of the roles she finds herself in, most of which she did not ask for and is probably very confused by.Maybe the wheelchair was the most confining thing she could think of to represent all that.
Personally I would have chosen to re-create Houdini’s famous water tank escape or his straight jacket escape if I were her. In some ways I like #TheAbleistSctipt it gives a name to a mentality I have seen my whole life. People who don’t think to shovel snow and ice off the sidewalks because as long as the road are clear for then to drive to work what does it matter? The sidewalk that is perpetually cracked and never fixed because you can just go around it can’t you? The sidewalk that doesn’t have a ramp on either end because most people can step up over the curb and if you can’t oh well. It does exist and it needs a name but I believe we must think carefully before directing it at specific people. Yesterday I saw an awesome video where Lady Gaga and the panel of Yale University students talked about the importance of listening and of validating each other’s emotions and struggles. The disabled narrative needs telling but it need not be told from an us versus them points of view. Along with #TheAbleistScript why not#thisismycommunity to facilitate a dialogue between disabled and able-bodied? Use one to point the problems and the other to work towards solutions, because this us versus them thing is not getting anything done.