On this week’s podcast, Ana sat down with writer, journalist and disability rights activist Keah Brown for a difficult conversation about the erasure of disability, ableism, and much more. The jumping off point for their discussion is a piece Keah wrote about loving romantic comedies even though they perpetuate an ideal body image to which she can aspire but never achieve. However, she also noted that since writing the piece two years ago, her thoughts on body positivity and self-love have evolved.
“I feel like now, I live in a body that deserves love, whereas when I wrote it, I was unsure that I did,” Keah said.
Keah went on to talk about the everyday difficulties of accepting disability when popular culture perpetuates narratives that other disabled people, detailing the process she herself has gone through. After years of dreaming about a different body, she began a concentrated effort to love and accept herself. The bedrock of that process comes every morning in her daily routine, when she looks in a mirror and says three things she likes about herself.
They then discuss the hashtag Keah started, #DisabledAndCute, and how it was co-opted and whitewashed, just like #MeToo and so many other things created by black women. Despite the whitewashing, Keah continued her activism for body positivity, earning the admiration of people she had not intended to reach. This led Ana to ask about the phenomenon of “inspiration porn,” and how it feels when people tell Keah they’re “inspired” by her.
“For me, it’s just — I go in knowing what my intent was. So, if able bodied people love the hashtag, and the work that I do, that’s fantastic. But I know that I’m not here to make able bodied people feel better about themselves because they don’t have a body that’s like mine,” said Keah.
Ana and Keah also discuss the way that people who come from marginalized communities are pigeonholed. Keah has worked to break out of that by writing widely about popular culture, talking about everything from Jane the Virgin to football alongside disabilities, using her own perspective to critique the things she loves. That’s something she and Ana share.
They also share similar sentiments about social media. Keah described Twitter as a “trash can on fire, but it’s got all the things you love inside the trash can.” Her relationship with Twitter is complicated because there is no shortage of trolls who look to pick fights in her mentions. And yet, it also provides a platform.
As she put it, “A lot of what Twitter has done is give me word of mouth… I can’t say that I’m against Twitter because Twitter has given me so much.”
The discussion of social media led to a further conversation about the representation — or lack thereof — of disabled people on social media and in American culture generally.
“Either we get left out of representation, or we die by the end of the movie,” Keah said.
The conversation then came full circle when Ana apologized for an ableist comment made at the top of the show. That led them to a broader conversation over what constitutes a disability, and Keah explained that part of what she’s tried to do is show that disabilities come in visible and invisible, mental and physical forms. That intersectional approach means that not only can Ana claim the label of disabled because of her bipolar disorder and alcoholism, but it is incredibly important for her and people like her to do so.
Their conversation ended on a meaningful note, that privileged people need to guard against the fear of offending people, get past discomfort and be willing to try and branch out, even if it means sometimes saying something wrong along the way.
At the end of the episode, Crooked Contributor Erin Ryan joined Ana to talk about navigating romantic relationships through political disagreements. They both have experience dating through disagreements, and have different strategies for getting through those divides. Erin pointed out that these kinds of conversations enable all parties involved to learn about others think, and that “trying to get to a point where you’ve won an argument shuts down learning, in a way.”
Ana drew on her personal experience with her husband, noting that they went through a period of time where they could barely discuss politics, and pointed out that one of the most important things to know in a relationship is whether arguing about politics is enjoyable. Ana and Erin come to the consensus that debating from similar source material, and talking to rather than past each other is essential. Sometimes to hear someone, you have to accept that you might not convince them you’re right.
Ana referenced several pieces Keah has written on the pod, which you can find below.
On the erasure of Stephen Hawking’s disability
On the lack of representation of disabled people
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