News TEDx

Remembering Stella Young

Here at the office, we end up screening a fair number of “inspirational” talks, often from people who’ve overcome tough challenges in their lives. The point being: If I can overcome my problems [modest pause], what can you do? [applause]

Stella Young — comedian, activist, awesome person — was simply having none of that. She was not planning to serve as anyone’s inspirational porn of the month, and in her fiery, hilarious talk — onstage at the Sydney Opera House at TEDxSydney this past April — she laid into the stereotypes that she fought all her life.

Some choice quotes:

I was teaching in a Melbourne high school, and I was about 20 minutes into a year 11 legal studies class when this boy put up his hand and said, “Hey miss, when are you going to start doing your speech?” And I said, “What speech?” You know, I’d been talking them about defamation law for a good 20 minutes. And he said, “You know, like, your motivational speaking. You know, when people in wheelchairs come to school, they usually say, like, inspirational stuff?” (Laughter) “It’s usually in the big hall.” And that’s when it dawned on me: This kid had only ever experienced disabled people as objects of inspiration.

You might have seen the little girl with no hands, drawing a picture with a pencil held in her mouth. You might have seen a child running on carbon-fiber prosthetic legs. And these images, there are lots of them out there, they are what we call “inspiration porn.” And I use the term porn deliberately, because they objectify one group of people for the benefit of another group of people. So in this case, we’re objectifying disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people. The purpose of these images is to inspire you, to motivate you, so that we can look at them and think, “Well, however bad my life is, it could be worse. I could be that person.”

And that quote, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” the reason that that’s bullshit is because it’s just not true. No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. Never.

Stella Young died unexpectedly on December 6, 2014. She was 32. She wished to be no one’s inspiration. YMMV.