Kylie Jenner, born into immense privilege, lives her carefree life doing carefree things, things that have gotten her into trouble with multiple marginalized groups of people. Where do we even begin? *Sigh*
Today let’s talk about her latest hypocrisy. Kylie recently did a photo shoot and interview with Interview Magazine. The same magazine that ran those problematic pictures of her big sis Kim not too long ago, you know the ones that were based on racially insensitive images. In Kylie’s shoot, the able bodied star used a wheelchair as a prop. Neither the photographer or Kylie have explicitly stated why the wheelchair was used, but if you study the context of the article and the other photographs, it’s message is clear.
The photos are clearly a representation of three things: confinement, submission, and domination. One photograph shows a man holding Kylie back, and in the same theme she is shown in the wheelchair. Clearly being restrained. Other photos depict Kylie, clad in black latex chaps holding a serving platter with a single flute of champagne. Submission/subservient role. Another picture shows Kylie riding on a mans back. Domination. The photoshoot clearly lays out Kylie’s life, but in a tactless ableist way.
Kylie comes off as extremely confused in the interview. She talks about missing sunsets and hiking and having anxiety and being bullied and hating makeup but also wanting to be a successful business woman with a makeup line. I feel for her, she’s 18, she’s confused. What’s clear from the interview is that she feels her fame confines her, which is where I presume the whole wheelchair “metaphor” comes in.
To use a wheelchair as a sign of restriction as an able bodied person is…troublesome. As an able bodied person myself, I cannot speak for people with disabilities who use wheelchairs, and I do not want to attempt to do so. Instead, I’m going to share a few people’s perspectives, people who do live with disabilities.
Tumblr user petitetimidgay had this to say about the situation:
In an open letter written to Kylie, 17 year old Ophelia Brown argued:
She also went on to say:
“My wheelchair is not a limitation — it is my wings. It lets me go to school, go out with friends and live life like a “normal person.” You’re still young enough to remember what it’s like to want freedom and independence. To want to go out without your parents, to want to live life as YOU. My wheelchair lets me do those things. And despite how different it makes me feel, I couldn’t be more happy to have it.”
These women are only two examples of the vast opinions any of the millions of people with disabilities could have about this subject. However, their opinions are important. For a lot of people living with a disability is not easy. Aside from the physical pain a disability may cause, their are emotional consequences as well. Both women above expressed feelings of alienation from being in wheelchairs, a stigma attached to their wheelchair. A feeling that Kylie can try on for a fun photo shoot and take off at the end of the day. It’s essentially appropriation. For the millions of people who utilize wheelchairs, they can’t just get up and walk away from that stigma at the end of the day like Kylie can.
There’s another problem with using a wheelchair as a symbol of restriction. For many people, like Ophelia said, a wheelchair is not a restriction. It’s the complete opposite. It is a tool that allows them to live their lives freely and independently. To assume that living life in a wheelchair is the be all and end all is absurd.
Another important point that both women above pointed out was the association of disability with beauty. There is an assumption among able bodied people that disability is ugly. Something shameful or worth our pity. I’m a big fan of activist Mia Mingus, a woman of color who is queer and disabled. In this lecture, (lengthy but worth it) she talks about the ideal body and how it relates to people with disabilities. Kylie Jenner and her sisters are famously regarded as having the ideal body, which is why it is especially problematic to put someone of her status into a wheelchair, something that has historically had negative societal connotations for those who use it. People with disabilities are sexual beings with agency. Modeling is all about sex appeal, which is something that comes in all shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities, so why aren’t more people with disabilities offered modeling jobs and photoshoots? Basically it’s cool to model in a wheelchair if you have an ideal body and don’t actually need a wheelchair. But if you are actually a person who’s body a wheelchair is designed for, you’re shit out of luck with that modeling contract.
It is just ironic to me that a young woman who talks about being bullied in her interview, and who, as a result, created an #IAmMoreThan campaign, would fail to see the hypocrisy of such a photo shoot. Kylie’s anti-bullying campaign is a great use of her public platform, but seriously…she didn’t think modeling in a wheelchair would he harmful to some of the very people that she is hoping to help through her campaign…
I’d like to just chalk it up to her being an 18 year old airhead who hasn’t yet found her purpose in the world, but honestly there is no excuse for ignorance. I can’t blame it all on her though, the creative minds behind the photos should have known better. Although, they probably did know, and knew that controversy sells. *sighs for, what, the second time in this post?*