Dear Kylie Jenner, my wheelchair isn’t a prop: Stop playing dress-up games with my reality
#IAmMore than my appearances, too, Kylie—but I can’t make my disability disappear when the cameras do
by EMILY LADAU
As a visibly disabled woman, I never have the option to choose if I want to put myself on display. People stare at me, often directly and unabashedly, because my wheelchair demands attention. I’m not sitting to make a cultural statement, though. I’m sitting because it’s my reality.
Kylie Jenner, however, is sitting in a black and gold wheelchair on the cover of Interview magazine because it’s supposedly a metaphor for her reality. Interview defended this choice, claiming that Jenner’s wheelchair poses are meant to be commentary on the attention she receives as “an object of vast media scrutiny.” To Jenner, the wheelchair is something she can try on, a bold accessory to accompany the rest of her appearance. Everything she does makes heads turn, so why not give the public another reason to gawk?
In the Interview article, Jenner gives some insight into her desire to drastically alter her looks from time to time, explaining to Chris Wallace that she is “all about, like, experimenting” as a way to figure out her identity. It seems that adding a wheelchair to Jenner’s scant outfit is nothing more than a provocative game of dress-up. This is extremely inappropriate, because wheelchairs are not a costume choice. My wheelchair is not a symbol of an identity to try on. It is part of who I am.
While Interview’s creative team seems to believe that it is okay to use a wheelchair as a prop, many people who are actually disabled beg to differ. Outside of Jenner’s celebrity bubble, where posing in a wheelchair is deemed edgy and daring, real wheelchair users don’t have the same luxury. The Kardashian-Jenner clan deliberately chose to put themselves in the limelight and continuously clamor for attention, and exploiting a facet of my reality to tell that story certainly doesn’t garner any sympathies from me.
In a twisted way, though, I understand Jenner’s search for identity among the barrage of attention. I, too, am reduced to my appearance and subjected to judgment without people knowing me. People are often quick to make superficial assessments about who I am just by looking me. Like Jenner, disabled people are frequently ogled like museum pieces, but whereas Jenner can essentially do whatever she wants without risking her position as a media darling, much of society still stigmatizes the disability community as though we are lepers.
Perhaps Jenner should be more sensitive to this, considering that she discusses her anti-bullying Instagram campaign, #IAmMoreThan, in her interview. She reveals that since “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” first aired on television, she has dealt with bullying and negativity. Indeed, people can be cruel, especially to those in the spotlight, but I don’t believe that Jenner knows the first thing about true experiences with oppression, and her photo shoot definitely didn’t help. I have been mocked because of my wheelchair, discriminated against, outright rejected, and pushed away. #IAmMoreThan my wheelchair, but in countless ways, it defines how other people perceive me, and how they treat me. It is far more than a temporary state of affairs or a fashion faux pas. Whether I’m naked, dressed to the nines, or keeping it casual, my wheelchair is always there, and people can always see it. I cannot simply stand up, leave it empty in a photography studio, and forget about it.