Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Undateables | Problematic Show or Innocent Fun?

The Undateables is a UK reality documentary show that first aired on Channel 4 in April 2012, since then 6 series' have been shown, series 6 is running at the moment which is what made me want to finally write this post. The series follows people with disabilities, mainly those with learning difficulties though, as they go on dates hoping to find love.

Before the show had even aired there was controversy surrounding it, mainly when it came to the name. Social media users and doctors (according to wikipedia) expressed their opinion that the title was offensive and horrible as it branded those with physical and mental disabilities as being 'undateable'. I agree with this and I have been against the show since it first aired. Back then I wasn't even disabled, I was in some pain but I definitely wouldn't have referred to myself as being disabled. However, I was still able to see the problems with the show. However as my health deteriorated and I started using a wheelchair my eyes were opened even further to the world of ableism and this made my anger towards the show strengthen even more. I've wanted to write this post for a while so I could share my opinion but as I started planning it I thought it would be good to get other people's opinions too, from both disabled and able bodied people. I wanted to see whether perhaps there were any clear differences in opinion depending on someone's ability. I also just wanted to be nosy as well!

WHAT DO I THINK?

My first problem with the show is unsurprisingly the title. Just suggesting that disabled people are undateable is a horrible thing to do, based on offensive stereotypes. The title is just helping to keep such an idea alive, the idea that disabled people are not desirable. I know that in the opening titles the 'un' part of undateables is taken away as though to say 'we are challenging this' but I feel as though that is lost on most people and the title is still what it is, offensive. It's harmful and demoralising to call anyone undateable simply because they do not fit into what societies considers to be 'okay' and 'normal'. Whenever I have begrudgingly watched the show I've found that most of the time, especially in the cases of those with learning difficulties, people are only paired up with others with a disability. This sends out the message that all disabled people should only date other disabled people because able bodied people clearly wouldn't be interested or we aren't 'good enough' for them.

I hate how the whole show is just set up for people's entertainment too (I realise that is the role of all TV), this is particularly true with people with learning difficulties too. Often they will show the person doing something that is often not considered appropriate, these kinds of clips seem to be shown just to get laughs, so people can laugh at the disabled person and how they interact with the world. I also have a feeling that the dates are often set up in a way to maximise these kinds of interactions, forcing people into situations that will highlight their disability. If I had watched a show like this when I first became disabled as a young teenager I think it would have seriously affected my self esteem, the messages this show gives out could seriously harm someone and how they see themselves.

One thing that I found rather interesting is that First Dates Hotel is on right after The Undateables at the moment and whilst First Dates do feature disabled people every now and then it does feel like there is one dating programme for disabled people and another for able bodied people which does not sit well with me.

I have plenty more I could say but most of your opinions actually say it all for me so I'll pass things over to everyone who contributed to this post!

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

'I am able bodied and love the show. I cry a lot (with joy) and I have learnt so much about different disabilities.' - @MissJTulip

'I'm able bodied and the whole premise (and name!) makes me feel super uncomfortable. Never watched it though for that reason. I think ableism is so ingrained and not talked about so people just don't realise when shit is problematic.' @oawoodward

'I hate it, I hate the freak show thing going on. I hate that they are using people's disabilities for 'inspiration', so ableist. Also the title itself adds to the stigma of disabled people being subhuman, the underlying messages are toxic' - @p0ppyfield

'I know someone who was on this and married the girl he met. But it seems like they are trying to make a 'freak show.' I know I used an awful term there but I think the premise of it is atrocious.' - @jessicacwx

'I have a disability and when I first heard the show I thought it was a horrible idea, then I watched it and realised that it raises awareness for conditions and shows that we're normal people too- I just hate the show's name!' - @500daysofsarah_

'I've never watched it but I feel like they're making fun of much bigger issues than raising awareness.' - @WishHopeDreams

'Genuinely cannot stand the title, it drives me mad that people would assume someone is undateable. They're beautiful people.' - @amiehayward

'I absolutely love it! So pleased there's a special dating agency so everyone can find love! So happy for them all!' - @sunshinesarahxo

'The title, The Undateables, just from that they are trying to insinuate that the people on the show aren't good enough for other dating shows that were around before. Instead of having a show purely about these 'undateable people' why not include them into the other 3000 dating shows that already exist. On the flip side the amount of awareness raised could have potentially saved lives, helped with diagnoses or just helped people who might have the same condition as one of the participants which of course is amazing! It's a mixed bag.' - @aroseforepona_

'I love the idea behind it because it's something that isn't talked about in society unfortunately, but the name is so rude and the way it is edited makes it seem as if they aren't allowed to find love, like it's a joke.' - @chaptersofkat


'The name is problematic but I love the show, most relatable and romantic dating show I've ever seen! - @Hannwinn

'Hate the title of the show, I find it offensive.' - @HannahHeartss

'I hate the name, nobody is undateable, and I don't like when they use people for entertainment. I get it wouldn't be on TV otherwise but there is a massive difference between raising awareness of a condition (which I am all for) and editing it in a way that's funny. Though I get that sometime's it's laughing with and sometime's at, I found it increasingly uncomfortable to watch. This was most common with those with learning difficulties which just didn't sit right with me.' - @laurabooth88

'The title 'Undateables' gets me riled! They shouldn't be labelled as undateables at all. Everyone deserves to be equal.' - @ofaglasgowgirl

'I think the name is offensive and I feel like they're just using disabled people to take the mick out of and to get views.' - @astoldbykirstyx

'I'm autistic and it dehumanises me and hundreds of others with disabilities. I am NOT undateable.' - @LornaAParsons

'I just can't get comfortable with it. I've only seen a few episodes and found it patronising. I also find that if there is someone able bodied that goes on the date with The Undateables, they are hailed a hero!' - @KatieJayneVale 

''The name is horrible! It seems very segregational to me. Not a fan.' - @hayhaylala

'I feel very uncomfortable watching it as it feels quite exploitative. Obviously hard to know what really goes on from the sofa!' - @farawaylisamae

'I like the concept of the show and the fact it raises awareness for disabilities and illnesses, but I do think that the name and parts of the show mock those very things. Without those parts though, would the vast majority watch? - @LottieUnlimited 

'I love it. Makes me feel better in the way of my anxiety stopping me dating. I actually applied to be on it.' - @KymmieHPeace

'I like the concept in a way but the name of the show implies they are not worthy of dating which is so wrong.' - @thriftyvintage_

'It's demeaning to the people who are termed as undateble, it can't be good for their self worth. However, it also raises awareness of certain disabilities that people may never have had experiences of. Catch 22!' - @DatBlogDoe

'Can't stand it. Feels too voyeuristic/exploitative, though I do initially agree with the premise/concept in general. Particularly regarding disabled persons dating and having sex which isn't always discussed or acknowledged.' - @htlcy

'I think it's a fun show but they don't need to separate less able people from the abled. It's made into kind of a joke, also they're not undateable!' - @sarahjdocker

'I find the show offensive, especially the title. Why should people with disabilities be singled out? They want to fit in.' - @theawakndindigo


'I can see why some people don't like it because of how they see it make disability a little voyeuristic, but as a wheelchair user it's almost like the winning point in a Hollywood sport movie when it goes well. Plus I'm a soppy sod.' - @DJVillan 

'I don't like the name of the show- I think it's pretty harsh, unacceptable and damn right rude. Why does it make them undateable because they're disabled, everyone deserves a chance at love. It's quite personal for me having a disabled brother and being in charities for disabled people. I think what they're aiming for is a good idea because it's helping those who wouldn't necessarily get help from other dating agencies because not all of them cater for those who are disabled (which again is wrong). But then again, my brother as I said is disabled and he's found relationships on regular dating websites/agencies and he's in a very happy relationship right now! I just dislike the whole idea of them being subhuman and dehumanising them basically.' - @katiexmiddleton

'I think it's demoralising personally to call someone undateable because they don't fall into the 'norm' is horrible.' - @sophieandlouie

'I'm disabled and I hate the title. If it's meant to challenge the idea that disabled people are undateable, I think that's a subtlety that passes most people by. If it's not meant in that way, it's dehumanising & ableist as hell, not to mention terribly demoralising.' - @sexblogofsorts

'The mere title offends me as does the show, it's vile voyeuristic TV setting disability back.' - @lopsidedpixie

'The whole concept of The Undateables makes me really uncomfortable. Just the labelling people with chronic illness/disability as being undateable is so harmful. It worries me the message this show sends out to teenagers. I know how much it hurt to be told that no one would want to go out with you because of your difficulties, because a teacher said it to me.' - @whentaniatalks

'Have always hated the name but found the show not too bad. However in a recent episode with the narcoleptic girl I thought the whole thing was super manipulative. They engineered the situation to make her fall asleep on the date. They deliberately made the date long and also made her go in a car knowing she'd fall asleep. Very much not okay!' - @dearlucy

'Just for background, I have cerebral palsy and use a wheelchair, I also have experience working with people with Asperger's, Down's Syndrome and various other learning disabilities- the kind of conditions featured on the show. As someone else mentioned, I think the irony of the title is lost on the majority of people- so the programme is actually reinforcing the undateable stereotype. My major issue with it though is that the disabilities are presented as an obstacle to dating. In many cases they're not, for example, there was a guy with a degenerative blindness on the show and his disability didn't actually stop him meeting people, interacting with them or having a relationship. He wasn't very confident and THAT stopped him approaching people. Also the people with Asperger's often do things in the show that would be considered socially inappropriate- like proposing to someone or writing love poems on a first date. But this is filmed, as far as I can see, with the intention of making people laugh which completely undermines the participants. It makes me wonder how aware some people are of how their footage will be used and how thorough the consent process is.' - @campbellscat 

So, there are definitely some comments that have come up a lot! What surprised me most though is that there wasn't really a split between the opinions of disabled people and able bodied people, most people had some kind of problem with the show. Most of those who didn't like the show had a problem with the name but there were words that came up a lot: ableist, uncomfortable, offensive, dehumanises, voyeuristic and exploitative. I think that says a lot on it's own.

I wanted to address one of the comments from people who enjoyed the show in some way, just to offer a counter opinion from someone with a disability. I saw that some people believed that the show raises awareness of some conditions and disabiltiies but personally I think the ableism and offensiveness of the show completely outweighs any benefit of awareness. If Channel 4 want to raise awareness then there are certainly better and more effective ways of going about it, without supporting harmful stereotypes.

So, that's my opinion and some of your opinions, I really hope that one day the show stops and Channel 4 stop using disabled people for entertainment but unfortunately I can't see that happening any time soon!

What do you think of the show?
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27 comments

  1. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. I personally enjoy the program and fully believe that if any of the participants felt like they were being belittled then they wouldn't apply to be on the show anyway. It is totally their choice.
    I have a couple of diseases and chronic illnesses but would not consider myself "disabled". However, my mum is disabled and also likes the program but admits to feeling guilty about enjoying it.
    I think the title "Undateables" is just a way to get the viewer keen and actually does a positive thing of showing us that no, actually these people are dateble just as much as the next person. I cannot speak for those with disabilities but perhaps this program gives hope to those who do deem themselves "undateble"?

    Helen
    Tea in the Tub

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    1. Of course there is no wrong or right answer, we are all entitled to our opinions but I think it is naive to think that the show doesn't have it's problems. When it comes to participants and them knowing if they are being belittled or mocked it is difficult as so many of the people on the show have learning disabilities of varying degrees of severity and I do wonder how many of them actually understand that the show is being edited in a way to get laughs.

      The show definitely didn't give me any hope before I was in a relationship, in fact it made me feel worse, like people were laughing at me for wanting a relationship. I've had people tell me before that no one would want to date me because of my health problems (even been told that it would be unfair for me to date an able bodied person) and I really don't feel that the show is helping to remove those comments. Especially as so much of the time they only pair the people up with other disabled people, so it doesn't really show that they aren't undateable to able bodied people, therefore not helping to remove any of the stigma surrounding the issue.

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  2. I used to enjoy it, but thought it should be called 'Dating with a difference', but even that focuses on the 'difference', not the person. As more episodes have come out, I have found that I have learned more about varying conditions, but not nearly enough as Channel 4 COULD put in.

    Your discussion on Twitter really pushed me to think further and consider more widely how this show can be perceived. Overall, I do think it has potential to be educational AND beneficial to the people on it, but there's a long way to go. I was particularly upset in the last episode, which featured a man with achondroplasia. C4 decided to put in a 4 second shot of the stool he used to reach surfaces, which was extremely demeaning.

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    1. I'm really glad that this discussion has helped you to look at things differently! I think the show definitely has that potential but honestly I think the best thing to do would just to have everyone in one dating show. No separating people into different shows because of their ability, why can't everyone just go on First Dates? Could you imagine if they separated people by race into 2 different shows, it just wouldn't happen, yet it's okay when it comes to different abilities!

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  3. Thank you so much for writing this! It's so interesting to see everyone's opinions on it, and where they differ and are the same to mine. I think it's SO interesting that First Dates is on straight after. Tbh I'd imagine that was a very deliberate decision. TV companies spend a LOT of time working out their schedule and making sure that shows are put on at the best time possible for them, so I don't think it's a coincidence that the two shows are juxtaposed one after the other.

    Liv // petticoatsandpatriarchy.com

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    1. Oh I definitely think it was a deliberate decision too! It just totally highlights how disabled people and able bodied people have been separated into 2 shows that have very similar cores to them and it's not right. Channel 4 reckon they are doing such good things for disabled people and they are on other shows but this just puts a black mark on them.

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  4. I'm not even going to mention the tittle.
    I'm disabled so according to the show I'd only be able to date someone else who's disabled because no 'normal' person would want me .
    Ok so we'll go with that for arguments sake, so they like to match people with the same disability (so there's an immediate understanding between the two I assume) but I'm physically (un-coordinated, wobbly, with very little spacial awareness and get terrible fatigue) and neurologically (I have appalling memory and concentration and reading/writing probs and terrible at automatically knowing what to do in new situations) and sensory (I'm over sensitive to some things and under sensitive to others) so who the hell would they match me up with then?
    Also all of the symptoms aren't constant even though I'm coscidered chronic and they are mostly 'hidden disabilities' so would I be considered not disabled enough and be expected to only date the 'normal' people?
    I'm obviously being very tongue in cheek here.
    I'd be genuinely worried they were going to get me into a situation or watch a situation happen where I'm struggling and the lady (instead of actually helping me realise my mistake) would just ask me patronising questions making me look like even more of an idiot.
    There are ways to raise awareness and so many ways to be voyeristic and snide and this show does too many of the latter to make me believe thats not their agenda.

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    1. I completely agree with what you are saying! Even though my partner is also disabled, has the same condition as myself.

      Agreed, much more voyeuristic than awareness raising! Thanks for sharing your opinion with us!

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  5. I agree with you, when I was a teen and really struggling to do basically everything in an efficient simple manner, which knocked my confidence immensely and I've had watched this show, in the first instance I would have felt received it wasn't just me struggling but I don't think I'd have made it to the end credits because I would have already thrown myself under a bus!

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    1. It really does worry me how much this show may affect a disabled person's self esteem and mental health, I've already had a tweet from someone saying that their sister refers to herself as being undateable after watching the show, it's worrying the effect it is having on people.

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  6. ...Y'know after seeing how society thinks disabled people should be dating, living etc.

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  7. I do watch but they need more LGBTQ people. It is more aimed at the straight relationships. Also they don't seem to cover a more Diverse mix of disablities and not just aspergers and autism

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    1. I completely agree. Complete lack of LGBTQ and trans people, there really is no diversity. And I completely agree about there not being many disabilities that aren't Aspergers or autism.

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  8. Thank you for writing this post Shona as I think this was definitely important to raise! I have watched the show, but like you, I can't stand the title and it sticks with me each time - I don't think anyone should ever be classed 'undateable' and I have worried that the programme has a tendency to go along the lines of 'othering' people with disabilities. As an able bodied person myself it has worried me that the programme may be used by some as a platform to poke fun, but having said that, I have loved seeing the people featured finding love and happiness when they do. I think as with many things, it raises the question of diversity and representation on TV and the point you made about First Dates Hotel was a really good one. This was a great post Shona, and I loved the inclusion of people's thoughts on it too here, it's always nice to see different opinions and thoughts as often there are some views I haven't considered. Great, great post! Really got me thinking. - Tasha

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    1. Thank you Natasha, glad it got you thinking! x

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  9. I haven't ever watched an episode of this show but I've seen snippets of it online and over social media. I think it's awful that the show is implying that those with disabilities are 'undateable', they are human beings and are as 'dateable' as any able-bodied person. The name disgusts me and personally I'm glad I've never had to sit through a whole episode. This was a really nice post to read though and I enjoyed seeing how other feel about the show x
    https://ciaraslittleblog.wordpress.com

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    1. So glad you enjoyed the post! Totally agree with everything you said xx

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  10. I tweeted the production company to ask about whether participants were fully aware of what they were getting into. They never replied. On their twitter feed there were a few abled people working for disability organisations who gushed about the show. One of them, a director of a big disability charity, said they would encourage their service users to apply for the show. So I wonder what percentage of disabled folk apply for the show themselves and how many have been subtly coerced by abled people who think it would be good for them to go on the show.

    I've never watched the show, the title put me off from the start, but I doubt they regularly feature people with psychiatric disabilities. It seems to only want to deal with disabilities it deems 'uncomplicated'. The show seems to gravitate towards 'pretty' disabilities-- ones that won't make the majority abled audience uncomfortable. So it's 'awareness' remit is rather narrow in that regard. That First Dates Hotel follows immediately after reinforces the idea of 'gawp at the "freaks" doing it (wrong), now watch the "normals" doing it properly'.

    I'm sure if I watched the show I'd find moments of excellence, but as it's a reality show format there are necessarily times when situations will be manufactured or manipulated. I worry that to achieve these moments, participants may be coerced into doing or saying things or will be edited to appear in a certain way, eg to pull on viewers' heartstrings or make them laugh. A programme with few or no disabled people behind the scenes, be that in the production company or the Channel 4 boardroom, cannot give an accurate representation of disabled people's lives, because they simply do not understand disability.

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    1. URGH. I was emailed by the show myself asking if I would like to participate but mainly asking me to ask my disabled friends and readers to apply.

      As you said there probably are moments of happiness and excellence in the show, no doubting that, but the overall vibe it gives out is not good. And yes, that's one of the things I hate the most about it, how it is edited to get laughs.

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    2. That seems to be their approach, reaching out to disability orgs for prospective applicants, but it's not clear if they contact mostly user led orgs or recognise a distinction. And yes, from what I remember they do contact disabled bloggers individually. They seem to be under the impression that the show is doing all disabled folk a service without questioning if the service is needed or could be improved/done differently. Sure, there are production constraints, but that doesn't mean they can't question their methods, motives, or ethics before deciding they're doing A Good Thing, and justifying any harmful practices because the end product is helpful.

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    3. I definitely think that they think they are doing disabled people a favour when it's the opposite of what they are doing!

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  11. Probably going to get labelled as an ablest troll but whatever, I'm bored and want to type this.

    Honestly, I don't watch TV nearly at all but I have caught clips of this show. To me it is edited in a very up lifting way, they don't mock or get people to laugh at them, then break their heart. They're genuinely people who are looking for a normal life and aren't going to let their demon stand in their way. They accept their disability but don't allow that to negatively taint the world they live in.

    This show gives me a glimpse into their world an I appreciate that, do I laugh? At times, yeah ... the same reason I laugh at Dave Batista in guardians of the galaxy, as his race doesn't understand metaphors.

    As for the name, you write it off as "oh, it's just attacking disabled people" or I choose to look at it as, these people are undateable to a lot of people, many people would turn these disabled people down almost immediately and I am sure these people have faced that humiliation. It's something nobody is ever proud of for even a second but that is hard coded on the very nature of our being, of every being.

    Every organism on this planet wants to mate, we/they subconsciously look for flaws in people, judge them ... in the animal world they do everything from sing to dance to build shrines etc to get mates, humans are the same ... it's why big boobs are sexy, big muscles on guys etc they all show health and ability 'cos the better your genes are the better chances our off spring have of carrying on our genes.

    Humans can get past that with wheel chairs and zero natural predators but human biology hasn't caught up to technological advances. So deep down in our "lizard brain" we dismiss disabled people. Which sucks for disabled people!

    Unless you're being completely dishonest, this show could be made to be A LOT more brutal, it could be edited to be a "you've been framed" style show of these people making fools of themselves, which if that was the case I'd be right along side you.

    You're picture asks two questions, problematic show? Innocent fun? The answer is neither. It is a gateway to a world I wouldn't usually have access to ... isn't that what disabled people want? For people to see their struggles? I often think about what being blind or deaf would be like and makes me appreciate and feel sorry for people who are deaf or blind, not to mention both. Never even considered the other billion disabilities, so this show helps with that.

    However, it sounds like you heard the name of the show and immediately snapped to a judgement. It took you about 8 lines to get to "docs have condemns this show and so have I from the very first episode" and since then you've become more and more close minded to seeing the actual benefits to the show but that is arm chair psychology, just thought I'd mention it as something to think about.

    I could go on but then I start to get, what the cool kids like to say, "triggered" and that is a slippery slope to nothing being gained.

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    1. You're not a troll, but you don't appear to have more than a surface understanding of disability. Perhaps before writing out of boredom, you could engage more with the disability community or engage with the people you feel "sorry" for. If The Undateables makes you feel sorry for blind and d/Deaf folk then it deserves it's reputation for not raising awareness but simply setting up disabled people as Inspiration Porn. It's troubling you couch disability in terms of being something unfortunate; as a hindrance, where disabled folk must overcome their 'demons'and not 'let' their disabilities 'get in the way' of enjoying a full and active life. It's a typical abled reaction that assumes disabled folk cannot possibly be happy or have normal lives.

      This show may be a gateway to the disabled world for it's majority abled audience, but the problem is that the gatekeepers are abled and are only allowing glimpses based on their interpretation of disability, not the lived experiences of disabled people in all our infinite diversity. Disabled folk have said for years "nothing about us without us", yet The Undateables uses disabled people almost as objects under glass. They are presented as the end product, and there is apparently very little pre production involvement of disabled people who could provide a more rounded, nuanced telling of disabled experience. This is a problem.

      Lastly, "triggered" isn't a "cool kids" term. It's been in use for a very long time. It's not clear if you're being serious or facetious but it's always best to err on the side of caution. However, just because you don't like or respect the term, it doesn't mean you have to make light of it. But then, since you say you wrote this post out of boredom, and are aware that you're expressing ableism in some parts of it, even though you may be disabled yourself, it's not surprising you would use the term in a pejorative sense.

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    2. Thank you so much for your reply, you said things better than I ever could have. I didn't even know how to reply to the first message left anonymously. When I saw the 'I feel sorry for them' part I was just done! When will people finally educate themselves on inspiration porn.

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    3. I was sorely tempted to go full tilt on their ass... but you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Maybe they'll learn something 😉

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  12. I think the name is atrocious but I feel it does raise awareness about different disabilities. x
    Holly ∣ Closingwinter

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    1. I see your point but for me the ableism etc totally outweighs any benefit of awareness raising, there are much better ways to go about doing that! x

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