Kylie Jenner and Interview Magazine’s Cripp Cultural Appropriation
by Mindie Lind
My first reaction to Kylie Jenner on the cover of Interview magazine was RAGE. Fucking rage. Because I knew that if she were posing in a native headdress, it would have broken the Internet. But because what she is appropriating is cripp culture, it won’t break the Internet. Instead, it will very likely go overlooked, because cripp culture in general is highly overlooked—until, of course, someone like a Kardashian or Lady Gaga appropriates it.
Cripps aren’t being asked to appear on covers (except maybe as symbols of inspiration porn). So it’s highly inappropriate that a non-cripp is appearing on a magazine cover as a symbol of sex, style, and disability. Putting Kylie Jenner on the cover of a magazine dressed as a sexy cripp is not going to further the cause of disability—in fact, it only further separates actual folks with actual disabilities from cripp culture. Our conversations around cripp culture and icons of disability affect me every day. They affect people who use wheelchairs every day. These conversations do not affect Kylie Jenner in any way. I’m enraged. Shame on us.
Using disability symbols (in this case, a wheelchair) that are, on a daily basis, symbols of oppression toward a marginalized group of people, to sensationalize celebrity, or enact a kind of edginess to the cover of a major magazine, hurts cripp culture massively—because Kylie Jenner gets to be sexy on the cover of a huge magazine for using the very wheelchair that rampantly desexualizes actual people with disabilities every day. It further separates folks with disabilities from the iconography of disability, glorifying wheelchairs as a good PR move while largely ignoring what wheelchairs really are: part of people's everyday lives.
The cover perpetuates a long history of cripp cultural theft, while people like Kylie Jenner get to bypass all the ableist crap that real cripps contend with on a daily basis. The other day, I was at a party and said “Fuck me!” as an expletive because I dropped something. I could have said “Damn!” or “Shit!” A friend of mine said, “I say that, too!” And some douchebag in the room chimed in, “Except when Mindie says it, no one does.”
That person desexualized me in front of my peers, making assumptions based on my physical form. So if I ever went on the cover of a magazine, sporting my sexuality and my disability, I’d have a deep understanding of what I was doing. I’d understand why it was significant to be in that role. I’d understand what using a wheelchair means to people—and I’d definitely understand it better than Kylie Jenner, because of my very real, daily struggle with issues of power and oppression.
We are so concerned with issues of marginalization right now as a society. I really can’t believe this cover passed through so many magazine executives. I imagine all the eyes that saw this cover before it went to print, and I wonder, How was this not on their radar? It really just proves to me that disability is last in line when it comes to making sure we’re having the right conversations in the right way.
I have no idea why popular culture hasn’t caught up to conversations that include disability. I think maybe it’s because the cripp stories that do get airtime aren’t pop culture conversations, necessarily: they’re Christian stories of inspiration, they’re 5 o’clock news stories, they aren’t on-a-cover-of-magazine-looking-fly stories. We think that folks with disabilities aren’t fly because we’re asking our celebrities to play those roles, rather than trusting actual folks with disabilities to do it. So we keep appearing on the 5 o’clock news, and they keep getting magazine covers. At this point, there are so many folks with disabilities doing so many things that it seems weird that the only time we get asked to the table, it’s to rehash an old stereotype. And it’s boring. I’m bored with it.
If someone thinks, “Relax—it’s just a magazine cover! Why can’t Kylie Jenner sit in a wheelchair?”—well, first of all, it isn’t just a magazine cover. If Mat Fraser were on that cover, or if Aimee Mullins were on that cover, or if I were on that cover, it could change the damn world. And I really believe that.
There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation. But to steal the expressions of a culture and use them as toys or props, without giving any spotlight to the history and relevance behind them—especially when that history and those people have been largely ignored in the media—only further leads to a very real cripp isolation in today’s culture. And if someone says I’m being too PC, they should check their damn privilege: in this case, by naming three people—fuck it, one person—with a disability who’s been given the kind of spotlight this magazine cover gives to Kylie Jenner.