Keah Brown feels cute, and she’s not afraid to show it.
But for the 25-year-old from upstate New York, it hasn’t always been that way.
“It took me a while to get to that place to feel any sort of positive thing about my physical appearance," says Brown, who has cerebral palsy. "So now that I do, I’m like, hey, I might as well celebrate it.”
On Feb. 12, 2017, Brown shared photos of herself on Twitter using the hashtag #DisabledAndCute.
The idea behind the hashtag was pretty simple.
“What I wanted to do was make something that felt empowering to me and to other disabled people," she explains.
The message caught on.
Others in the disability community started sharing photos of themselves using the hashtag, too.
Before long, #DisabledAndCute became a trending phrase, with lots of people joining the conversation.
"I wanted to do something to celebrate disabled folks and take the time to really take back the narrative that all we are is something to be pitied or used as what I’d call, ‘inspiration porn,’” Brown says.
Inspiration porn, she notes, is "only being as valuable as what you can achieve or make able-bodied people feel about themselves."
The hashtag became intersectional, too, with people from all walks of life and various experiences chiming in.
But mostly, the hashtag filled up with selfies from folks who were feeling good about being themselves.
“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” Brown explains of responses to the hashtag — although not everyone’s been on board.
Some voices in the disability community were critical of Brown’s choice of the word "cute," she says, explaining that able-bodied people often talk down to folks who are living with a physical disability. When able-bodied people say things like, "You’re so adorable" to those living with a physical disability, it can be demeaning and infantilizing.
But that point wasn’t lost on Brown.
“What I wanted to do was reclaim the word ‘cute,’" she says. "I think it’s OK when we feel cute, and it’s OK to say that.”
"I generally dislike making human beauty the focus of any discussion," one user wrote. "But why not celebrate?"
“A lot of times — specifically with social media — disabled people are often used as memes or jokes," says Brown.
"And this hashtag was a way to put that on its head and for people to tell their own story and celebrate themselves in a positive way.”
Scrolling through responses, you’ll notice #DisabledAndCute wasn’t so much about being "brave" — it was about loving who you are…
"We are all hella #DisabledAndCute" was more what the hashtag was going for.
Brown wants able-bodied people to understand she "doesn’t have to be your inspiration porn or your pity party to be good enough."
But she’d appreciate your help in fighting for what’s right.
Disabled people "can have happy lives — we can be loved," she notes. "We don’t need you to feel bad for us. It would be nice if you were in our corner when we’re fighting for our rights, but you don’t have to feel bad for us, because we’re living full lives.”
Check out more photos and join the discussion on #DisabledAndCute.