As a freelance writer, it’s always exciting to break into publications I haven’t written for before — and it’s even MORE exciting when editors from those publications reach out to me and offer assignments!! That’s how my first piece for Refinery29 came about and it’s about a topic I wish I didn’t have to write about, but it was so important that I did. Did you hear about the New Teacher Challenge prank that was going around on TikTok at the beginning of the school year?
Well, buckle up, friends!! You’re in for one bumpy ride…
In August, everyone seemed to be participating in the latest viral trend in which people were using photos of disabled people to prank and scare others. I found out that someone was using my photo for this and I was utterly disgusted. I shouldn’t have to tell y’all just how ableist this is, but here we are: Disabled people aren’t here for your mockery, your ridicule or to be the joke. We’re not objects. We’re people.
I’m so glad that I got to write about the New Teacher Challenge prank, but like I said, I wish I never had to in the first place. Seeing this trend is hurtful, but I hope my piece will make people think twice before participating. This whole disgusting prank has only reinforced how important disability representation is. We need to normalize seeing people who don’t look like us. We need to teach the next generation that facial differences should be celebrated, not feared or mocked.
Here’s an excerpt of the piece, in which I don’t mince words about how the New Teacher Challenge prank has made me feel…
Adults who actually think this is okay, and worse…even funny, should know better. There’s absolutely no excuse. They should be the ones teaching their children how harmful and hurtful these pranks are, not laughing in the background as their child recoils at the sight of a disabled person. We live in a society where people who look “different” are seen as ugly and grotesque; those messages start being taught at a young age. Think about how many Disney villains have some sort of deformity.
I want to be clear: I am violated. Every single time. Each photo, taunt, and cruel word is a clear violation of my dignity and my worth as a human being. And every time these platforms fail to take action, they’re sending the message that this bullying is okay. So many disabled people have become inured to our appearance being mocked. That’s not something we should ever have to get used to.
I often wonder when society will finally normalize disabilities. Will it be in my lifetime?
Each time I post a selfie or I share something about my life as a disabled woman, I feel like that is representation that is going to really combat ableism. Because really, it’s 2020 and disabled people shouldn’t have to hide; I think that’s part of the reason I’m so adamant about being so visible and posting so many pictures of myself. It’s my way of combating the trolls and showing them that they’re not going to drive me off social media!
Fun fact: This is also the photo trolls use as an example of “ugly,” but I actually felt hot AF when I took this last summer. I was having my moment in NYC
Thanks again for all your love, support and messages this week too!! Y’all are just awesome, so thank you for making the Internet a brighter place!!
You can read the full piece here and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat! And of course, feel free to share my essay on Facebook, Twitter or even your local refrigerator. If you share on Twitter, be sure to tag me @melissablake so I see your tweet and we can connect! I can’t wait to hear from you! Love you all… xoxo