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.
I want to shoutout my Disabled brothers, sisters, & non-binary folks! W/ #DisabledAndCute https://t.co/Qcx5mvc1UI— Keah pre-order ‘The Pretty One’ Brown (@Keah pre-order ‘The Pretty One’ Brown)1486921685.0
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.
#disabledandcute, howbow dah? https://t.co/Hpmrbu70nn— Marina Carlos (@Marina Carlos)1486931964.0
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."
Did someone say #disabledandcute ? https://t.co/rcv5bqunBJ— Ariana (@Ariana)1486934481.0
The hashtag became intersectional, too, with people from all walks of life and various experiences chiming in.
#DisabledAndCute #DisabledYLatinx #QueerAndDisabled #DisabledNotVoldemort #SayTheWord 🌈♿✊ https://t.co/3AVMaNiYNL— Annie Segarra 🏳️🌈♿ (@Annie Segarra 🏳️🌈♿)1486959330.0
Sometimes, pets made appearances.
3 months post surgery #15 and 2 months post beating a near-fatal Staph Infection from surgery. I Look Cute! so does… https://t.co/V9xBwhwf8O— LG (@LG)1486932287.0
But mostly, the hashtag filled up with selfies from folks who were feeling good about being themselves.
Oh well....hi. #disabledandcute 😎😂 https://t.co/F53aNa2nnE— Tito “nothing wrong with tittays” Hutchinson (@Tito “nothing wrong with tittays” Hutchinson)1486935863.0
“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 have mild cerebral palsy and mild scoliosis and I'm autistic and I think I sprained my leg today. #DisabledAndCute https://t.co/QpBiE8iYPe— Stan'st Loon'th'd've (@Stan'st Loon'th'd've)1486926940.0
"I generally dislike making human beauty the focus of any discussion," one user wrote. "But why not celebrate?"
This #disabledandcute thing got me thinking. I generally dislike making human beauty the focus of any discussion...… https://t.co/BBTtHbnKBP— Gaelynn Lea (@Gaelynn Lea)1486931459.0
“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.”
#DisabledAndCute yes indeed thank you very much ♿️🤓🔥 https://t.co/8T3bXz0Fjx— Carrie Wade (@Carrie Wade)1486940685.0
Scrolling through responses, you'll notice #DisabledAndCute wasn't so much about being "brave" — it was about loving who you are...
Celebrating body positivity, acceptance, visibility & joy with #DisabledAndCute "you're so brave" nah, I'm just dope https://t.co/vcmnagyGTb— Danielle Perez (@Danielle Perez)1486954800.0
...and showing off fierce photos, too.
Here's my fierce take on #DisabledAndCute https://t.co/iZVYvlKUI9— Alice Wong (@Alice Wong)1486995849.0
Some people's disabilities were more visible than others.
#DisabledAndCute I'm totally game. Mine is inside me, 4 surgeries so far 😷 😂🙊🙊🙌 STILL ALIVE HOMIES https://t.co/mn57GZ272Q— Kimani Okearah (@Kimani Okearah)1486936076.0
But that wasn't the point, either.
"We are all hella #DisabledAndCute" was more what the hashtag was going for.
Today @Keah_Maria has me celebrating along with my disabled and non-binary siblings. We are all hella… https://t.co/sTV7mi5sG2— Christian McMahon ✨🧜♂️✨ (@Christian McMahon ✨🧜♂️✨)1486922974.0
And the internet pulled it off quite nicely.
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.