Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Disability in Television

Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Disability in Television

There’s a long history of problematic representation of persons with disabilities in film and television. From being portrayed as villainous or helpless (see Darth Vader and Tiny Tim) to being used as inspiration fodder or the butt of a joke (Forrest Gump), persons with disabilities have often been used as plot devices rather than being portrayed as human beings. However, despite this long-standing trend, things are changing. 

Arguably one of the best television shows of all time, Breaking Bad, did wonders for representations of people with disabilities with the portrayal of Walter White Jr. Played by RJ Mitte, he and his character had cerebral palsy but neither were defined by their disability. Similarly, Jamie Brewer has had a very successful career owed largely to her performances on American Horror Story. She has been cast repeatedly in the anthology series and has never been defined by her Down Syndrome. Gaten Matarazzo’s condition, cleidocranial dysplasia, was even written ever so perfunctorily into the script for Stranger Things after he was perfectly cast as Dustin Henderson. 

In the world of reality television, disabilities often get overlooked. However, after Kim Kardashian West was robbed at gunpoint in Paris in 2016, Keeping Up With The Kardashians pulled back the glossy veil to give Kim and the family the space to talk about the ordeal honestly. This included a few very raw conversations about the incident and its ensuing side effects – anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Following the incident, Kim spoke candidly on the show about everything that she went through that night. She described the moments leading up to the attack, every horrifying detail that ran through her mind as she was being held captive, and how she was coping in the aftermath. What she was describing, and what she has continued to suffer with since is PTSD. 

PTSD affects millions of Canadians every year, approximately 8% of the population as a low-end estimate. The prevalence rates can range drastically, and according to certain studies, it is considered a global health issue. It can occur as a result of a traumatic incident, the definition of which can vary wildly depending on the person and the circumstances. For the most part, it involves trauma connected to death – either the threat of it, serious injury, sexual violence, or death itself. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, these events may include “crimes, natural disasters, accidents, war or conflict, or other threats to life.” 

The symptoms can include reexperiencing the traumatic event through vivid nightmares or flashbacks, avoiding activities or events that remind them of the experience, and severe anxiety and unease in daily life. Edginess, irritability, difficulty sleeping, emotional numbness or depression, and substance abuse can all arise as a result of PTSD. Kim was experiencing all of these. Just six months after the traumatic event in October 2016, Kim and the family went to Mexico for Kourtney’s birthday. She broke down, suffering a PTSD-induced anxiety attack for fear that she would be targeted again. But instead of cutting, rather than turning the cameras away and hiding what she was struggling with, Kim let the world in. She allowed millions of viewers to see exactly what PTSD looks like, unfiltered. This kind of transparency not only strips away the stigma of the condition but demystifies it, as well. This truly allows the rest of the world, the millions of people worldwide who suffer from PTSD, to see themselves and be reminded that they’re not alone.      

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