In fairy tales, happy endings are the norm—as long as you’re beautiful and walk on two legs. After all, the ogre never gets the princess. And since fairy tales are the foundational myths of our culture, how can a girl with a disability ever think she’ll have a happy ending?
By examining the ways that fairy tales have shaped our expectations of disability, Disfigured will point the way toward a new world where disability is no longer a punishment or impediment but operates, instead, as a way of centering a protagonist and helping them to cement their own place in a story, and from there, the world. Through the book, Leduc ruminates on the connections we make between fairy tale archetypes—the beautiful princess, the glass slipper, the maiden with long hair lost in the tower—and tries to make sense of them through a twenty-first-century disablist lens. From examinations of disability in tales from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen through to modern interpretations ranging from Disney to Angela Carter, and the fight for disabled representation in today’s media, Leduc connects the fight for disability justice to the growth of modern, magical stories, and argues for increased awareness and acceptance of that which is other—helping us to see and celebrate the magic inherent in different bodies.
I saw this book being talked about for the first time by my dear friend Prachi and was immediately interested in it but it’s taken me all this while to get to it. But I’m glad I finally did because this is a perspective I definitely needed.
For someone like me who completely believes in the power of stories and who has exceedingly felt that books have enabled me to be a more inclusive and progressive person, this was a much needed look into how stories can work in a different way as well. I didn’t grow up with the western fairytales like the author did but I do know about them now, but the way the author dissects them and questions the choices made in these stories from the perspective of a disabled person is very eye opening. It’s definitely privilege and ableism and the constant othering of anything or anyone that differs from the so-called “normal”, which has prevented me from ever questioning why in all those fairytales, a happy ending only occurs if the disabled or disfigured person is miraculously cured; why is it that kind people are always beautiful and they are the only ones who deserve to be happy; why is it always the villains who have some disabilities or scars or mental health issues and are gruesomely done away with at the end; why is it that the only two options are either a disabled person gets miraculously cured (ending in an HEA) or is left to die… because a disabled person leading a life they are happy and content with is never even in consideration.
The author marvelously blends her analysis of the fairytales and their generational influence on our society with her own life experiences as a person with cerebral palsy. Her struggles with bullying in childhood were heartbreaking to read because which ten year old doesn’t want to imagine herself as a princess with beautiful looks and clothes and shoes; and how the real world constantly reminds her that it’s not an option for her because the society has determined that she isn’t “normal”. I also resonated a lot with the years of her depression and how she felt at the time because I’ve had some years like that myself (maybe a little less intense) and I could clearly feel her pain.
The author’s call for change is not just important for the disabled community but for society as a whole. It is high time we stop defining things as normal and other and start understanding the diversity in bodies as well as minds. It’s not on the shoulders of the disabled person to fit into a society which does everything possible to exclude them.. it’s our duty as a society to create a world that fits every kind of person and let’s them live their life to the fullest and thrive. And we should do this through our thoughts, our words, our stories and our actions.