Why, in all of these stories about someone who wants to be something or someone else, was it always the individual who needed to change, and never the world?– Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space
Summary and Thoughts
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.
Leduc does some stunning research and analysis in this short but effective exploration on disability and disfigurement in western fairytales. Weaving in her own experiences, Leduc provides a unique combination of memoir, journalism, and historical observation on how disability has often been used as a metaphor in fairytales to instill lessons on morality, with gender, class, religion, and race impacting the narratives each character is seen fit to serve. Leduc brings up examples with Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Maiden with No Hands, Rapunzel, and of course, The Little Mermaid and examines them all with stunning clarity. The erasure of disabled personhood, glorification of “charity” treatment, and the happy ending narrative is dissected and criticized with her insightful notes, revealing how people within that era viewed disability within their communities and how this impacts the way these stories evolve for our modern times (surprise: we aren’t doing great at representation at all). Though I sometimes found Leduc’s personal questions a bit redundant and her chapter on Marvel heroes / superheroes a bit lacking, overall, this is such a welcomed addition to disability research and I highly recommend this to others.
For Those Who Enjoyed:
- Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
- Get a Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
- The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Reese Taylor
- The Pretty One by Keah Brown