The beautiful princess. The handsome prince. And the ugly evil witch. Fairy tales shape our perception of the world in our childhood.
The prince and the princess are always able-bodied. Any disfigurement (Beauty and the Beast) or disability is magically restored at the end of the tale owing to good deeds and virtue. And worse of all, the villains are often disfigured or disabled (Scar in The Lion King or the evil witches in countless tales).
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc examines the disability representation from the fairy tales of yore to modern-day tales of superheroes. Helping us see and celebrate the differently-abled bodies.
“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?”
Beauty is good. Ugly is evil. Is this how we want to shape our realities? Unfortunately, we have for centuries.
The well-researched book can be broadly divided into three interwoven themes. A literary criticism, a cultural commentary, and a memoir. It primarily focuses on fairy tales from a disablist lens. Their evolution from early German and French versions to more palatable Victorian ones and finally the motion pictures. From Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen to Disney and Marvel.
It discusses why fairy tales need to have the perfect able-bodied characters. And more importantly, why is disfigurement a punishment or a sign of evil. Beast was punished and then restored to a handsome young man at the end. Closer home, Shurpanakha was disfigured as a punishment. Shakuni with a limp and Manthra with her hunchback added to the evilness of the character.
“Disability is not a monolith–every disabled person’s experience in the world is different, and the way that we all navigate the world is likewise varied and complex.”
The book is a cultural commentary on how disability is perceived by the able-bodied. The author discusses ableism and what society deems normal. Be it disability or mental health. How we inadvertently use phrases such as “confined to a wheelchair” whereas the very same wheelchair provides them mobility.
The part memoir is also about the author’s journey with cerebral palsy. She takes us through her childhood, the diagnosis, the lack of empathy in the medical professionals, the bullying she faced in school, and her struggle with depression. Peppered with anecdotes and lived experiences, it is a window into a life of a differently-abled.
Disfigured shows a mirror to society. How the disabled are expected to adapt to the world instead of the world adapting to them. When the Paralympics team won medals and accolades for India this year, the country came together to celebrate them. But are we doing enough to make our country inclusive for people with disabilities? Barely 10 percent of the buses are designed for wheelchair access. Trains – the less said the better. Making government buildings accessible is the least priority.
I cannot recommend the book enough. Everyone needs to read it. This is a book that makes you think. And also introspect on how you might have inadvertently added to the stereotypes.Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc #BookReview #BohoPonderings #MyFriendAlexa #BookChatter Click To Tweet
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About the author
Amanda Leduc is a disabled writer and a disability rights advocate. Her essays and stories have appeared across Canada, the US, the UK, and Australia, and she speaks regularly across North America on accessibility and the role of disability in storytelling. Born in British Columbia, she has lived in Ontario, England, BC, and Scotland, and holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of St. Andrews. Amanda has cerebral palsy and presently makes her home in Hamilton, Ontario, where she lives with a very lovable, very destructive dog and serves as the Communications and Development Coordinator for the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD), Canada’s first festival for diverse authors and stories.
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