Just finished reading, Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc. This book has deepened my thinking about the fairy tales that I so glibly read to my children and students and have me reconsidering the plots of the children’s stories that I’m now writing in profound ways.

The author, Amanda Leduc, examines some of the the fairy tales and movies, notably Disney movies, that we present to children, and guides us to think about the messages that these art forms convey and that our children carry long after hearing, viewing, or reading.

Amanda writes from her perspective as someone who has mild cerebral palsy and spastic hemiplegia and draws the readers attention to how some of the emblems of these culturally iconic stories, like Cinderella’s dainty foot fitting perfectly into the glass slipper, might impact her, or someone like her, who has one foot larger than the other. Or, someone with a facial disfigurement, when they see Scar, a villain, with his prominent slashed face. She analyzes many movies and  fairy tales and shows us how disability, appearance, and/or difference is used as a type of plot shorthand and that the joyous resolution of many of these stories comes when disability or difference magically disappears or is overcome, usually as a reward for goodness: Ariel gains her legs back by magic, the beast becomes a handsome prince, and the maiden’s, in “The Maiden with No Hands,” hands grow back because she was faithful.

The impact and implications for these stories on our consciousness and Amanda’s description of her experiences and personal journey of being a disabled woman in a society that celebrates symmetry and perfection is illuminating. Her writing is expressive and heartfelt and, as a reader and writer, makes me ask, What can I do to change this? There will be no easy answers but the first step is to ask the question, over and over again.

It makes me wonder, How does one find, collect stories, write and/or stories that depict differences as just part of our society and not used as shorthand for plot devices? How about stories that celebrate differences; can I find those. As I write those questions, I already know that these stories are out there. Amanda references Little House on the Prairie because blindness does not prevent Mary from living a full life. Going forward, I want to be sensitive to how differences are presented and explored. I recommend this book so much that I will be rereading it as I want to marinate in its wisdom.

I came across a blog post by author and educator, Bridget Farr. As she realized the bias inherent in the superheroes in our culture, she encouraged her students to “create superheroes that represent themselves.” I think that sounds like an activity that benefits everyone. Bravo, Bridget!

I have a good friend who loves someone with a terminal illness. The person is very unhappy, which is so understandable, but it made me that we have few mentor stories (outside of religious texts) that show us or teach us what to do when happily ever after is not an option.

As a child, I would come to my Irish mother with my big plans for the future. Tomorrow…little me started to tell my mother. My mother cut me off, quickly, Tomorrow you could be dead. I think I was 6. Another time, I was telling my mother what I would do when I grow up and my mother stopped me, again. You’re wishing your life away. Those interactions with my mother never left me and, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, there is much truth in her words. In my thoughts, I go forward and back in time and often remind myself: stay present. Amanda’s book has been another voice in my ear and it has caused me to reflect that life isn’t about chasing the happily ever after; it’s about finding the happily ever now.

Just some things I’m mulling over this morning! How about you? What’s on your mind?

2 Responses

  1. I think everyone wants a happily ever after. They may or may not receive it. But living your life to the fullest, being kind, and being happy with what you have is the most important. I had a discussion with someone the other day about how people envy other people. They aren’t happy with what they have and continually try to get what the next person has. For me, I’ve learned that being happy in the present is very important for your mental health however I have dreams and goals like everyone else and it may take me a little while to achieve them so that’s when I say tomorrow is okay.

Leave a Reply