Book Review by Jasmine-Grace Nacu
Fairy tales, one of the oldest forms of storytelling, is part of most of our childhoods in one shape or another. Often moralistic, fairy tales present us with a magical and benevolent world where good always triumphs over evil, and, goodness is rewarded with beauty, riches, and a happy ending. In the realm of fairy tales, good is often associated with beauty, purity, and ability, while evil is associated with ugliness, disfigurement, and being different or other. Stories are powerful and we internalize them more than we may realize.
In Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, Amanda Leduc explores how these stories reflect society’s treatment of disabled bodies, and, how these stories shape the way society views disability. Leduc examines the evolution of fairy tales through the centuries, including the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Disney movies, modern fairy tales, and the currently popular superhero stories. She also looks at the different ways fairy tales have been utilized, such as a device for instruction, social satire, subversion of social structure, reinforcement of the status quo, and propaganda. Leduc notes that despite all the progress and modernization of fairy tales, even in the most subversive stories, the way disability is represented has changed very little. Disability continues to be portrayed as a trait of a malign character, or a punishment, and ultimately something to overcome and be rid of. In conjunction with this analysis of fairy tales, Leduc shares her own journey, from infancy—when her parents first noticed a delay in her walking, her diagnosis with Cerebral Palsy, challenging school years, and to her struggles in adulthood.
She skillfully weaves her own story and the lived experiences of other people with disabilities into her critique of fairy tales, hence giving real-world support to further strengthen her arguments. By presenting familiar stories we thought we knew, then shifting the lens so we view them through her eyes and the eyes of other people with disabilities, Leduc challenges us to readjust the lenses in which we view not only stories but also the world we live in. Though some parts were a bit repetitive, Leduc does successfully drive home her points. Her openness about the limitations of her individual experience, her acknowledgement of her relative advantages and privileges, and her recognition of additional barriers faced by BIPOC people with disabilities are refreshing and needed.
Disfigured is engaging, enlightening, and thought-provoking. It underlines the importance of making space for new types of stories where the disabled body is not represented as caricatures, and, where disability is not considered as less, but rather recognized as a different but equally valuable viewpoint. Leduc calls for all of us, as a community, to share the responsibility to think beyond individual victories, and to build a new system where every body is included, valued, and able to thrive.