Review | Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, Amanda Leduc

AmandaLeducOh. My. God. This book.

“In fairy tales, disability is often a metaphor, and that is itself a form of erasure.

But my cerebral palsy has never been a metaphor for anything. It has only ever been me — me, myself, my body.” [13%]

I’m not disabled, but I’ve always been a chubby kid and am now a plus-size woman, and I related SO HARD to Leduc’s thesis that fairy tales allow only certain types of bodies to be granted happy endings. Leduc also raises many good points on the trope of transformation in fairy tales and superhero stories, and the message therein that you must “overcome” your less-than-“perfect” body to get your happily ever after. There’s a lot of emphasis on “overcoming” your own obstacle, and considerably less emphasis on the role that a supportive community can play in making your world better overall.

There are so many gems in this book, and I wasn’t sure how to write a blog review because there’s just so much to absorb and to unpack. So I’m going to go with a full-on gush, and just post some highlights that I noted while reading.

  • According to Leduc, the social model of disability acknowledges that the issue around disability isn’t the physical condition of disabled people’s bodies, but rather the fact that society excludes disabled people, whether through stigma or through design of social spaces. Leduc then raises a good point that the trope of transformation in fairy tales suggests that the problem is actually within the individual’s body rather than with broader social structures: “Interestingly, it is never society that changes, no matter how many half-animals or scullery maids are out there arguing for their place at the table.” [15%]
  • While Leduc seems to align with the social model of disability, I love that she also points out its limitations. There are conditions like fatigue and chronic pain that even a fully accessible society won’t eradicate, but the pressure to abide by the social model of disability may make some disabled people hesitant to talk about experiences that may be perceived to critique the social model. [19%]
  • I love this quote so much:

“Princess meets Prince, and falls in love, over and over and over again.

And I have Quasimodo, misshapen and kind, who finds friends at the end of his story and is happy about, because that is the only kind if happiness he is allowed to have.” [32%]

  • I love that Leduc interviews other disabled people about their responses to fairy tales, and why some of them are so troubling from a disability lens. One example is the original Beauty and the Beast story, where the Beast’s beasthood can be seen as a form of disability (because it’s a physical feature that sets him apart from the social norm). In the original version, Beauty agrees to marry the Beast, but hesitates to marry him once he becomes a Prince again, because “When I accepted him, I believed that I was taking pity on something below humanity.” [55%] The idea that the Beast’s difference renders him, first, as a thing rather than a person, and second, as being less than human rather than simply different, can be outright hurtful to some readers. I hadn’t thought about this before, but will now no longer look at Beauty and the Beast the same way again.
  • I also love that Leduc calls out the “invisible hierarchy” of disabled people, where those who are intellectually disabled often face more discrimination than those who are physically disabled. This isn’t a point I see raised often, and it gave me a lot to think about.
  • I absolutely, positively love how Leduc includes mental illness in the conversation on disability. Mental illness does also lead to experiencing many social barriers, but I find it’s often treated as a separate conversation altogether, so I love that this book raises awareness and understanding on how it can be a form of disability as well. Leduc also shares the fascinating — and super troubling — history about how mental health experiences used to be thought of as someone being replaced by a changeling. There’s a story of a guy who killed his wife because of it. Leduc contextualizes this with her own experience of depression, and how her loved ones noticed the change in her. [70%] Stories – and what we learn from the characters in them – matter.
  • At 74%, I was basically cheering out loud while reading this book: YES!!! On how we often have an idea of who ‘deserves’ a happy ending — the grateful protagonist, the obedient princess, etc. And YES!!! on how white privilege plays into that idea, and people who are BIPOC, disabled, otherwise marginalized, may receive less access to mental health supports because they are seen as less than ‘ideal.’

The book also made me reflect on my own thoughtless privilege. Leduc shares an anecdote about how she once left a lindy hop dance class after her partner teased her for concentrating too hard and taking things so seriously. That reminded me of a ballroom dancing class in high school PE where I teased my dance partner for the same thing. My immediate response to Leduc’s story was defensiveness — my dance partner wasn’t disabled, and obviously, if she had been, I would have been more understanding about it. But the truth is that my dance partner shouldn’t have to disclose a disability for me to respect her approach to dancing. Whatever my partner’s reasons were for concentrating more than I was on the dance, they were valid, and I shouldn’t have made her feel self-conscious about it. (My teasing also caused us to fall behind from the group, and then bump into our classmates when I sped up our pace to try and catch up. So, in hindsight, my partner may have had the right idea on the concentration front.)

My main takeaway is something Leduc says near the end, which is basically that we need to make space for different stories, where the protagonist with the different body gets their happy ending not because they overcome obstacles on their own but because they have a community that pulls them through. As Leduc says, “My walk, my legs, my body — I am, all of me, a feature. (We are, all of us, a feature.)” [81%]

It’s been a while since a book has affected me this much, and I can only imagine its impact on disabled readers. Read it.

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Thank you to the Coach House Books for an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

3 thoughts on “Review | Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, Amanda Leduc

  1. This sounds AMAZING. What a gorgeous review and what an important topic. I was just thinking about this recently as I read A Curse So Dark and Lonely, which is the first fairy tale/retelling I think I’ve ever read with a straight up “disabled” MC (she has CP). And my best friend’s daughter has CP, so it really struck me how little positive strong female (or male) rep there is for that. ANd I know it shouldn’t have taken a personal stake for me to notice that, but we are all working to grow and be better. Anyways, just wanted to say this is awesome and I’m adding it to my TBR and that you should read Curse if you haven’t. I loved it. There’s a full review on my blog if you want to check it out. 🙂

  2. Your review really spoke to me, especially the way you acknowledged you live in a larger body. I do, too, which is why I’m constantly on the look out for books that discuss fatphobia and those that allow fat people to fully live in their bodies and are respected. It’s a hard journey, but I’ve got a small list of positive reads on my blog. Whew! I’m going to add this book to my TBR and will link back to your review when it goes up. Thank you 🙂

  3. Pingback: Sunday Lowdown #51 – Grab the Lapels

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