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In 2009, when I posted about Susannah Appelbaum's The Hollow Bettle (Book 1 of The Poisons of Caux), I opened with this sentence: "Have you ever heard anyone say that at least the most glaring, barefaced hatred of disability in children's fiction is a thing of the past?" If I wrote it today, I would write, "of disability and disfigurement." I was aware that disfigurement was part of what Appelbaum was grievously misusing and oppressing -- the terrible quotes say it repeatedly -- but I didn't know yet that I should distinguish it from disability.

Disability and disfigurement aren't the same thing, though of course a person can have both. Disability is about what a person can or can't do (or the fact that society says they can't, or doesn't set them accessible paths); disfigurement is about how a person's body appears.

But disfigurement, specifically, is alive and well in children's literature -- often used oppressively by the narrative. It's often a symbol of evil, or a punishment, or something negative, or something meaningful on moral levels, as something for a character to "overcome." It's almost never simply a way that bodies can be. But in real life -- like disability, like fatness, like other embodied aspects that literature uses oppressively -- disfigurement is simply a way that bodies can be. We need to call out oppressive use of disfigurement in children's literature. Notice when it's a symbol. Notice what it's a symbol of. Notice when it's a punishment. Talk about it.

My friend Mike Moody, a disfigurement activist, has coined the word disfiguremisia (dis-fig-u-ruh-mi-sia), meaning "specific erasure & bigotry against Disfigurement." Please use it. She tweets disfigurement analysis and media critique as @guysmiley22 if you're on twitter; recently she's been tweeting about Beauty and the Beast.
 
 
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