Now here’s a head scratcher: when was the last time you saw a disabled woman star in a rom-com? Let me put you out of your misery and just answer this for you – never, because it never happened. Trust me, I’ve been watching rom-coms ever since I was five, when my mum would put on You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle for some classic Meg Ryan family fun. However, I always feel so disheartened by the fact that I can never see someone like me now – a disabled girl – on screen, and whenever I see them, that character is usually treated as nothing more than the butt of the joke.
There is no doubt in admitting that in recent years we’ve made enormous steps forward in terms of representation of minorities on camera, with multiple LGBT+ romantic movies being released this year, and more and more people of color being cast as leads. All of these improvements are unquestionably positive and represent a huge progress, but why are disabled people always treated as the low man on the totem pole? Where are the women like me?
Feeling represented is so vital, especially nowadays when media is so central and omnipresent in our lives that it has become almost a mirror of our society. Well, at least it should be; but it certainly isn’t, given that countless people are continuously not portrayed.
For instance, one billion people – 15% of the world’s population – have some kind of disability, yet they are not being represented at all in popular media.
According to movies and TV shows, society is basically made up of only white, cis, straight, and able-bodied people, as they are considered to be the emblem of beauty. However, the world is so much more colorful and diverse than what we see on screen. For instance, one billion people – 15% of the world’s population – have some kind of disability, yet they are not being represented at all in popular media.
I’m not saying that every single movie should have a disabled lead, but even one would be an improvement from absolutely zero. I would love to see women like me on screen, girls who face similar struggles as I have, just like countless other people did as well. From representation comes visibility, so if you’re not being represented at all, you are bound to just feel utterly invisible.
However, I also really want able-bodied people to see women like me on screen, so that maybe they can see past the stifling stereotype that paints disabled people as lonely, asexual beings. In reality, we are just people. We want love and intimacy like anybody else, and we deserve our rom-com moment just as much as the next person. But how could we possibly believe that is ever going to happen to someone like us if we never see it? And how can an able-bodied person believe that they can take a chance on us, without being blinded by that stereotype?
This continuous perpetration reinforces these demoralising views in our society, among both able-bodied people and disabled individuals, who may begin to victimize themselves like everyone else apparently already is.
Our society has been building and reinforcing stigmas around disabilities for centuries, and able-bodied people are just now starting to look past them. Only now, they are beginning to see us as human beings, and not borderline zoo animals. Yet, there’s still a heavy veil of ignorance on everyone’s eyes. Most people still can’t see disabled people – especially women – as beautiful individuals with needs. The biggest perpetrators of this impression are media, as they portray people with disabilities as nothing more than what they have. Think about it for a second – the few characters whom we manage to have on-screen who are disabled have a non-existent character arch and are usually portrayed merely as a victim. They are not strong, they are not brave, they are not desirable – they are just helpless.
This continuous perpetration reinforces these demoralising views in our society, among both able-bodied people and disabled individuals, who may begin to victimize themselves like everyone else apparently already is. The constant lack of (correct) representation makes things even harder for people with disabilities. They are forced to not only try to convince others of their own strengths and capabilities, but they have to convince themselves as well, as nobody else seems to be doing that.
Most movie-makers are reluctant to portray women with disabilities on screen, as they apparently assume that the audience would “mind” if those characters were disabled. In fact, in order to not “upset” that public but still get some of those woke points, film-makers usually resort to showing invisible disabilities in women, such as blindness or deafness, as they can still “pass” for able-bodied and remain aesthetically pleasing. Disabled men, on the other hand, are more easily portrayed on a wheelchair or with other movement aids, as there still exists this idea in our society that women who have physical evidence of their disabilities are supposedly ruined.
If a female character is disabled, they apparently cannot be loved anymore.
In fact, most movies and TV shows treat disabilities in women almost like a death sentence, that leave them as nothing more than damaged goods. If a female character is disabled, they apparently cannot be loved anymore.
This lack of rightful portrayal instigates in the mind of the audience the idea that disabled women are not worthy of love, and that’s such a dangerous message to be sending out to society. Sooner or later, a young girl with a disability will see it, and wrongfully convince herself of her own unworthiness.
However, if there managed to be at least one rom-com with a disabled lead, could you imagine the impact? We could finally begin to change the old-age narrative, according to which disabilities make us unlovable, and replace it with one that makes us at least human. We are not asking for too much, we are just asking to be seen, so that someday that same disabled girl could regain confidence and hope that she too can have her own Happily Ever After.