A new fantasy show The Witcher that beat television records at the premiere. Featuring lively renditions of robust, capable, and beautiful individuals that exist in a world outside our own, a world of magic and monsters. Yet, there are dozens of similarities in the show that transcend the same problems we face in society today. One of which is the treatment of disabled people. Now we know there are hundreds of different disabilities, all of which I won’t get into, but what it boils down to is the appearance of such disabilities.
Photo Credit: The Mary Sue
This makes me believe that the way society treats the disabled does not correlate with the disability itself but in the inherent or learned treatment of individuals who possess different types of disabilities.
The invisible and the visible.
When we were first introduced to Yennefer, a young Mage still learning her powers. At first glance, we don’t understand the workings of magic and mages and such. Nevertheless, we did see her father carelessly tossing her away, her mother helpless to save her, and people in her village looking on as if she is pure entertainment. As a viewer, I felt for her, and I could relate to her too. But not for the same reasons.
It sparked an interesting thought in my head, wondering if her treatment was stemmed from her physical appearance of the crooked spine and not her disability on its own. The cause of her disability, elven blood, is invisible, and no one would know upon seeing her lest they asked. It is because she does not appear ‘beautiful’ that she is so grossly mistreated.
Photo Credit: TV Insider
This stalled when she made friends with a handsome young sorcerer who cared for her, and I at first thought, how could she find a man when I couldn’t? Sour thought, I know, but it’s one planted in the roots of society’s treatment of disabled people, how it made us forget that what is on the inside is what has value. He was the embodiment of how society treats the disabled, driving her to complete her transformation shortly after she decided she wouldn’t do it. His ridicule of her led her to believe she would be more powerful, as a ‘beautiful’ mage, and not how she was—as a still powerful mage— and she trusted him.
Photo Credit: SYKO
They tell us that the able-bodied deserve more than those who aren’t, and we believed them.
Yennefer was strong, capable, and very talented. But see, the viewers and other characters didn’t consider her as such until she underwent a ‘transformation’ to become more powerful.
In the modern world, we call that a glow up, and we don’t give people clout until they have one.
What is to note in all this is that transformations or glow ups or whatever they will be called is that once they occur whatever is on the inside remains, our bodies do not morph into unrecognizable, genetically different beings. Yennefer was known to all as the mage who once had crooked spine and is now gorgeous, but the cause of Yennefer’s disability remains; elven blood gave her crooked spine, and it’s still in her.
Photo Credit: IGN
In our world, people with disabilities are better treated if seen as able-bodied, I.e. their afflictions are invisible. Like my own depression or anxiety, no one would ever know unless I told them. But see, I also don’t have the Eurocentric features and thin body, so I wasn’t given the benefit of any doubt. Sitting in a corner not talking, a little chubby, she must be in the wrong place, they would think. But the friends I made in group and support circles, who had thousands of social media followers based on their photos, a circle of friends [albeit occasionally fake] had glaringly different experiences.
Ableism is a direct catalyst for disabled persons’ experiences because some disabilities are more readily accepted, so long as their bodies are ‘beautiful.’
We don’t want to believe it, and we certainly don’t want to give it merit, especially if it means we must look inside ourselves and our own treatment of disabled individuals before and after we become aware of their afflictions. Change is not easy, see, to very many people.
The ableism in The Witcher is tantamount to all that goes on in society. To how we prey on those who are not able-bodied and how we prioritize those who are. How employers will ‘tolerate’ a note of anxiety but think twice about one of being deskbound or needing another accommodation. This is a learned treatment of disabled bodies and is not inherent at all. The inherency would be and should be treating all people the same and not just the ones that look ‘nice.’
Black, depressed, voluptuous in the hips, okay in the face, and a little anxious; I’ve seen it all.
My invisible disability was parallel to my physical appearance, Yennefer’s physical disability was eradicated by her climb to beauty. Her abusive treatments ceased when she had a societally beautiful body, and if I were thin with taupe skin, I’m confident I’d also have a different story.
If your disability hides, you’re able-bodied and capable, then no one will ever know? Luck is the wrong word, but it’s one that works.
Society–fantasy or real–has a learned behaviour in how it treats the disabled and the media has fueled it. If ableism grows to exist beyond this generation, it will become inherent, much more dangerous than being learned. All of us who experience it know that a ‘glow up’ is nothing, and a transformation is just society’s way of crutching our self-esteem, telling us that beauty is the crutch. If you don’t have it, you might be left stumbling.
By Brikitta Hairston
Brikitta Hairston is a University of Iowa Alumni, she also self-publishes as Bri Stone. She is a Nigerian writer who weaves her heritage and diversity into every story she writes. She intends to play a role in the writing community that desperately needs more diverse voices.
Check out Brikitta’s social media, and other works with the links below!
Edited By Keshav Kant
Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a med student tuned Executive Director of Off Colour!
You’ve probably seen her on Twitter and TikTok, both @MxKantEven, or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels.
From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.