Middle School Spotlight: Pop culture is harming disabled youth


In Taylor Swift’s song “Shake it Off “the offensive words are circled in pink. The words circled are possible actions and body traits that a disabled child would not be able to perform/have, leaving the disabled child feeling worthless. Infographic by Cybele Zhang.

Middle School Spotlight is an occasional series showcasing Archer middle school students who are learning about journalism. These were written for a class assignment then submitted to The Oracle. Outstanding pieces were selected for publication by the Editorial Board.

The clock chimes hollowly and the miserable soon-to-be princess runs down the stairs of the palace leaving her dainty shoe alone on the steps.

Chances are you’re familiar with Cinderella’s seemingly harmless tale or current hit songs such as Ed Sheeran’s Shape of You. Most people don’t find anything wrong with princess stories and popular music, yet one detail is overlooked by most consumers.

As a newly minted teenager with a physical disability since birth, I have a unique perspective to share. Lack of physical disability awareness in the media is harming the lives of the handicapped.

According to Audrey Tramel, a medical doctor who specializes in primary care, representation of one’s self in pop culture directly affects self confidence and self definition. Kids with disabilities are already subject to higher rates of depression, bullying and social isolation, yet I believe all of this can be avoided.

Moana is Disney’s newest princess and represents Polynesian culture. Disney has started representing different minorities, but has not yet made a disabled princess. Image source:

In pop culture, artists make references to what they believe to be normal actions all the time. If you look at any song or movie, there’s constant use of walking, running, talking and dancing. When I was younger, I was disappointed time and time again when I saw characters run across the screen smoothly and not in the different galloping gait I used. Not seeing myself, weird gallop and all, on the screen made me wonder if something was wrong with me. I did not see myself as a princess, knight, police officer or a heroine. This greatly effected my confidence because I didn’t see that people like me could be successful in anything at all.

Disney has already made the leap to include diverse cultures in their media, however, they are a large source of the under representation. Disney princesses are idols who radiate perfection. They are full of movement and perform tasks that 19.4 percent of the youth population deem impossible or hard to perform.

If Disney were to put a perfect princess or prince in a wheelchair, disabled youth will finally see themselves represented as heroes and heroines and not the weird kid in the background of some movie. All it takes is one lyric change from ‘walk’ to ‘roll’ to make a self-conscious child smile.