Shrek’s Portrayal of Disability

By: Amanda Taylor

There are many social and cultural issues within the movie Shrek that should be addressed when looking through a lens of disability. Shrek and Fiona are the very opposite of what society looks at as a fairy tale, yet they are still so popular.  The producers of this movie have tackled social issues in a very positive way. Elements such as obesity and economic diversity are portrayed within this movie that show that there is an alternative to stereotyping.

        First, it is important to realize the way society views things as “normal.” Society today views normal as “if it is a static state of affairs, and when people are said to have an unwanted condition, they may be deemed to have an abnormality” (Titchkosky 130). We cannot treat social norms as static or measure others based on if they look the same as others. Normalcy is not objective, so we cannot use the term to represent people and categorize people. Modern society uses the term normal as a symbol of self understanding and understanding of others, but this movie does the opposite of what society is used to. Shrek goes against all social norms and represents a fairy tale that is every bit of diverse and different than what is seen as normal today.

        The intersection of disability studies and obesity is often controversial, but in this film the obesity is not represented as a disability, it is represented as normal. This is incredible for our society because the term “fat” is often used as a social rule or a social expectation. Society labels larger people as less able or less normal. Keywords for Disability Studies says “Fatness shares with more traditionally recognized forms of disability […] the dominant social attitudes towards fatness are the problem, not fatness itself” (Lebesco 84). Society looks at fatness as an illness or a disability, but when it comes down to it, we need to avoid making judgments of this sort. The character Shrek himself is the main character and he is made as the heroic one, where in most movies the fat one is made as the villainous one or the one we should not like. This movie does a good job of showing that people do not have to be skinny and handsome to live happily ever after. There is an intersection of disability and excess fatness, where serious health issues can occur, but those health issues are beyond the surface that society can see, therefore we cannot judge all sights of fatness as a health problem.

        Shrek is not our typical tall, dark, and handsome prince. Shrek is an ogre who is very much unattractive. This character is proving that appearance isn’t a tell-all, be-all. Ugliness is often categorized with deformity and represented as a disability: “The quality or condition of being marred or disfigured in appearance; disfigurement, unsightliness, ugliness, […] Deformity is linked with conceptually with monstrosity, which is derived from monstra, meaning a warning of a portent of catastrophe to come” (Deutsch, 52). This excerpt from the Keywords for Disability Studies book encapsulates that society normally stereotypes ugliness with being less able. Shrek in this movie, however, is not at all disabled; he is a very powerful and capable ogre that should not be stereotyped as disabled. He is very able-bodied and should not be looked at in a negative way by any means.

        Overall, we learn from this movie that stereotypes and labels should not be apparent in our society. These characters are portrayed as very much able bodied, which is in contrast to our typical social construct of fatness being gross or ugly. This movie takes a new path to our typical fairy tale story, because we are used to seeing social constructs as what we “should” look like, or how we are expected to see perfection. Shrek embodies an incredible prince, and he and Fiona live happily ever after as large green ogres which is a positive alternative to what would often be classified as disgusting. Society takes a poor approach to fatness and when it is not necessary. There are a lot of important lessons for our society to learn from this movie that are often avoided at all costs in society and production.



Titchkosky, Tanya. “Normalcy.” Keywords for Disability Studies. By Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. New York: New York UP, 2015. 130-31. Print.

Lebesco, Kathleen. “Fat.” Keywords for Disability Studies. By Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. New York: New York UP, 2015. 84-85. Print.

Deutsch, Helen. “Deformity.” Keywords for Disability Studies. By Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin. New York: New York UP, 2015. 52-53. Print.

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