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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KU chapter.

Thanks to Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin, Scoliosis is now being discussed online more than I have seen, and as a Scoliosis survivor, I am all for it. Except, the portrayal in media, including Original Sin, isn’t that well-researched or accurate. 

The thing is, the two most prominent representations of Scoliosis on screen are in two horror TV shows, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin and Scream Queens, and in one of those interpretations the patients were faking Scoliosis. Both of these TV shows are in the horror genre. This perpetuated the stigma that Scoliosis is a terrifying, gross disease instead of valid and normal. They also choose creepy stylism over accuracy when showing their characters in pre-surgical back brace treatments.

Original Sin’s storyline is focused on Faran, a ballerina. Faran was in a back brace at age 6 (the clip was shown with a vintage leather back brace instead of an accurate, modern back brace) and received spinal fusion surgery at age 8. This was used as a device to show how her mother cares more about Faran’s perfection, success, and appearance then her health. Doctors say that surgery can’t be done until after the patient goes through puberty and stops growing, making Faran’s arc highly unrealistic, especially with an actress with a near-perfect posture. Also, ballet isn’t an activity recommended by doctors, and if patients do decide to do ballet, they should modify it. The writers do attempt to rectify their misgivings by having Faran swim as physical therapy, an activity doctors actually recommend for patients and wear a “soft” post-surgical back brace that is modern and accurate. However, this falls flat and feels ingenious after so much inaccuracy and sloppiness. 

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Scream Queens‘ representation involved having the character of Hester in a back brace. They never once tried to make her an empathetic character. Instead, she was a weird outcast who needed a makeover and was encouraged not to wear the brace. Later, viewers find out she was faking her Scoliosis the whole time as a “cloak of social invisibility” so she can murder a bunch of college students. And the back brace is also a vintage, inaccurate neckbrace. 

Glee, the second Ryan Murphy show on this list, made jokes about Scoliosis. That 90s Show also made jokes about it. But Scoliosis isn’t a laughing matter. It’s painful and affects every aspect of a patient’s life and health.

The Mighty Ducks and Grey’s Anatomy also had Scoliosis arcs, but they were short-lived and just like the rest of the shows on this list, weren’t used in nuanced, complex ways, when Scoliosis is an incredibly complex disease, physically, mentally and even sexually. 

Millions of people have Scoliosis with varying degrees of severity. So, why are people so scared to let Scoliosis take center stage? Why use it as a storytelling device instead of the complex arc it actually is? Scoliosis impacts a patient’s body image, mental health and self-esteem in many ways. There are endless directions of nuanced story material available, so why aren’t writers using all of that material? Writers and showrunners need to realize the opportunity they have and the impact they have on impressionable viewers. Just like members of the LGBTQ+ community or disabled representation, Scoliosis patients deserve to be seen and understood through film and TV. We are worth the time and research that goes into portraying this disease with accuracy and nuance. 

Hello! My name is Sami Gotskind! I'm from Chicago and graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in Acting and Journalism. I also working on getting a certificate in Fashion Styling from the Fashion Institute of Technology. I was a writer for Her Campus KU from 2020 to 2022 and for Her Campus Nationals since 2021. I was also the Writing Director for Her Campus KU in 2022. I love film, TV, fashion, pop culture, history, music, and feminism. My friends describe me as an old soul, an avid Euphoria fan, a fashion icon, a Swiftie, an Audrey Hepburn-Blair Waldorf fanatic, a future New Yorker, and a Gossip Girl historian. Look out for me on your TV screens in the near future! Thank you for reading my articles!