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(In)visible Disabilities: How “Encanto” Helped Me Feel Seen

Spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned.

If you haven’t heard “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” by now, you might be living under a rock. 

The song from Disney’s “Encanto” has created a stir across platforms, from Tik tok to cosplay. Fans have been fawning over the mindfulness of Colombian culture and award-winning songs by the talented Lin-Manuel Miranda since its release back in November 2021. “Encanto” is a story about the spectacular Madrigal family whose members all have incredible gifts given to them by a closely guarded magic—except for our protagonist, Mirabel. The 15-year-old lead has much to offer in terms of being a relatable character, whether it’s being the middle child or the underdog, but one feature of Mirabel stood out to me that wasn’t a personality trait: her glasses.

Now you might be thinking, “Brenna, why on earth do you care about her glasses?” Well, for starters, Mirabel is one of Disney’s few protagonists to wear glasses. Many side characters from past Disney films have worn glasses, like Honey Lemon from “Big Hero 6” or Edna Mode from “The Incredibles,” but it was incredibly refreshing to see how Mirabel wasn’t portrayed as some kind of “nerd.” One of my very favorite Disney characters is Milo Thatch from “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” but his whole arc is based around his interest in cartography and linguistics, and he’s treated like some kind of useless academic throughout the film. Even Carl Fredricksen from “Up” fits the “nerd” stereotype at the beginning of the film. While Mirabel is technically not Disney’s first  main character to wear glasses (please, we have to stop the “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” erasure), her glasses actually play a huge part in her character and relationships with her family. If you think about it, her green glasses are actually a nod to Bruno since his eyes turn bright green whenever he has a vision. It might seem like a clever little Easter egg, but Mirabel’s glasses represent far more than just her connection to her uncle.

Eyesight is one of our most important senses, but about 75% of American adults use some kind of corrective device like glasses or contacts, according to the Vision Council of America. Per the Centers for Disease Control, over 12 million Americans suffer from some type of visual impairment, including blindness. Not all cases of visual impairment constitute disability, and many Americans don’t have access to proper eye care. A document from the European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons (ESCRS) explains that one in 12 Americans cannot afford glasses and that over 60 million Americans are at risk for eye problems because of diabetes or worsening existing conditions. 

Things like this represent a reality of life called “invisible disabilities.” The University of Massachusetts defines invisible disability as “disabilities that are not immediately apparent.” These types of disabilities include mental illnesses, neurological disorders, chronic pain and autoimmune disorders. University of Massachusetts estimates that roughly 10% percent of Americans live with disabilities considered “invisible.” Abilities like sight are so important, but things like contacts hide the struggle with poor vision. While glasses are more noticeable, things like fashion glasses can make it seem like glasses are often a style choice and not an actual medical device. Even blindness goes unnoticed in many cases if the person doesn’t use the white cane or have a service animal. With all this in mind, part of the specialness of having a main character with glasses is the subtle nod to those of us out there living with unseen (no pun intended) struggles.

Overall, if seeing a protagonist with glasses makes me so happy as an adult, I can only imagine how the younger Disney audiences are loving their new spectacled character. Giving kids a chance to see themselves in a special way through Mirabel is so important and just a wholesome thing. Wearing glasses might not just be for my own health anymore; maybe I’ll have to go rewatch “Encanto” and fangirl over Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrical genius—I mean, appreciate Disney’s effort in helping kids feel seen.

Hi! I'm Brenna Russell and I use she/they pronouns. I'm a senior at SLU with a major in Anthropology and minor in History. Huge nerd. That's all.
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