Saturday 14 January 2017

#DisabilityDiaries2017 | Harry Potter and the Representation of Scarring

(Flashing Images Warning: there are some gifs with flashing images in this blogpost which may cause problems for those with photosensitive conditions such as epilepsy or migraines.)

Let's kick off Disability Diaries 2017 with something a little different. Let's talk about scars.

(The lovely Ely @ Tea and Titles came up with the idea of Disability Diaries - a week long event running from 14th-21st Jan 2017, discussing disability, books, and disability in books. 

Ely, myself, Angel @ Angel Reads, Dina @ Dinasoaur, Jolien @ The Fictional Reader, and Lara @ Another Teen Reader are running it.)

Scars. A physical sign of illness and injury. Not a disability, but often an indication of one, and often made into one by the way society treats them.

I have a lot of scars.

My scars are mundane - sorry, but there's no cool story of danger and adventure, neither is there any trauma you can romanticise.

But I'm covered in lines of silver, purple, and pink.

I scar easily - my skin is 'sensitive,' which is another way of saying 'my skin reacts to numerous substances and allergens, because my immune system treats them as a threat.' But that's not as pithy, I agree.

My skin also takes a long time to heal. So a simple scratch from my cat may leave a reddish purpleish line for 6 months or more.

So, with my variety of permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary scars, I notice the way we portray scars, in books and elsewhere.

Guess what? Society and media is cr*p at representation of scars. And for someone with low self-esteem (hello there! 🙋) it can have a really negative affect on how you view yourself.

Shall we take our most well-known scarred hero as an example?

(And I'd like to just point out that, like most people, I love Harry Potter and simply want to use this as an example to discuss scarring. It's really not an attack on anyone's enjoyment of anything.)

What do we know about Harry Potter's famous scar?
  • it's lightning shaped
  • it's the result of a magical curse that rebounded
  • it's on his forehead
  • it gives him magical Spidey-sense to let him know when Voldemort's faffing about
  • it's permanent

And what does that tell us, my nerdlets, about the representation of scarring here?

His scar might be shaped like a lightning bolt, but it's a clean line.

Scars are often jagged, uneven, and/or unsightly.

Rowling falls into the trope of Good Scars vs Evil Scars - good scars, the kind heroes get, are either attractive or barely noticeable.

They are clean lines, as if made by a precision instrument, and healed evenly.

The villains get to have 'scary' jagged or unsightly scars, to show that they're evil inside and out (*sighs*.)

It gives Harry a dramatic backstory.

It's a sign that he's 'the Chosen One' - it's derring-do and noble-suffering bound into one little line on his head.

And, just to be handy, it never dries out and flakes in the winter, forcing him to use non-heroic moisturiser.

Harry's scar is easily hidden.

Harry wears his hair long to hide his scar. While I would defend the right of anyone with a scar to either hide it, or display it, as they choose, why does Rowling choose to hide Harry's scar?

Is it, perhaps, because society sees facial imperfections and scars as something shameful, some sign of corruption? 

By hiding his scar, he can hide his imperfection. Rowling's hero is flawed, but not where anyone can see it.

But guess what? Scars are ok. They are not a corruption, or a flaw of character. They are simply damaged skin.

Harry's scar 'aches.'

OK, I'm about to blow your mind - SCARS DON'T HURT. Yes, yes, magic and all that. But scars have limited pain receptors.

Unless you cut through all the skin layers, they will very rarely actually hurt. The skin around them might ache or hurt, especially if they've dried out and tightened, but the scar itself? Not usually.

Scars are simply the result of collagen healing the skin. Yeah - collagen, that stuff they put in dermal fillers? Very few pain receptors.

And Harry's scar has magical Voldy Spider-sense.

Granted, this is handy plot-wise, and has the added 'oh, poor Harry!' effect that Rowling was clearly going for.

But what is this saying, really?

That scars are a constant reminder of the bad parts of your life and your past? That physical scars and psychological ones are directly linked?

That scars have to be (as Dumbledore says) 'useful' in order to be present on a hero instead of on a villain?

Scars actually change over time, you know that?

They can change vastly for about 2 years after the injury or other damage to the skin, and can change in appearance after that as your body ages.

You wouldn't think that, given that scars in so many books etc. are either healed completely within a week or two, or permanently in a specific state for the rest of the character's life.

If your character ages, their scar should too.

Stretch marks in particular will silver as you get older (and no, stretch marks aren't just from pregnancies - they also occur in growth spurts, and sometimes around injuries where the skin has had to grow more quickly than normal in order to heal the wound.)

I have a small indented scar above my eye from where I had some face-time with a table aged six (it had staples sticking out of it, and accident-prone Cee over here just had to connect with the stapled portion of the table.)

It looks different all the freaking time. If I'm tired, it really stands out. Some days, it's barely there at all. Skin is stretchy and crinkly - especially on your face.

So, there I am as a kid, reading Harry Potter, and wondering why the hell his scar looks the same all the time? Why doesn't it flake? Why is it aching, but never pulling with skin tightness?

Facial skin moves a lot, and you know those lines you get in your forehead when you're making expressions? They should've made Harry's scar look different all the time.

Ms Rowling chose to give Harry a facial scar, yet doesn't seem to know what that entails.

I would've loved it if he wandered down to Madame Pomfrey every now and then in winter to ask for lotion of some kind.

Or maybe a description of the weird feeling of not-feeling when you move a joint or a muscle (like, in your forehead, for example) with a scar overlapping it?

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Harry, or against J K Rowling. It just would've been nice if, when writing a kid with a scar, she thought about what that was like.

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  1. Interesting, I've never thought about scars this in depth. It's good timing though as I just recently read one book about a character with burn scars all over his body and face, and the author did include mentions of his skin feeling tight and not having much feeling and things like that. And obviously there was the emotional aspect of how he looked. But that was a super extreme case. The series I'm reading now though, the MC got a small scar on his cheek in the second book, but I think it's one of those precise line type scars that you described, and that's something I hadn't thought about.

    I have a few scars, but they're all just from random accidents. I've noticed my scars look different depending on the temperature, whether it's hot or cold. And most of them are not perfect lines. I love my scars though! They're stories of the experiences I've had.

    1. Awesome comment! XD

      I think it's definitely something we need to think about more - how we treat the signs of physical difference can affect our attitudes to disability.

  2. This is such a brilliant post, thank you. I'm ashamed to say that I've never really thought about this topic before, and the different ways different scars can denote heroism or villainy. I'm definitely going to be on the look-out for this in the future.(this is whatthelog btw, I can't seem to comment using my wordpress for some reason.)

    1. I have no idea why you can't use your wordpress to comment :/ hoping it's not my end!

      Thanks v much for your lovely comment, and there's no need to be ashamed that you hadn't thought about it before - most people don't! That's why discussing various types of representation is so important :)

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  4. I feel like Harry Potter has a kind of immunity when it comes to the book world because people love it so much. Of course that love is deserved (at least, I, Harry Potter geek extraordinaire, think so), but it does mean people don't debate its themes so much.

    And this entire post was so EDUCATIONAL - all these things I didn't know about facial scarring! Thanks for sharing, Cee.

    1. Thank you!

      And yes, that's *so* true - people treat Harry Potter as if it's a sacred text or something. I love HP - but I'm v much of the belief that no book is perfect and that open discussion is something that benefits everyone :)

  5. Interesting post. I never really thought about Harry’s scar, even though I have some scars of my own from surgery and clumsiness. I just assumed that Harry’s scar was magic, so it didn’t look like a muggle scar.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Ha, there is that magical get-out-of-jail-free card ofc, but I really wanted to look at it in terms of scarring representation as a whole :)

      Thanks for the awesome comment :)

  6. Wow you know a lot about scars! Ironically I'm actually writing my writer's craft assignment right now and it's a fictional story, and in it there is a girl with a scar. While I think I have the descriptions of it down pact, I think I need to pay more attention to what it feels like for her. So this post couldn't have come at a better time!

  7. Wow, I have never really thought about scars like that... and now that I think about it, Harry's scar never really made sense to me. It might as well have been drawn on with a pen or something. Thanks for the info! Also "it gives him magical Spidey-sense to let him know when Voldemort's faffing about" made me laugh so hard.

    1. Happy to be informative :)

      Haha, my head is a very strange place ;)

  8. This post is epic and so thought-provoking. I love it, Cee Arr! You definitely raise really good points here. I feel like the scar, literal or metaphorical, could have been used better. I love the series, but there was so much potential for inclusion of diversity, and it was unused.

  9. I never thought about this, but I guess there's a lot I missed when I read HP back in the day. It makes me really sad now to realise there's almost no disability representation.

    I have a lot of scars too, though mine are predominantly on my legs. The thing I've noticed is people always think scars like Harry's are cool, but there frightened or disgusted by ones like mine. My scars are a part of me, even if they don't have spidey senses—I just wish Harry was someone who could have been a role model with scars for me growing up.

    1. See, that's the good scars vs bad scars thing in action. People give idealised scars to heroes, and then view scars that are somehow 'uncomfortable' for them as bad in some way. It really bugs me that something that's such a natural part of life is so badly treated by films, books, etc. There's a high portion of shots in the HP films (espec. the later ones) where you can't see his scar at all (sometimes I think they actually forgot to add it in) and it's like... why?!

  10. Thank you so much for writing this, Cee Arr. Scars are not something I think about often and how they factor into people's lives. I've learned so much already. Will follow the rest of the diaries!

    1. Thanks so much <3

      I hope you do follow the rest because everyone's writing such amazing posts!!!!!! XD

  11. This is such a great post! I have never thought about how scars mark heroes versus villains. I always just thought that Harry hides his scar because he's tired of everyone staring at it, haha. What are your thoughts on Bill Weasley? He ended up with obvious facial scars after Half-Blood Prince. I had always thought that it was an interesting plot point. Now that I've read this post, I'm thinking his scars benefited Fleur's storyline and character development more than it did his, if only because we never saw how they affected him.

    1. I'm with you on that - Fleur was seen as the heroic one for wanting to stay with him, which brought her closer to Molly. There's limited focus on Bill at all.

      Awesome comment! XD

  12. Great post! I have never thought about that. Something to keep in mind from now on.

  13. so I read your post AND the comments. Interesting how most people don't think about scars often and therefore is not often discussed. So thank you for writing about this! :)

    I have quite a few but I think they don't fall very high in the list of things that bother me about myself. Actually most of them make me smile because I have always been very proud to be a "tomboy" and most I "earned" from always playing rough games and climbing trees and camping and hiking etc etc etc and that was always supported and encourage by my parents who were super proud of their "though girl"

    Now my weight... that has been one of the "issues" with me even though I weighted 90 pounds! My family and community were all about the weight (I was a ballerina) so that's why the scars fell low in the list of things I was supposed to feel ashamed about BUT I kinda understand the general idea of feeling "ashamed" or "ugly" or "inadequate" .

    Funny I always thought HP's scar was a "MEH" plot device. It always felt somehow "fake" and unnecessary to me and I think you just made me see why. excellent post as usual!

    1. Thank you! *blushes*

      One of the things that bugs me about the rep of scars in books is that they always have to have some significance. I have scars that I don't even remember getting, and people seem to think I'm not entertaining them enough when my answer to 'how did you get that?!' is something as simple as, 'I knocked my hand on the door latch about eight months ago.' *sigh* I still have a faint pink scar from where I caught my hand on the oven last December/January-ish.

      Yeah... I see where she was going with the Voldy spidey-sense, but Rowling totally played into the tropes with Harry's scar!


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