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10 Ways I Relate to Mal From 'Descendants 2' as a Teen With a Disability

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I am a Disney freak. I am in love with anything and everything Disney-related, so when I  first saw “Descendants,” a movie about the children of Disney villains moving to live with the children of all the good guys in Disney movies, I was obsessed. In the first “Descendants” movie, Mal, the daughter of Maleficent, Evie, the daughter of Evil Queen, Jay, the son of Jafar, and Carlos, the son of Cruella DeVil move from the Isle of the Lost, where all the villains and their kids live under an impenetrable magic dome, to Auradon, where all the good guys and their kids live. They originally plan on stealing Fairy Godmother’s magic wand during the coronation of Ben, son of Belle and Beast, but they all decide to become good and stay in Auradon. Mal even falls in love with Ben and becomes his girlfriend.

The sequel to “Descendants” premiered recently, and from the first time I watched it, I was hooked (Get it? Because one of the new characters is Harry Hook? Yeah, I know it’s a bad joke). And as much as I loved Mal in the first movie, I found her even more relatable in the second movie. These are just 10 of the ways I can relate to Mal:

1. She tries to blend in with the rest of her peers.

Mal doesn’t want people to think of her as simply “the girl from the Isle of the Lost.” She wants to blend in with the rest for the AKs (kids originally from Auradon), so she tries to change her personality, her hair, and her clothes so she would look like an AK. Similarly, I will try to do whatever it takes to try to fit in with the other kids. If it means putting up with that horrible “pop culture” music they listen to, so be it.

2. She gets asked rude and invasive questions by others.

Mainly the press. She gets asked questions like “Ever think a girl like you would be lady of the court?” and “Is your mother still a lizard?” Even her boyfriend, Ben, gets asked, “Did you ever think you’d be with a Villain Kid?” Mal is told to just ignore them (yeah, because that always works). Later, we see a news program in which Mal is referred to as Ben’s “girlfriend from the wrong side of the bridge,” referring to the bridge between Auradon and the Isle of the Lost. Sadly, these are the same types of questions disabled people often receive from the press. I’ve gotten (and heard behind my back) many rude questions from my peers, including but not limited to “Why does she get to type the essay?” “Why do you get to have extra time on the test?” and “How the heck did you do so bad on the physical fitness tests?”

3. Her friend does what’s best for her, even if she doesn’t want it.

When Mal is using her spellbook to the point where she could get in trouble, Evie not only discourages her reliance on the spellbook but takes her spellbook away from her. Mal struggles and fights this and even tries to give her the sad puppy-dog face, but Evie says to her, “Don’t give me that face. Put the pout away. You know I’m right.” This is scarily accurate to what my friends S and J will say when they do or threaten to do something I don’t want to do, but it would be good for me. I will fight so hard when they try to do this kind of stuff, and I will admit to occasionally bringing out the sad puppy-dog face, which my friends also never submit to.

4. She takes on more than she can handle.

Mal tries to go to her classes and make everything Ms. Potts made for Belle and Beast (which, if you haven’t seen the Be Our Guest scene in “Beauty and the Beast,” is a lot!) for Ben all in one day because she wants to appear as if she’s perfect. I will admit that I do this. All. The. Time. Once, I agreed to go to two GS Chorus performances and the longest shift at a cookie booth sale, all in one day. What the heck was I thinking? By the end of the day, I was in so much pain I could barely sleep, so I got no rest and felt like I was run over the next day. If someone asks me to do something or asks for volunteers, you better believe I will say yes. I’m always trying so hard to appear as perfect and play “savior” that I’ll totally forget that oh yeah! I have these things called limits!

5. Some people snap at her and compares their struggles to her.

While Mal is on a date with Ben, he finds out that she has been using her spellbook to make her hair blonde, to study, and to cook a meal for him. He yells at her for using the spellbook, and she tells him it’s been really hard for her lately, and he replies, “Yeah, some things are hard! Do you think learning to be king has been easy for me?” Sadly these kinds of statements can be found often in the chronic pain and disability communities, as well as from able-bodied people. I’ve heard statements such as “Yeah, my back/legs hurt me too” or “Yeah, gym class is hard for me too” many times from my peers, as they try to empathize, even though they’ll never really know what it’s like to live in my body.

6. She tries to appear strong in public but breaks down when she’s alone.

Mal pretends that she’s perfectly OK in front of others, sometimes including some of her friends. In the song “Space Between” Evie, Mal’s best friend says that she “thought that [Mal was] fine.” But once Mal is safely in her bedroom alone, she starts crying, revealing her fear that she doesn’t belong in Auradon. I do something similar, smiling and saying repeatedly that I’m fine while I’m in pain, especially if someone else asks me if I’m OK. I will then withdraw to my bedroom and start crying. I’m trying to let myself open up to my friends more and break this habit.

7. She sometimes snaps at her friends out of frustration.

Mal goes into Carlos’s room to give him something, but as she shuts the door, you can hear the press trying to get her attention. She then paces back and forth and shuts off the TV that’s currently playing the news program mentioned in number two. She is clearly on the verge of a mental breakdown and gets dizzy and nearly falls. Carlos says to her “Easy, girl.” Mal snaps back “What, you think this is easy? You don’t have people taking a photo of you every single time you open your mouth to say boo! Not that I could even say boo!” I admit to doing this out of pain, fear, and frustration to my friends, parents, brother, and sometimes even my teachers. Every time, I apologize almost immediately and hate myself for snapping at them. I wish I didn’t do this, but when I’m in a lot of pain and frustrated and anxious, I’ll sometimes lose my filter and say things I don’t mean.

8. She feels more comfortable around other people in her situation.

Mal finds herself more at ease and less awkward on the Isle of the Lost, surrounded by the children of villains, kids like herself. Likewise, I find myself more comfortable around other people with disabilities. As a matter of fact, almost all of my friends are disabled! I don’t know why, it’s just easier to talk to and interact with disabled people than able-bodied people.

9. She thinks she’s bad for her friends.

When Ben talks to Mal, trying to convince her to go back to Auradon with him, Mal states that she’s a bad influence on him and pushes him away. During a truly heartbreaking moment later in the movie, Mal says to Ben, “I never told you I love you because I thought I wasn’t good enough. And I thought it was only a matter of time before you realized that yourself.” I sometimes find myself thinking in this mindset, occasionally believing that I am just a burden on my friends and that they’d have more fun on trips if they didn’t have to stay with me and make sure I’m OK all the time. I then remind myself that they do this simply because they care about me and want to make sure I’m safe.

10. She has amazing friends who would do anything to help her.

Just like Mal has great friends, I have some of the best friends in the universe. Enough said.

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Photo via Disney.

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