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Ableism in PLL Season 2

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  • Ableism in PLL Season 2

    content warning: ableism, institutionalization, mental illness - if you are mentally ill, this post might be quite upsetting, so decide accordingly


    My name is Luna and I live with several life-threatening mental illnesses* along with other disabilities not relevant at the moment.

    And I woke up this morning to a picture of 4 pretty girls in straitjackets.

    *Don't worry. I'm on medication and have made serious lifestyle changes to keep it under control. I will likely survive to full adulthood.

    When I saw it, I got a tight, knotted feeling in my stomach. I tried to ignore it, but it just got worse and worse. I feel hurt, anxious, and at risk for one of those mental health downward spirals I work really hard to avoid.

    I clicked on the story despite my strong sense of foreboding, and the first 5 chapters didn't have any ableism.

    Because... it's not fun to see your disability, or your internal struggles, sensationalized to get readers' interest. I'm lucky enough never to have been institutionalized so far, but I know people who have been, or nearly were. Some of those people are very close to me. (If my life goes badly, that COULD be me.) People with mental illnesses are real people with real feelings. So it hurts to see our experiences used as a clever picture idea to get more readers.

    I'm also worried about readers who might have been institutionalized or have had bad experiences related to institutionalization. This picture could be triggering to them.

    Also, the flashing lights may cause problems for readers with disabilities like photosensitivity or epilepsy!

    (I'm bolding this in the hopes that people with those disabilities read it so they know to stay safe!)

    I've seen Episode make big strides towards including PoC, LGBT+ people, and religious minorities. I think that Episode could be a warm, welcoming community for readers and writers with disabilities. But right now, we are ignored. And the message that the PLL Season 2 cover (and flashing lights) sends is that maybe we are not welcome or wanted here.

    Maybe that is not the message you want to send. Maybe you want Episode to be a good place for all of us. I would like that too. I am an unofficial expert on disability and would be happy to talk and share ideas for helping Episode be the best it can be. Because I think this could be an incredible community for readers with disabilities.

    Please think of us and our feelings, and be considerate in the messages you send.


    tl;dr Please think about a more sensitive cover; institutionalization isn't edgy or funny. And removal of the flashing lights, or an option to read the story with no flashing lights, would make it accessible and safe for all readers.

    Update: The flashing lights issue has been fixed, but I'm told the cover is here to stay.
    Last edited by MissLunaRose; 07-09-2017, 01:21 PM. Reason: Updated based on the news

  • #2
    Thank you for posting, Luna. Though I haven't read the story, the use of straightjackets immediately turned me off due to, as you worded it perfectly, its obvious sensationalism. The romanticization of mental illnesses and disabilities leaves a sour taste in everyone's mouth and shouldn't be used for the sake of 'appeal'. It's necessary that Episode takes the inclusion of those with disabilities and mental illnesses seriously, which includes tastefully portraying characters, stories, and artwork in a way that is inoffensive and considerate to those living those realities.
    Last edited by episodeLB; 06-24-2017, 06:58 AM.


    • MissLunaRose
      MissLunaRose commented
      Editing a comment
      Yes, thank you, LB.

      Last night I learned that a family member, someone I hold dear to my heart, came very close to being institutionalized. (My dad was helping me with this post and he mentioned it. He thought I knew, because I was there when everything happened. But I was too scared and confused to have any idea what was going on; everything in that hospital was a blur.) Luckily, my dad said no, and the person got treatment that ended the episode. But it's scary to think how much this person and the rest of our family could have gone through, on top of what already happened.

      The week or two when all this went down was an absolute nightmare. I remember my little sister, who usually draws out princesses and characters, drawing snakes eating houses. I can't even imagine how hard it was for the family member who had the illness. It's not fun to see my family's horror story portrayed as a gimmick to get reads.

      Three years later, I'm still trying to process everything.

      Thank you for supporting me, LB. You are so smart and unafraid to speak up, and you are a really nice person too.

  • #3
    Update: I talked to a very nice person at the help desk, Lisa, who said she will be showing this to the team.


    • #4
      Hello MissLunaRose,

      I found your post as I was doing my updates, and found this extremely helpful for the team. I passed it along last night and was able to show them exactly what you meant with the flashing lights.

      We are still learning, and having a community that cares so deeply, is very encouraging. We appreciate you taking your time to educate us on this matter, and we've made it a task to fix it.

      Thank you!



      • MissLunaRose
        MissLunaRose commented
        Editing a comment

        I understand where you're coming from.

        It's hard to feel that Episode strives to be a disability-inclusive place when I don't see much evidence of this. When people talk about inclusivity, they might tack on disability to their list of things, but that rarely translates to action.
        ~ Is Episode going to consider allowing disability options (e.g. hearing aids as accessories, wheelchair overlays)? I was so excited to see the new hair types and outfits for racial, ethnic, and religious diversity. Could a disability update happen in the future?
        ~ Would there be an option for users to hide the banner depicting institutionalization? This could be a trauma trigger for some users. And I cringe every time I see it. It's making me avoid the app...
        ~ How do I know this type of thing won't happen again?

        I really enjoy writing on Episode and interacting with its lovely community. But I don't want to stay at a place that uses disability for shock value and further stigmatizes people like me... so I'm really not sure what to do here. Is Episode going to do better? Are future images going to be more sensitive?

        I need to know this because it's important to my mental health, and my decision about whether I will continue writing on Episode or take my work elsewhere.

        I'm so tired of being an afterthought at best, and the sad part is, that's how life is pretty much in pretty much every community. I don't know where I'd go. I'm so, so tired and I wish I didn't have to live in this world anymore.

      • Trinady
        Trinady commented
        Editing a comment
        Miss Luna,

        I cannot speak further on the PLL banner, as said in my above comment.

        However, what I can say re:inlcusive assets is that there is a huge queue of items that we are working through to be made and released. As stated in a previous asset release post: This is only the beginning. Please be patient.

        Thank you.


      • MissLunaRose
        MissLunaRose commented
        Editing a comment

        I understand and I'm really looking forward to the new assets, whenever they are ready.

        I am working on a post with some ideas for what disability assets could look like, in case it is helpful to the artist. I know how to draw and could literally draw some of them if that is of any interest.

        Dad said that the last thing I said might have scared you a little. Please don't worry about it. I just get really bad depressive episodes sometimes and I say kind of weird things I don't truly think about acting on. And I have good people to talk to during those rough times.

    • #5
      Within the context of the TV series, this cover does make sense. There are other sensationalized promotional photos for the TV series similar to this (the girls in orange jumpsuits, the girls carrying a casket, etc.) but they all reflect events in the series. So I think this cover was created with a similar aesthetic in mind.

      ​​​​During the series, two of the main characters are actually institutionalized, and throughout the series the institution itself plays a large part in the over arching plot. The girls suffer some serious PTSD, have mental breaks, go to therapy, etc.
      I know the Episode story is not the TV series, but there are a lot of things that are very similar, and the driving force of the story is the same. Maybe this season 2 will address the mental health of the girls.

      I guess what I'm saying is that while this cover might not be in the best taste, it is not without context.

      (I also do not mean to be insensitive and apologize if it comes off that way. I have dealt with mental health issues for more than 20 years of my life, have been close to being institutionalized, and had someone very close to me who suffered from bipolar disorder who had been institutionalized. It's not something I take lightly.)


      • MissLunaRose
        MissLunaRose commented
        Editing a comment
        I understand what you're saying. Pretty Little Liars has dealt with mental health issues in the past (although usually not very well; there's a lot of stigmatization of people with mental illnesses in the show).

        I would like to hope that Episode can do better in making people with all types of disabilities, including psychiatric disabilities, feel welcome, included, and valued. PLL often portrayed mental illness as something scary or bad, such as how Mona, Bethany, and Charlotte all came from Radley and all did terrible things to other people. I'd like to hope that Episode can be more forward-thinking and send more positive messages than the original PLL show.

        I'm really sorry to hear that you and your loved one have gone through so much. I hope things are getting better for the both of you.

    • #6
      MissLunaRose thank you for posting this. While I'm a little late to the show, I truly appreciate everything you've said.

      Trinady I'll be honest, I've not watch PLL the show (but have heard tons about it, if that makes any difference) and I only read the first bit of the first story. I haven't read this new book because of the imagery on the cover. In addition to your concerns about representation of ableism and flashing lights,I am also concerned about the sensational way straight jackets and "mental institutions" are portrayed in the image. It is my understanding that PLL the show also demonstrates this sensationalized and disrespectful concept of treatment for mental illness and/or disability. My concern is also that Episode is bound to a contract with PLL and due to the way these topics are represented (mis-represented, or not even represented at all) in the show, Episode may also wind up perpetuating the same harm caused by a popular TV show geared towards a young adult audience.

      I didn't watch the show before I knew what was in it, now I choose not to watch it due to the images I've seen and what I have been told about the plot. I don't plan to read this story and worry about the messages these images send and perhaps even the plot, if it does reflect what is in the TV show. I am surely not saying that "Episode just can't control this" though I am saying, I am concerned that this is bigger than users simply asking the team to address and sensitive issue around diversity due to the scale of a contract with the PLL franchise. And to me, that is extremely unfortunate.

      I hope I'm wrong. Financial and contractual implications shouldn't impact the way the team portrays mental illness or disability. While I'd personally much rather support a company that dares to maintain integrity (Ahem, Choices....), the world of competitive business often does not.


      • MissLunaRose
        MissLunaRose commented
        Editing a comment
        Thank you. I really appreciate what you've said. I was having really severe depressive episodes at the time (that's done for now, thank goodness) and it made it so hard to communicate, especially with so much eloquence as you do.

    • #7
      Thank you for writing about this. I read the first season of PLL and found it alright, but when I saw the straitjackets on the cover of Season 2 I was horrified. My little sister is disabled, as she is profoundly deaf and needs cochlear implants to hear. When she operated, it was very hard on all of us and even afterwards, when she had to get used to hearing. She also has problems with balance, running, etc., which doesn't let her progress as quickly physically as most kids her age. She goes to therapy to help her learn to run, jump and balance and she also goes to help her learn to speak and identify noises. I have started a post asking for cochlear implants and hearing aids on Episode; I want to write a story about a deaf girl with cochlear implants but cannot because Episode isn't providing the resources needed. It is heartbreaking for me because I can't see my little sister and other like her represented anywhere on Episode; if it hurts so much for me, imagine how much it hurts for those with cochlear implants and hearing aids on Episode? To never see someone like them on the app they love and in the stories they love? Like you said, I want Episode to consider disability options. People with disabilities are people too, and just because my little sister can't hear as well as you and me doesn't mean she isn't as good as you and me. She should be able to be represented on Episode as much as the straight white girl is. I get so sad when I think about it.

      I LOVE that Episode is working so hard on diversity and inclusion regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. But what about the disabled people? Besides @MissLunaRose's "Dream Job: Silent Voice" and "The Cardboard House", I see very few stories with characters with disabilities. Often, this is not because the authors don't want to write them but because we don't have the resources. With cochlear implants and hearing aids added, more people could feel including in our community.

      Thank you.


      • #8
        I feel like Episode doesn't take into consideration that not all people in life are perfect. Not everyone has a great skin complexion. Not everyone can walk. Not everyone functions like the people they create do. And it may be very hard for the team to keep up with this, but they advertise themselves as a community where everyone is accepted. I am lucky enough to have never had any mental or physical troubles, so Episode has tried hard to represent the type of diversity that I fall into. But diversity isn't diversity if you don't include everyone. My older brother has a learning disability; it includes a speech impediment and the inability to read and comprehend at the expected level for his age. While this type of disability can be depicted in Episode, it's very hard to include other ones. Physical disabilities are barely short of impossible to display through Episode's styles. I've tried to create a main character to have Quadriplegia, but we aren't allowed wheelchairs. So the best I could have done was to use what you did in your story for Claire with her phone. But that is only one part of this type of disability. After I tried it, I just realized that it's so hard for us to include diversity in this field even though Episode seems to encourage it.

        As for the PLL2 cover, yeah, I guess some people could argue that they do have mental issues in the show, but this is not known by everyone, and even if it was, the cover art could be very triggering to those who may have had involvement with straitjackets in the past. I also think it's insensitive that they all look like they're posing to look pretty (especially Aria). And also not to mention that someone here also said that this institution is used as a big setting for the story, which also implies that is in fact just part of the plot to attract readers. Like you said, Luna, I'm sure this isn't what Episode intended, but this is what it came across as. That being said, I am glad that someone is taking charge in changing the art. I can see Episode is trying to make a change.


        • #9
          Though I didn't have any problems with the cover, I do agree that Episode needs to be more considerate. One thing that really annoys me, is how there isn't a single DIVERSE item in Episode (excluding the Sari's and hair options). We have no freckles, pimples, different body sizes, wheelchairs, prostetics... And like AbbyGG said, they encourage us to make diverse stories or to add diversity, but how can we even do that without any of these? Not everyone is all picture perfect, carefree, and 100% flawless.
          Last edited by GiGi is Me; 07-17-2017, 03:09 PM.


        • #10
          I'm very happy to see physical & mental disabilities brought up again, and again because that creates a larger push for us to do something about it. I've passed along the sentiments.

          Re: Disability asset pieces -- I stated above that there is so much more in our queue to get out that we've barely scratched the surface of what we're planning on releasing.

          Re: Different body sizes -- We're working on an easier way to do this. Think of it as a "new style" of sorts. When we want to make a new body size/shape we need to make a whole new set of characters, assets, and rigs to allow for that new body to work. It's a long time coming, but I promise you we're looking into it.


          • MissLunaRose
            MissLunaRose commented
            Editing a comment
            It's really nice to see you caring and working on this. Especially even a month after it was first brought up. Seeing your message made me smile and feel hopeful.

            Honestly, I'm feeling really conflicted about Episode right now, especially with the Sore Loser fiasco, and the message it sends to young readers and survivors. I don't think I need to explain why I am so deeply disturbed; I'm sure you have already heard plenty of concerns from other thoughtful people.

            I'd like to hope that the spirit of respect, caring, and inclusion that I see in your comment will be reflected more in Episode's general actions; it would give me a lot of hope and reason to keep writing here.