Fairy tales are all well and good, and we all want our kids to enjoy them. We love to see that glint in their eyes as they turn the page to the next part of the story. We love watching them twirl in their dress-up clothes. Crowns, flouncy dresses and anything that sparkles or glitters.
Sounds like fairy tales run amok. Yet the thing is, I grew up with these fairy tales and cartoons. I have been a Disney girl myself since I can remember. I knew (and still know) most of the words to the movies and feel nostalgic whenever I hear their soundtracks. That is why I totally understand how girls are really into princesses. So I get it. I do. I loved them too.
But as I’ve grown into the young adult that I am, I’ve done some analyzing of my own on the meanings, the lessons, the metaphors, the irony, the humor, and even the hidden characters from different movies or fairy tales. I have come to realize that not a single one of those fairy tales are true. In fact, some have a dark side. They are the biggest deceivers of them all.
And the mere thought of any kid reading these stories or watching these movies makes me question myself, in horror, “What are these stories teaching little kids?”
So instead of banning them from ever reading or watching them, let us read them a brand new version of these antiquated fairy tales with a twist into reality.
And since there’s no mistaking that the princess obsession takes over almost every girl I’ve known, I need to get a few things off my chest first; things I didn’t notice as a kid! And when any of these girls ask me questions about these stories and why the characters behaved as they did, I’m going to answer with a dose of reality.
So here are the kind of fairy tales I wish I could tell my future children, to name but a few; fairy tales about women with real flaws, challenges and dreams (other than looking pretty and winning the prince’s heart); immense amounts of courage; sheer independence and considerable freedom.
I’m going to tell them about the naive little girl Red Riding Hood who should have never stopped to speak to any forest creature. Reaching her grandmother’s house, she should have taken just in time an axe to protect herself from the big bad wolf.
I wish I could tell them about how Snow White would have been killed had she not busted out some mad wilderness self-defense skills from her father’s soldiers to protect herself when her crazy stepmother hires someone to kill her.
And about how Cinderella did not let her step mother get away with treating her like she was a servant in her own home, instead she visited the best lawyer in town and got the witch and both her girls thrown out, all on her own. I also wish I could teach them about how wrong Cinderella was to let her only dream is to look pretty so a man will fall in love with her.
I’m going to teach them about how wrong Alice (Alice in Wonderland) was for going into Wonderland so completely unprepared, drinking potions that could be poison, and eating cakes that could have killed her then and there.
In fact, I could probably keep going, because there is just so much to say. It’s our job to show our girls, as well as we can, the beauties and challenges of this world:
Golden hair, dainty feet, or “skin white as snow” is not what makes you beautiful: As a young girl, I was being molded into believing that girls should look like Disney princesses. But I wish all girls know that being physically beautiful means different things to different people, but the beauty of character, the more important, valuable and timeless beauty, is universal.
While I’m glad that nowadays we get to see some different representations of physical beauty in the newer Disney heroines, l want girls to know that there’s one overarching thing that eclipses their skin color, hair, or body type. Moana’s real beauty comes from her courage and determination. Princess Tiana’s beauty comes from her confidence and perseverance. Princess Elsa’s beauty comes from her loyalty and (eventual) wholehearted acceptance of who she really is.
Don’t change who you are to be loved: Ariel (The Little Mermaid) traded in her mermaid tail for a pair of legs at the expense of her ability to properly communicate, in addition to her entire family. I know she loved Prince Eric, but I’d like to think that if it was true love, surely Eric still would’ve loved her back, without her having to give up so very much of herself.
However, Princess Anna and Kristoff in Frozen were polar opposites, in many ways. They came from different walks of life. They irritated each other at the start, too, but she was the truest version of herself with him. He accepted and loved her as she was—I daresay because she was true to her authentic self.
When you love someone, and indeed when someone loves you, you accept and love them her as they are. That love needs to include what differentiates you, what makes you unique. I actually think that it’s through those differences, those challenges to our own characters or opinions, that we grow— individually and as a couple.
Have the courage to stand up for yourself because you are worthy of respect: Belle who is a great example of kindness, grace, compassion and selflessness—especially when faced with disrespect and cruelty from others. But I’d like to think that she shouldn’t have fallen in love with the beast. Yes, be kind. Yes, be compassionate. But if someone treats you unkindly, while sometimes it’s okay to forgive them and move on, do not accept this as a pattern in any of your relationships—even, or maybe especially—if it is someone you love. Don’t make excuses for their behavior. Call it when you see it. You have to dig deep, find that courage, and stand up for yourself.
You have to set boundaries: I’m going to teach them about how Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) screamed for help instead of wept in relief when the Prince tried to kiss her in her sleep because consent and boundaries are the most important thing. I’d like to think that girls don’t just wait to be saved by a man.
If you keep on believing, your dreams—well, they might come true: Of course, believing in yourself and your aspirations is absolutely crucial. But you also need to be proactive, take risks and make things happen.
The greatest lies that parents have been telling their daughters from when they are so very small are to always be sugar and spice and to play dumb and nice to get a prince, just like Cinderella to win her prince. But you shouldn’t wait for the Fairy Godmother with her magic wand to make all your dreams come true (not to mention that you shouldn’t limit all your dreams to only chasing a guy). You have to work really, really hard. Sometimes you have to fail once, twice, or 4,293 times until you get there. Sometimes, you have to change course completely because what you thought was your dream is actually a stepping stone that leads you elsewhere.
On that note, ‘happily ever after’ is not really an ending: When you find your partner in life, and decide to commit to one another—honey, that is just the beginning. Part of the beauty of falling in love is that actually, you get to fall in love with several versions of that person. We all grow and evolve over time. So we can’t expect the person we love to always remain who they were when our love first began. It’s not always easy. They’re not always adorable. Some versions are harder to love than others. But through that evolution, together, you will find new and sometimes unexpected reasons to keep falling in love with each other. Those less than “happy” times are often the ones that bring you closer to each other, funnily enough.
No one is inherently a “bad guy”: Gaston, Cinderella’s and Snow White’s stepmothers, and many others—every story has a villain, right? The bad guy. But in the same way that we never tell our children that they’re “bad” or “naughty,” these characters are not inherently bad or naughty, either.
We are all capable of making bad choices. We can all succumb to our lower nature and fail to rise up and better ourselves. And that applies to absolutely everyone. No one is, by default, a “bad guy” or a “good guy.” It just doesn’t work that way. I know that these characters behaved in some reprehensible ways, but in real life, it’s just not that cut and dry. People change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Each person has their own journey and no one is entitled to judge another.
No one is as perfect as Disney Princes: Disney movies have raised women’s expectations in real life relationships; our expectations that we have for men we want to marry, regarding how we should be treated, what unexpected surprises we’d like for them to do, and how we’d like for them to show their love for us. I know for a fact that in no way are we doing it on purpose, but subconsciously we are projecting what we want from them based on what we’ve seen and witnessed in Disney. The romance, the sweetness, and the unrealistic perfectness of these love stories make it all seem too good to not want. Of course we don’t purposefully tell our significant others that we want them to be just like Disney princes, but we do somehow make it known by knowing how well Disney paints the picture for their perfect characters.
These are few real-life fairy tales that prepare our daughters for reality. What kind of lessons would they learn if we told them waiting to be saved, being irresponsible and ‘having an adventure’ were more important than being a good, strong, sensible human being? What kind of women would they become if we let them believe that their dreams could magically and effortlessly come true, or that their dream partners could only fall for their perfect looks and naively kind nature? What kind of parents would we be if we let them think such behavior wouldn’t lead them to be taken for granted, taken advantage of, or a much worse fate that we cannot see?
So let us raise girls who could grow up to be anything they want to be. Let us raise girls who could become the strongest of the strong, the strangest of the strange, the wildest of the wild, and the wolf leading the wolves. Let us raise girls who don’t just wait to be rescued by anyone, but take their destiny in their own hands, pick up swords and weapons of their own and charge to battle dragons and their enemies.