Prince Charming brings Cinderella her glass slipper and turns her into a princess.
Aurora is awoken by Prince Phillip’s kiss, rescued by the depth of his love.
Eugene Fitzherbert guides Rapunzel on a journey, navigating them both through a dangerous world.
Do you see the trend? A male protagonist is a heroic figure; he is handsome, and charming, and typically a white, cis-heterosexual man. The princess, the lead of the story, endures a hard life until he saves her and makes all her dreams come true.
Cue a white wedding at the end, signaling that peak happiness has now been reached; the oh-so-sought-after Happily Ever After.
These are the stories that children are raised on. And why shouldn’t they be, right? Who doesn’t love a good fairy tale?
They are animated, and whimsical, never featuring anything more risqué than a chaste kiss on the mouth. I absolutely see why they pass as quality family entertainment. Beginning with a ‘Once upon a time,‘ and ending with ‘and they all lived happily ever after,‘ these stories inspire a cloud of idealism. They are innocuous and sweet.
I myself grew up watching and loving them, so I understand the question of what harm could possibly they do?
Plenty, in fact.Cue a white wedding at the end, signaling that peak happiness has now been reached Click To Tweet
They perpetuate stereotypes that can be dangerous for our mental health. In 2001, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared that, ‘Children are influenced by media – they learn by observing, imitating, and making behaviors their own.’ This means that children are absorbing ideas and behaviors at an extremely impressionable age. That is why it is so important to reflect carefully on what children learn from the media they are exposed to.
These fairy tales have been distorted through the process of “Disnification” in order to make them more palatable to the common consumer. However, this means that the signature dark and “realistic” style of Brothers Grimm stories was lost.
Instead, stories had romanticism forced upon them. These fantastical tales which had different values altogether were completely changed.These fantastical tales which had different values altogether were completely changed. Click To Tweet
Now? Girls await someone who is tall, dark and handsome. They want to be fair (the fairest of them all, please) and lovely, so they are the prized possession to be rescued. On the other side of the field, boys are groomed to be independent and strong with a Savior Complex. It’s an unrealistic expectation placed on children from such a young age.
The depiction of this kind of life is detrimental. What about reality? Where a person must save themselves, a kiss does not solve your problems, and a wedding does not mark the end of a story.
Where are the examples of individuality and the ambition for young girls?
Where is the allowance for human error, the grit of life, and the acknowledgment of how toxic it is to feel like you need another person to save you because you can’t do it alone?
It disheartens me to think we are lost in the frivolity of antiquated gender roles that are far from the lives people actually want to live.Where are the examples of individuality and ambition for young girls? Click To Tweet
I don’t mean to disregard the fairy tales altogether.
How can I, when I possess a certain sweet-spot for Tangled? I am positive that I can recite the entire film by memory, at this point. Yet my point has never been that there is something inherently wrong with these creations that so many people work tirelessly to make.
It is that enjoying it does not mean that I want to live it, or that I aspire to a fairy tale life. Or that I need to be rescued when I have lived for over two decades saving myself. I am unafraid to enjoy this fiction, because I understand that it is fictitious material, and I am aware of not falling into its myths.
The danger is not in savoring a happy ending; it is in forgetting that a story is a story and that a wedding is not a Happily Ever After. It is the beginning of another story – one that comes with its own hurdles and joys, and even a few sweet kisses along the way.
None of which have to be innocuous at all!