Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Cinderella: Part I

Cinderella: Part 1: The Little Mermaid

Growing up freckled and redheaded, I was nearly always compared to either Pippi Longstocking or Harriet from the TV show, Small Wonder. (Remember the show with the robot girl and Harriet, the horrible red-haired freckled neighbor?) These were not favorable comparisons. So when Disney’s The Little Mermaid came out, I was thrilled. I watched it over and over again. My brother collected all the McDonald’s Ariel rubber figurines and gave them to me for Christmas in a shoe box. It was my favorite present that year. I even remember coloring a Little Mermaid coloring book while I watched the movie. (Keep in mind that I was still doing this at age 15.) Seeing a character like Ariel made me think that being a redhead and being beautiful might not be mutually exclusive propositions. That was a big deal at 15.

Fast forward a decade or so: My oldest sister told me that she had recently banned The Little Mermaid from her house. I was shocked. She’s a redhead like me. Didn’t she feel the same kinship with a fellow ginger character?

I can’t remember her exact words, but when she explained why, it went something like this: “My nine year old is defiant enough. The last thing she needs to see is a rebellious sixteen year-old in a bikini.”

There it went in those few words--my love of all things Ariel was shattered. I had never thought about The Little Mermaid as anything more than a story about a pretty redhead. But I had no girls to raise then, just a truck-loving boy. I quickly saw the wisdom of my sister, the mother of a daughter. Since then, I have not been able to look at a single fairytale (with redheads or without), except through the eyes of a mother. And I am a mother who wants her children, daughters especially, to have good examples of virtuous, strong, capable, smart women.

So, about a year and a half ago, when my baby girl was given a blanket with a picture of Ariel on it, I thanked the giver politely and promptly sent the bikini-clad blanket on to Goodwill. I wasn’t going to begin sending mixed messages about modesty and sexual display before my child could even talk!

I felt a little self-conscious about taking such a strong stance so early on, especially because it felt like a very feminist thing to do (and I am not really a feminist). But the more fairytales I’ve read, the more convinced I’ve become that these stories about pretty girls are not benign and we should be careful of them, whether they come with pretty redheads or not.

Tune in next time for Cinderella: Part II: Cinderella


Karen said...

I find a VAST difference between authentic fairy tales and the far less virtuous Disney versions. I believe real fairy tales are classics full of profound and meaningful lessons, and generally lack bikinis too!

dubby said...

Little Red Riding Hood was just obeying her mom and almost got eaten by the wolf. Cinderella was talking to a perfect stranger, certainly against her parents' wishes, and makes it look like work as a bad thing. (And what kid doesn't think their work load is too much?) Snow White moves in with SEVEN men, unmarried - even if they were short. Goldilocks just walks into an unlocked house, eats food that isn't hers, and breaks a chair? So tell me a story that has totally good morals?

Urban Tangerine said...

Sorry to spoil it. I always tell my girls a little literacy would have gone a long way for Ariel, even if she could have drawn pictographs. I loved A Bug's Life and the quote my kids brought home from that was, "Turn your butt off." It is hard to find totally clean stories, but we at least try to get the good guys behaving as good guys, acknowledging that bad is bad, and be mindful of what we let them memorize.
I actually use fairy tales as a jumping off point for discussions about good morals. Often we retell what SHOULD have happened, so they are instructional.

Old Man With a radio transmitter in his car said...

No updates for a while, eh? Just like me!

Jenny said...

Hello. I'm back from my trip and finally got your blog address and my computer in the same room. Superhuman feat I'm telling you.
I love video purges. I have about twenty in a box right now just waiting to be hauled out. My kids joke about how movies mysteriously disappear around here.