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