Drinking The Princess Kool-Aid

3 Mar

Since childhood I have loved fairy tales but as commercials for the new “Cinderella” movie air, I find myself nauseated. I anticipate a whole new generation of girls imagining their lives will someday be magically changed by a Prince. When he arrives, their dismal existences will evaporate and they’ll be destined for lives of love and luxury. Finally, the good girls will get their day in the sun. Only these days, the Prince will own an enterprise in Seattle and the Princess will be an undergrad majoring in literature, of course.

Parents around the country either fear the day their daughters drink the princess Kool-Aid or serve it to them. Regardless, if you’re female, you’ve grown up on princess folklore.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in love and happy endings, and fairy tales can serve a valuable function in children’s development. In his psychoanalytic classic, “The Many Uses of Enchantment,” Bruno Bettelheim outlines why fairy tales and folklore help children work out deep intra-psychic conflicts in a safe way their little brains can metabolize. For instance, it’s easier for children to acknowledge witches and dragons as evil than to acknowledge abusive behavior in the adults they rely on. Through fairy tales, children can process difficult feelings without having to own painful realities that they aren’t ready to fully comprehend and digest. Instead of fearing for their survival, they see that the protagonists in fairy tales overcome obstacles and that good is ultimately rewarded. Fairy tales provide hope, which is a valuable evolutionary function.

Yes, fairy tales are delivered in a simple package and with a hopeful message. They are designed that way because they were written for children, not adults. The problem lies not in fairy tales themselves but in the glamorization of them. For instance, Disney’s Barbie doll depictions of mostly white princesses fuels both the sexism and racism machine. The high marketing to girls in the form of toys and accessories leads them to believe that their lives are not complete until a prince arrives. Little boys just don’t buy into all of this hype. They don’t ask to dress up as a prince for Halloween or for their rooms to be decorated like a castle. Surprisingly, there is a big difference between the original fairy tales and Disney’s technicolor versions of them. If you read a collection of Grimm’s “Fairy Tales,” they are not so tame and not every tale ends in marriage. In fact, there are many tales I’d love to see made into a cartoon movie for the sheer drama alone.

What I love about fairy tales is that they remind us that love is wondrous, magical and transformative. Yet as an adult, I know love is far more complex and mysterious than sighting a stranger at a ball. Rather, the path to love is on-going and at times treacherous. In fairy tales, I’m more interested in how the princess holds her head up high even when given a terrible lot and how she does her chores each day with a smile. These are the real gems of fairy tales, not the riding off into the sunset moment. True nobility isn’t delivered with a glass slipper. It comes when you step into your life as the leading lady.

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