What happens after happily ever after?
Why I never became a princess.
Posted February 22, 2010
My Little Mermaid vhs finally broke. I got it in second grade, almost two decades ago, and finally managed to destroy its precious contents after my thousandth viewing.
I remember watching little Ariel every single day after school for about a month, singing along to all her solos and mesmerized by her bravery and innovation with silverware, before my parents began to suspect that I had mental problems or early onset Alzheimer's.
What's funny is that while I was growing up, I learned that I wasn't the only person to engage in this Disney-centric behavior. My best friends were also equally obsessed with the copper-haired mermaid and living "under the sea."
A boyfriend and I used to sing Ariel's "Part of Your World" together. I didn't even have to teach him the words. He already knew. At this point, I was pretty sure he was my soul mate.
There is no doubt that I invested myriad hours watching Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, Aurora and even stupid little Snow White as they shaped my life and perspective in ways that have still yet to be fully revealed.
But there are some theories...
My friend said to me this weekend, "Nothing has been worse for women than Disney fairytales." Why? Because Disney fairytales (at least the old ones that I grew up with) teach you that Prince Charming is on the way and you really don't need to do anything with your life but wait for him, because he is going to rescue you, and baby, when he rescues you--- then you'll have a reason to live. Hooray!
In a nutshell, this is what "true love" is made out of and that's basically the story of Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid.
Jeff Brunner came up with an interesting profile of the Disney princess mindset, while another budding sociologist created an equally damaging one for Disney princes. Basically, women just need to concentrate on being beautiful, while men need looks, charm, and lots of money (or in Aladdin's case, just look wealthy).
Blaming fairy tales for sexism and anti-feminist themes is nothing new. Just Google search it and began the proverbial eye-roll. Personally, I never watched Sleeping Beauty and wanted to be her. She was comatose the entire freaking film! How did she go to the bathroom?
I always wanted to be the green fairy, Fauna. As much as I like a good nap, I'm more partial to magical powers. I will admit however, I did want to be Ariel, single-white- female style. I used to brush my hair with a fork. People assumed I was poor and "slow." It was sad.
But my friend got me thinking. Had those cliché animated romances prepared me for a life of waiting for the impossible happy ending? And what is the happy ending anyway?
Every Disney movie ends with the lovers finally reuniting and strolling off, hand in hand, into the sunset. Always sunset. They gaze at each other longingly and usually get married, even though they've known each other for all of three days.
Clearly, they are the victims of unusually high oxytocin and vasopressin levels.
But what happens after the happy ending?
Photographer Dina Goldstein found out:
"These works place Fairy Tale characters in modern day scenarios. In all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The ‘...happily ever after' is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues... Disney's perfect Princesses [are] juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me, such as illness, addiction and self-image issues."
It's funny to me that I never thought about what happened to my beloved princesses after the hour-and-a-half spent in the darkened movie theater with them.
Not to say that Goldstein's word is the final one. Just as her photographs reflect current issues, Disney films touch on themes of their corresponding eras.
A half century ago, women were unfortunately limited to the housewife lifestyle that Snow White and Cinderella found themselves in. But Disney slowly managed to progress with the epoch.
Despite her flaws, Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991) liked to read books. She was practically in Mensa compared to the Little Mermaid who came out just two years prior.
In 1998, Disney's Mulan was the first princess to actually exercise some gumption. Based on a Chinese legend, the character was a great warrior who nearly single-handedly saved the emperor.
Another interesting thought-in many Disney films, the older female, particular an evil stepmother, is always a princess's nemesis. Perhaps this trend reflects in today's ageist culture where older women feel threatened by their nubile youthful counterparts? And vice versa? This animosity between women may be just as damaging to girls as the notion of "being rescued." After all, we are all on the same non y-chromosome team, right?
Though the repercussions of Disney films may be psychologically damaging to some, I think they ultimate promulgate the message: Love is all you need. This is not very different from the message of the Beatles, the greatest band in history. And who can really argue with The Beatles?
If you can get love from your very own prince charming, great! (though highly unlikely) If you can get it from your God or God-spelled-backwards-Dog, awesome! If you can get it from a significant other that happens to know all the words to your favorite Disney song, lovely!
It really doesn't matter where love comes from, but it will give you some sort of happy beginning. Fair?
I don't think Disney was as nefarious as it's been portrayed. I didn't really believe everything in those films. Eventually, I figured out that no matter how long and hard I talked to a hermit crab, it would never talk back.
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