Welcome to the fairytale fallacy – brought to us by princesses and Hollywood.
Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there lived a beautiful princess. She was kind, funny, and intelligent, but had one fatal flaw–she was waiting for her prince to come and complete her life. Fast forward through dozens of Disney movies, to a land not so far away, where women across the planet are still waiting for a prince on a white horse, and Hollywood enters where fairy-tales leave off.
What have fairy tales and romantic comedies done to us?
Researchers at Heriot-Wat University said in 2008 that top-grossing romantic comedies and popular magazines damage our love lives. Dr. Bjarne Holmes stated “the problem is that while most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some of us are still more influenced by media portrayals than we realize.”
We need to be aware of the stories we read and tell. Per-haps more importantly, we have to be acutely aware of what we are internalizing from these stories and how we let them define us and our relationships.
What do we learn from fairy tales? Stepmothers are wickedly evil? Princes are charming? Princesses are beautiful (and all seem to have great singing voices)?Most mean people are ugly? Kiss frogs: they may turn into princes? Happily ever after awaits you once you find your prince?
Yikes!Where is the empowered woman?Where is the equality? These are highly loaded messages I’d like my daughter to sidestep. My experiences and stories contradict these–and I try to explain my stories to her.
My stepmother is a delightful human being. I know lots of pretty/handsome, mean people. People don’t fundamentally change, especially from frogs into princes. And I’m only scratching the surface.
Cinderella was enslaved by her ugly stepsisters and stepmother. If she had two wits to rub together, she should have left, on her own will, not waited for a prince to rescue her. Snow White also served her wicked stepmother, and who knows how long she would have stayed had it not been for the hunter who drove her away into the woods.
Later, Snow White is poisoned and awakens with a kiss from a prince (not unlike Sleeping Beauty).
While I respect the idea that one kiss can change your life, and perhaps even give you life, this is not where the story ends. “Happily ever after” involves a
lot of work and difficult conversations.
Luckily, there are some decent “princess tales” likePocahontas and Mulan: tales of strength and independence, with a healthy dose of romance and promise. Yes, there are love interests, but happiness for these women is not tied to being carried away on white steeds as “the end” is written in puffy clouds in the sunset.
In between the more traditional tales, I have managed to pepper my daughter’s bedtime fare with solid messaging like The Paper Bag Princess and Clever Beatrice.Both are intelligent girls who outsmart a dragon and giant respectively. There is no love interest for Clever Beatrice.
And the Paper Bag Princess, saves her prince, who was taken away by a dragon, but he tells her to come back when she is clean and pretty, whereupon she leaves him and skips off into the sunset.
When I can’t convince my daughter to read anything other than the traditional princess tales, I remind her that the princesses don’t need princes to solve their problems . . . just like Clever Beatrice.
As we age, and the fairy tales and princess movies start to collect dust on our shelves, fair damsels need not fear, Hollywood is there to save us with the romantic comedy. Hugely popular movies like Jerry Maguire have the leading man say to his gal, “You complete me.”
I don’t want to hear, “You complete me.” That implies that someone is not whole. To me, “You complete me,” is a huge red flag, not an anthem of love, as two halves of a whole just means co-dependence.
I prefer what Melvin Udall said in As Good as it Gets:”You make me want to be a better man.” Or in My Big Fat Greek Wedding,Ian Miller says, “I love you.” Toula replies, “Why?” He says, “Because I came alive when I met you.” Both imply nothing more than a happier state of existence because that person is in the world with you.
I did read fairy tales. I watched the romantic comedies. My idea of relationship perfection was influenced by what I saw on the silver screen. So, according to Dr. Holmes, I’m right on track.
Now, I must choose the stories I tell to my daughter and to myself. I think I’ll simply say: “We are both princesses, and we don’t need saving.”