“Cinderella’s sparkly crystal shoes make even the stars go dim,
The delicate layers of silk from Belle’s beautiful gown make me want my own,
And wings like Tinker Bell to fly me to ‘Once upon a time in faraway land…”
I wanted all this when I was a little girl. Though not rhyming (at all) this was my anthem. I always wanted to dress up like a princess everywhere I go. It made me feel special. And I thought this is the outfit I am going to wear my entire life. As my days of Hakuna Matata passed by, my favorite outfit started looking different as I could spot some (loop) holes in my dress. I tried to ignore them and carry on with my life but my conscience just wouldn’t let me be!
Animated movies were my childhood and I still enjoy the movies to the fullest. I do have a collection of must-watch anime movies with me. But, there are blunders in some of the movies which I think need to be scrutinized. The simplicity of the movies sometimes convey the stereotypes easily to the kids. For instance, the conventions get imposed so seamlessly that you don’t even understand what just happened when your kid says, ‘I am going to be the knight in shining armor and rescue the trapped princess.” There you exchange glances but the damage has been done. You can already see your kid posing to fight while his friend is acting to be trapped. A playdate that made you regret why you made your child watch such a movie just to make him sit still for some time.
It was not just entertainment, was it?
Now the question is,
‘Damsel in Distress,’ ‘Prince Charming,’ ‘Knight in Shining Armour,’ ‘One True King,’ etc. are a few words which introduce unwanted conventions in the minds of kids. For tiny tots, cartoon characters are not just entertainment, they get inspired. The brain of a child gets confused between animation vs. reality and in this process, they tend to look up to their favorite cartoon characters. They start accepting the behavior of the characters.
The Lion King
For example, the recently released Lion King is gaining a lot of popularity for its impeccable animation but the classic storyline is crippled in regression at some places. There is a scene in the movie where Nala comes to persuade Simba to come back and rescue his subjects. She reminds him that he is the true king and without him, the kingdom would be doomed.
While in the pride lands, it is shown that around five lionesses are living a suppressed life under the reign of Scar, the evil king. The lionesses do not even try once to fight back the king and his pack of laughing hyenas and take charge of the kingdom. Instead, they just sit frightened waiting for Simba to rescue them. But when Simba returns and challenges Scar, the lionesses suddenly join the battle with full force and fierce and you wonder how far can regression go?
What would a kid learn from this scene? The answer is quite clear and sad.
This timeless classic doesn’t have any place for Sarabi (Simba’s mother) in parenting her child. All the life’s lessons are taught by his father making him understand the fact he is going to be the king, the rescuer of all. I think when Princess Rapunzel made a comeback in Tangled, she was changed. The storyline progressed with time and she was shown as a strong princess who was not just with all things pretty and in distress. Tangled did bash some stereotypes, then why hasn’t the roaring lion moved on from the past?
There are many other movies and TV cartoons that have shaped their stories on the lines of patriarchy and suppression of women. For example, in Little Mermaid, it is shown that Ariel is ready to give up her beautiful voice for her legs just to be with the prince. Or when Aurora has no chance to live if not rescued by some prince she didn’t even know. Till then she just has to give up on living. Furthermore, take an example of Cinderella who gives us a strong message of ‘be kind and courageous’ with the background of suppression and waiting for the perfectly chiseled prince charming.
Moreover, such animated movies and the appearance of Disney princesses has affected the perception of beauty in society. The princess who is good at heart and generous is always shown with beautiful eyes, rosy lips, pretty nose and of course a perfectly toned body. Everything sugar and nice! On the flip side, the antagonist females are shown with a pointy nose, excessive obsession with dark colors and heavy makeup. As you know Ursula is sketched opposite of how Ariel looks. So has been Maleficent. Kids start differentiating people with respect to looks because of such portrayal of good and bad. They start judging.
When little girls watch such movies, they certainly imagine themselves in the outline of Ariel and when there is even an inch more, it affects their confidence. This leads to problems like eating disorders, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, etc. while growing up. Childhood thinking is the foundation of an adult brain. Any imbalance back then can create unstoppable storms in adulthood.
These days, we face problems like PCOS, which leads to many physical complications and due to the beauty conceptions of society, girls are not able to tackle those. Sometimes even a small freckle or pimple can freak us out. This affects self-esteem for real and girls end up not seeing themselves how beautiful they are. It’s worthless chasing such pseudo beauty standards. In most of the cases, the concept of Prince Charming becomes so overwhelming that it takes the place of love.
Size 4 is beautiful while size 12 makes you freak out, giving nightmares and persuading you to take on all the available diet plans Google can offer.
The good side of the coin is that not all animated movies are like that. There are a bunch of movies like Ratatouille, Shrek, Frozen, Brave, Kung Fu Panda, Tangled, Mulan, Ice Age, and many others giving a good message without any conventions to pass on. We take our children for movies night and read a fairy-tales at night. We want our kids to have a great childhood, that’s all fine. But, we fail to understand that while watching a movie or listening to a story, a child not only gets entertained but is continuously learning. Learning doesn’t only happen in schools, the child learns from whatever he or she sees and listens. It is important that we choose appropriate animated movies and stories to mold a child’s brain in the correct way devoid of stereotypes.
“If you keep believing, the dream you wish will come true”
I still believe in magic. I believe in being kind and courageous. Animated movies and the characters have taught me some important life lessons. The whole point lies in sending across powerful messages among the children without the shadows of stereotypes and regression.
A blue eye shadow won’t make you evil and wanting to be like a princess doesn’t mean you are feeble. It is the responsibility of every parent to think about such topics which are so simple yet darn complicated.