Fairy tales gone bad

Once upon a time, beyond seven mountains and seven forests, lived a poor, sad girl. All of her relatives were dead, and her stepfamily was mistreating her. Such a relief! She had friends – she was talking with mice and birds. One night the fanciest dude in the kingdom was throwing a huge party. Everybody was invited. He was looking for a new chick because his parents were nagging at him that he needed to settle down. The poor and sad girl also wanted to party hard, but her stepmother asked her to sweep the desert and clean the whole world, so she couldn’t. Luckily, out of the blue, her witchy ghost godmother appeared, made bibiddi-bobbidi-boo and sorted out all of the world’s problems, dressed the girl up and sent her to the mansion of the dude, in the carriage made by pumpkins and driven by mice.

She showed up at the party, and the guy went crazy. He fell in love with her. They spent the whole evening together until she realized “the spell” would stop working, so she needed to run away. She escaped so fast that she lost her shoe. He didn’t want to lose that hot girl, but he was probably only staring into her breasts because afterwards, he didn’t remember any details about her appearance. So he needed to hang out with all of the girls from the kingdom to find the one. When they finally met, he didn’t recognize her. But the shoe apparently suited her, so in no time, they married and lived happily never after because there was no dude and no wedding, only hallucinations from malnutrition and death.

Fairy tales messed with my brain and my view of the world. Subconsciously I believed in a lot of stereotypes smuggled into tales. I’ve spent most of my childhood and young years dreaming that “someday my prince will come”. Just like that, I didn’t need to do anything, and he would appear at my doorstep. But apparently, he didn’t. Instead, I discovered that most Disney princesses are the best candidates for long-term psychotherapy.  Moreover, Disney and the fairy tales I was consuming had contributed to structuring my beliefs and expectations about romantic love. And I believe not only mine.

Love from the first sight

Is falling in love so easy? Like love would be the result of a magic occurrence or destiny. You see an attractive individual, you spot the spark in their eyes or the mythical “something”, and that’s it. What’s the point in asking additional questions or exchanging one word? Snow White knew she wanted to be with Prince without any conversation. Pocahontas and John Smith didn’t even share the same language. Anna from “Frozen” wanted to marry Hans almost immediately. I laughed hard because Elsa was the first rational voice ever: “You can’t marry a man you just met.” In fairy tales, there’s no time for searching. A princess usually weds the first prince she meets, or simply the one who chose her or saved her from distress. Even heroines who are reluctant at first, after some time, surrender. Researchers also noticed the interesting fact that Brothers Grimm underlined that Prince Charming was in love with Cinderella, but we know nothing about her feelings. We assume she feels the same if a guy claims love for her. But what if in real life we will don’t feel that it is “it” from the first millisecond? Should we die alone?

Who’s the fairest of them all? 

But how does a man choose the love of his life? She needs to be beautiful. In fairy tales and, unfortunately, subconsciously also in real life, we connotate being beautiful with goodness, wealth and success. Also, women’s worth is determined by the possibility of attracting a life partner. But who’s ugly? Villains like Cruella de Vil, the stepsisters and stepmother from Cinderella, Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” and many more. Usually, they are lonely, envious and pathetic – who wants to be like them? I used to believe that being beautiful is a guarantee for being happy and that attractive people have easier lives. Deal with it.

And I’ll keep wondering when will my life begin

First, heroines needed to suffer (mistreatment, some of them were locked somewhere or even someone was trying to kill them) and they were passive namby-pamby, waiting for their Prince who would solve all the problems and be a source of eternal happiness. Because, for sure true, love awaited them in an unspecified somewhere. Then some handsome dudes choose them to underline that madams in distress are worth the attention. Fortunately, Disney recently changed the narrative, and Princesses are more independent and focused on their interests and dreams. For instance, Tiana from Princess and the Frog wants to own a restaurant. Some of them even refuse to get married, like Elsa or Merida. 

Love conquers all the obstacles

Personality clash? No shared vision of life? Irreconcilable differences? Who cares! For true love, you need to transform yourself, sometimes even sacrifice something essential for you. Ariel sacrificed her voice to be with prince Erik! On the other hand, we also have princesses who changed male heroes, like Belle changed the aggressive Beast into a perfect potential partner. Even though she could leave and return to her village, her Stockholm syndrome got in charge, and she stayed with the Beast in the castle even though their relationship was harmful because of his outbursts of anger. 

Happily ever after

Fairy tales show that love is eternal. The highlight is a big celebration – the wedding. After a fabulous ceremony, they will live happily… Wait, what? Finding true love will not suddenly give your life meaning. Let’s agree marriage is not an enchanted state. Moreover, it’s not even the essence of a person’s life. It just reinforces patriarchal structures by idealizing marriage. For a thousand years, marriage had as much to do with love and free will as social media with being social. It was more of a construct and tool for connecting estates and clans, prolonging lineages and regulating access to sex. So the purpose of marriage was utterly different from what they told us, and not at all magical.

Tales and Disney movies smuggled into our life many stereotypes and limiting beliefs. It doesn’t mean that watching or reading fairy tales is harmful, and we shouldn’t do it. Oh no, it is relaxing and lets us rest from reality. But the next time when you watch a Disney movie, try to detect what kind of unrealistic beliefs you internalized from fairy tales. 

Aleksandra Kanasiuk

Emma Micallef – Fairytales – the influence on young women’s perception of romantic love
Julie C. Garlen, Jennifer A. Sandlin – Happily (n)ever after: the cruel optimism of Disney’s romantic ideal

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