Once upon a time
We have all enjoyed the odd fairy tale or three; it is part of most children’s upbringing to be surrounded by these tales of magic, adventure and love, but are they really good for us? As a very imaginative child I loved to be surrounded by tales of Princess’, fairy magic and true love conquering all but did it actually do me more harm than good? This question has been going through my mind for several years, as I have become wiser and have more experience of the world around us. I am going to outline why I believe fairy tales can bring us up with false perceptions of the world; now these opinions are purely my own, so if you do not agree, then that is fair enough.
Harmless or harmful
The question of whether or not fairy tales can be damaging has been on my mind ever since I found out I was having a little girl and it made me think about the role fairy tales play within a child’s development. The brain of a young child is amazing and in the first five years is growing and forming connections all the time, so when we expose them to fairy tales that centre around Princesses being rescued by a handsome Prince, are we giving them the best example of a ‘healthy’ relationship within society? When we expose them to the fancy dresses and beautiful examples of ‘women’ in the classic form that we associate with Disney, are we setting themselves up for failure in future life?
I, like many people, was brought up with the ‘golden’ era of Disney where films like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White that where constantly teaching young girls that you had to be beautiful, have a nice dress and the singing voice of an angel in order to bag yourself a ‘Prince’ and live happily ever after. So when it came to me dating, I thought it was all about the ‘nice dress’ and ‘being perfect’ in order to find my Prince, this led me into showing a false representation of myself and what I wanted in a relationship; I was believing that my worth as a person was dictated by whether a boy liked me or not.
All you need is love
Do we need the love of someone else to feel like we are worthy in the world, of course, we do not, we need to love ourselves first and foremost. However, many fairy tales present the message that you need to find the love of a ‘significant other’ to be truly happy and usually, within modern society, it is the love between a man and a woman (Frozen and Tangled spring to mind), but what about people who are not in heterosexual relationships, are they not worthy of fairy tales being made of their love?
Even fairy tales that supposedly turn the ‘damsel in distress’ analogy on its head and have the woman rescuing the man (my favourite is Tangled but another massively popular example is ‘Beauty and The Beast’) still gives us the message that we need the love of someone else in order to be happy; can we not be happy with the love we have for ourselves, family and friends?
Life isn’t always rosy
The perception that fairy tales can put across is that good always triumphs over bad can lead us to think that life will always work out well, in the end, this simply is not true. I do not want to sound overly pessimistic when I say this but life is hard work, it can be hell on earth sometimes and for some people, there is not the nice, sugar-coated happy ending that happens at the end of each fairy tale.
In this world we have to do our best to survive and function and if possible, make our own happiness; magic wands cannot be waved, demons cannot be banished by one simple act of love or kindness but I feel that some people just bury their head in the fantasy that ‘my luck will change’ or ‘someone will rescue me’ but it just is not that simple. They always say that upon marriage, the Prince and Princess lived happily ever after but they fail to point out that relationships of any kind, take hard work, compromise and commitment in order to function properly.
Another reason that the more ‘traditional’ fairy tales leave me questioning their impact on children is their presentation of gender roles within adulthood. Until quite recently (Moana being an example that is bucking the trend and promoting family and friends) women were presented as being ‘weaker’ and ‘more’ fragile than their male counterparts. Men are still being presented as the strong, capable types while the women are sitting there brushing their hair and looking pretty. Women, throughout the ages, have shown themselves more than capable of matching men when it comes to it, look at Boudica, Marie Curie and Elizabeth I so why are the men in fairy tales still doing all the swashbuckling, inventing and decision making? Why are the likes of Disney not showing that men can have a ‘softer side’ and can look after things and care for them?
There is a rise in men becoming more ‘metrosexual’ so why are we constantly showing men in fairy tales as being logical and not caring unless they are gaining something for themselves? Indeed, the fact that women as still being presented as ‘sweet’ and caring fails to take into account that there are women that are just not like that in temperament.
I have always been a tomboy at heart and prefer fairy tales like ‘The Jungle Book’, which is my all time favourite (but even that has Mowgli being lured away by love in the end) I love stories that centre around overcoming adversity by self-belief and never giving up, like Dumbo. This is probably why I am a huge ‘Star Wars’ fan; as Princess Leia bucks every trend in the book and ‘rescues’ her love and indeed, is still as successful without him as their relationship changes.
You need everything to be perfect to be happy
I feel that some fairy tales can also promote the idea of materialism and consumerism; Cinderella needed a fancy dress to go to the ball, and The Little Mermaid wanted what she could not have so sold her voice for it, proving everything is for sale, even integrity. Obviously, they need to make the ‘Princesses’ appealing and generate ways of selling merchandise so they put them in fancy dresses. This focus on outward appearance being commonly acceptable is promoting people to focus on the material aspects of their life rather than what is inside.
Another example of this is the way that many of these female protagonists are being created in a way that is unreal and impossible for us women to recreate. The main one that annoys me is the exaggeration of women’s eyes being bigger than they can possibly be in real life. If a young girl is being surrounded by images of a woman that has big, beautiful eyes, perfect skin and a perfect figure (including a larger than proportion chest) then isn’t that going to make her feel inferior? This can give rise to eating disorders, body dysmorphia and all sorts of mental health issues when they discover life isn’t as perfect as it is presented in fairy tales.
As I said at the start, these are purely my opinions and I am posting them as a way of ‘offloading’ my thoughts, you are entitled to have your own views and indeed disagree with mine. As I raise my daughter, I will be mindful of what she is surrounded by and I will make sure that she knows that she is beautiful, capable of anything and she only needs to love herself to be happy. I would love to hear what you think in the comments.
Ciao for now beauties xx