April 11, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire
Like the stories of the Bible, fairy tales are told and passed down to children to help them make sense of what adults know to be a crazy, and sometimes cruel, world. The Bible is full of stories about human beings living close to God and living in love, grace, and obedience. And of course there are lots of stories where humans fall into sin, death, and destruction. Both kinds of stories help us learn about good and evil, love and hate, beauty and suffering. The same is true of all good fairy tales. And there are no fairy tales as ubiquitous in our modern American culture as those told by the animators and writers of Disney.
My daughter, Phoebe, will turn three in about a month and she is a Disney Princess in miniature. Her favorite toys, movies, books, clothes and kitchenware (even her nightlight!) all feature Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, and friends. And I expect the inundation of princess-related products to only increase in my house, as we welcomed Phoebe’s new little sister, Micaela Rose, into our family this week. Now I have a queen and two little princesses, which as I told Phoebe, makes me the king…
So as a father, especially of two beautiful daughters, I have some concerns. What kind of world will they grow up in? What kind of cultural influences will shape their childhood and life? How can I protect them? Who will they grow up to be? These are questions that I suspect all parents wonder about, stress out over, and probably will continue for a lifetime. But what we can do, is try our best to surround them with a loving home, an environment of grace and encouragement, and of course a strong base of faith. It also helps when the producers of things our children watch and are drawn to encourage confidence, self-respect, love and grace in their portrayals of young women rather than the “damsel in distress” that has been the norm for so many fairy tales down through the ages.
In some of their more recent films, Disney has begun to help redefine “princesses” as girls who are more real, and also stronger of character. Here’s what I mean; watch Sleeping Beauty or Snow White or Cinderella. The primary attributes of these princesses is that they are beautiful, good singers, and gently mothering. Obviously those are not bad attributes, but they are quite one-dimensional. Then take Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (Phoebe’s particular favorite) and notice the strength of her character. She is poor, working-class, African-American, and female—all groups that limit her and put barriers in her way toward her dream of owning her own restaurant. Yet she delays gratification, works incredibly hard, saves her money, is a loyal friend, and discovers that love is even more important than our desires.
In Tangled, Rapunzel is a complex character who (far from being rescued from her tower) takes the thief, Flynn Rider, prisoner and gets him to be her guide. She works through her issues of dependence and independence, and changes the hearts of some ruffians and thugs.
The latest princess movie, Brave, stars Merida, the archer-equestrian tomboy who learns about forgiveness and the importance of family relationships, while actually NOT falling in love with a prince, but rather striving for her right to marry only one whom she chooses and loves. Oh yeah, and she’s brave, too.
Toss in the other princesses like Mulan, who disguises her gender to become a warrior; Pocahontas who is all about race-relations and cultural diversity; and Belle who is the beauty of Beauty and the Beast, yet she is known for her intellect and bookworm nature and is able to see past outward appearances; and now you have some truly worthwhile role models for young girls to emulate.
I was so happy to see Disney’s video “I Am a Princess” on another blog that I follow called In the Meantime by one of my seminary professors, David Lose, that I had to share it as well. Here is the YouTube link:
You see what I mean? What a blessing these princesses are for us as parents, but also for the world they will shape and bless with their own gifts and talents.
Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for the daughters and sons who are the future of this world, but also the present! Help me to be a good influence, guide, and teacher to these children; but especially to teach them your love and grace, which you have shown through Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.