Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Role Models: I Am Not A Princess...

So, Mrs. B.,

Let me be perfectly honest. For the longest time, my best fictional role model was not a Disney princess. When my sisters and I were playing pretend, we really rarely went with what few options were available to us. Because, really, only one person can be She-Ra. Someone had to be He-Man.

And someone had to be the bad guy, whether it be Skeletor or Catra... or Ursula the Sea-Witch....

Just look at that smile. She has got a PLAN.

Since I was wee, the height of amazing-life-successes for me would have been to be the voice of a Disney Villain. (And if I’m still being honest, it’s still one of my biggest “when I grow up” wishes.) Even now, I could probably sing you every word to every villain song (which I can’t say for the rest of the music in any Disney film). I still sing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and Gaston’s Plan. Loudly. In as many voices as necessary.

The villains always had fun. They had the best songs. They were witty and crafty and strong and sure they did terrible things and were outsmarted by fluffy-headed heroes (well, at least until the mid-90s) and, on more than one occasion, dogs. But, they also knew who they were and they never took anyone’s crap. And maybe there’s something enticing about it to a girl who’d been given a name that was both a virtue and a hope for her behavior (and how everyone seemed to see her) more than anything else.

It wasn’t until Belle that I found a Disney Princess that was someone I could identify with. She was bookish and definitely not what everyone in town wanted her to be and she was fine with that. She argued and FOUGHT as the movie progressed, which was more than you could say for most of the princesses to that point. After her, you have wait for Mulan, who is arguably the most bada** “princess,” to find one who really takes charge of her own life rather than being led by the nose by the story or astray by the villain of the piece.

Villains, however, always take charge. They make their own fate. Whether they’re looking for phenomenal cosmic power or something more subtle, they have something they’re after. They’re not idly floating through life. Not even Ursula, since, while literally floating, was figuratively planning and preparing for her rival’s demise for DECADES. Whereas, most Disney heroes (except maybe the Rescuers until Mulan came along -- and how is that that the best heroes for children are anthropomorphic?) aren’t doing anything and don’t intend to do anything until their lives are changed by the villain. Even in the 101 Dalmatians, the owners had to be led into everything successful in their lives -- to meet, to marry, to have puppies, to write a song about their experiences with Cruella -- and the dogs, well, dogs are content to just live their lives for the most part until they were kidnaped and threatened with coat-ification. (I do not condone acts of harm and senseless butchery on innocent puppies and you’ve got to admit that this impetus to act is a little thin. Cruella was more than selfish, vain, and outlandish. She was a little bit nuts.)

Cinderella would have kept on cooking and cleaning and mending if not for the story -- the ball -- and her stepmother’s cruelty following the announcement of the ball. If you take out the fairy, she would have never gone and never would have caught the prince’s eye. And if her stepmother hadn’t had that dress destroyed, she probably would have gone and never ended up meeting the prince. She looked like what she was, afterall: a commoner and a scullery maid. Plot devices and the machinations of others moved her along. She didn’t decide to up and quit. She didn’t leave home and strike-out to find a better life. She was driven forward.

So, yeah. It was hard to find strong fictional role-models growing up, and while I’m not a villain (as much fun as it would be to voice one), I did learn a lot from them. I learned what to do and what not to do. Like the old joke goes, if you’re going to be an evil overlord, there’s nothing like running your plans by a 5-10 year old kid to see where the flaws are. Because you can learn to be strong and crafty and witty and still learn from the mistakes of the villain; to avoid the pitfalls. And perhaps to use your reputation to it’s best effect. Because people will always see what they want to see and will believe what they want to believe, but it’s up to you to give the impression in the first place and to decide if that’s truly who you are or what you’re going to do with that facade.

More on that another time.

And hopefully, later this week, more about my list of strong female fictional characters every girl should get to know.

Much Love,

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