Things That Need to Be Said

I have a relative who says things she shouldn’t.

She says the things you don’t want to hear.

The things that make you uncomfortable, that turn the mirror back on yourself in a most unappealing manner.

In a discussion of summer vacations and friends’ doings, I mentioned that some friends had taken their families to Disney.  We lamented the hot weather in Florida this time of year and how trying it must be.  I said it would be trying at any time of year with my youngest being only three.  If I experienced sensory overload and exhaustion at the dawn to dusk days of Disney, I would have to wait until my children were older before I subjected them to its amusing assaults.  I jokingly shared my observation I’d shared with my husband and kids: that I was fourteen years old before I had my first visit to Disney so I was in no rush to get my own much younger kids there anytime soon.  If I had to wait, they could wait.

And that’s when my grandmother dropped her bomb.

There are children in the world who don’t have enough to eat and here we are worrying about what’s the right age to take our children to Disney.

Nothing like the perspective of an eighty-four year old woman to smack you back in your place.

I hadn’t been lamenting my fate.  I hadn’t been saying my children desperately deserved a trip to Disney, but the poor dears weren’t old enough.  Hell, if anything, I was glad they weren’t the ‘right’ age so I didn’t have to go through the whole ordeal.  I don’t see Disney as an obligatory childhood right of passage.  In America, it’s just something a lot of people do and it’s part of our societal subconscious (again, thank you to the ever-pervasive Disney marketing).

But my grandmother was right.

I’d like to think her comment was not directed solely at me.  That it was just an astute observation of the irony of what many call ‘first world problems’.

But it cut to the quick.

In one concise sentence, she cut the wheat from the chaff and crystallized what should be our priorities.  In a world where families can spend thousands of dollars for over-the-top entertainment, others’ can’t afford food for one day.  In a world where I worry about the stress of an over packed summer schedule, there are mothers who worry if they’ll make it through the week.

I didn’t like what she had to say because it made me feel guilty.  But guilt is usually born of some seed of truth deep within our gut.

My grandmother wasn’t trying to nurture that seed.  She was simply speaking her mind in the privileged way that a long life has earned for her.  In her eight decades, spanning two centuries, she’s seen a multitude of changes, not all of them good.  In her evening ruminations, she discovers a perspective the rest of us can’t necessarily see – or don’t because of the frenetic pace of our lives.

I have a relative who says the things that need to be said, things she’s been waiting her whole life to say.

Pierced by a Princess

I was so excited when I saw the commercial.  It drew me in.  I was enthralled.  It turned the idea of a princess on its head.  Girls were galloping on horses – in britches, not flowing gowns.  They were shooting arrows.  Swimming laps.  They were real.

They weren’t prissy.  They weren’t waiting for a handsome male to save them.  They weren’t sitting in repose filing their nails or coifing their hair.  They weren’t doing the stereotypical things that mainstream media deems as femininely appropriate. 

In other words, they weren’t filling the mold cast by Disney and its multi-million dollar princess industry. The commercial flew in the face of all that Disney defines as princess.  And I was tickled pink.  Finally, another voice in the conversation of young female identity.  I was psyched that my daughters were being bombarded with this media message, albeit a small bullet amidst the other bombs.

Then I realized the smooth transitions between live shots of the young female archer and clips of Merida plucking her bow; a snippet of the young woman’s dialogue stitched up with the princess’ Scottish brogue.  A sharp arrow pierced my heart.

There was no way Disney would loan their highly lucrative Brave empire to a media campaign designed to encourage girls to courageous authenticity.  To eschew animated perfection.  To forgo licensed merchandise for practical attire and tools.

Wherever there’s a princess, Disney isn’t far behind.

They know there are people like me – women, mothers, fathers, grandfathers – who abhor the exploitation of young girls into this gateway of unrealistic expectations of beauty, behavior, being.  They exploited that need in me for another option for girls. 

And while this commercial is, in many ways, the antithesis of the whole royal empire they’ve created, if such a message comes from them, they’ll seem sympathetic.  They understand.  They aren’t the evil mongerers of petticoats and pink.  They want girls to achieve their full potential even if that means they’ll muddy their knees on the soccer field and go to university for engineering.  Oh, they support the young females of the world in whatever they may do.  And if they happen to find inspiration in the snippets of computer-generated heroines seamlessly interspersed with real girls, there’s merchandise for that.  There are DVDs these young ladies can watch for further inspiration.  Movie premieres and theme parks they can visit dressed in appropriate thematic garb for research and encouragement.

Well done, Disney.  You almost had me.  Which means you most likely hooked every girl in America and beyond that you hadn’t yet.

It’s a brave new world indeed.

* Related article: Great read on Brave’s creator’s misgivings on Disney’s treatment

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