Once Upon A Time

The quintessential fairy tale redacted.


Once upon a time, I desperately wanted to be Pocahontas. I was eight. On some level I yearned to be every cartoon character I watched as a kid, but the Mario brothers seemed unattainable since I wasn’t a boy (or a mushroom), as did Cinderella, or Arielle the mermaid, mostly because I’m a brunette. Being from central Jersey, Belle’s quaint French province would have been embarrassingly aspirational. My family was spending the summer living, hiking and camping in Israel, so Colors of the Wind’s lyrics felt totally relatable to my crunchy lifestyle.

Anyone who grew up on fairy tales understands the Kate Middleton obsession. She’s a real life princess, unlike normal, klutzy, working girls who the media only deem loveable to older, less impressionable audiences, often via Katherine Heigl. But now there’s also a countermovement, according to my friend who teaches second grade. Many of her students aren’t allowed to watch Disney movies at home because of the message they send on gender roles and romance. As one mom put it, “I don’t want my daughter waiting for a prince on a white horse to save her.”

I personally witnessed a modern day fairy tale last week. My friend Sally got a call from her ex. Four years since breaking her heart, and a relationship we surmised to be quasi-serious based on Facebook later, he was in a rut and wanted her back. Atop my list of Things I Thoroughly Enjoy are two things: being right and watching my friends win, so after reassuring her a million times that he’d come around, saying “told ya so” felt better than an eight-hand massage. He’d uttered those three little words: I need you. Our dinner table, comprised of nine girls was practically salivating as she spilled the details.

This wasn’t just an urban legend about a bachelor realizing that the one who got away is his only chance at salvation and deciding to love and appreciate her. It was happening to someone we actually knew. This must be how Pippa felt. But it was also kind of embarrassing that a guy dumping you and coming back defeated could seem so romantic. And tempting. I looked around at my best friends and realized that none us had ever desired or expected to be saved by a knight in shining armor, but at some point we’d all tried to be the savior.

A much bigger plague among young women than poisoned apples or evil stepmothers, as far as I’m concerned, is the hope of earning a man’s affection. You can convince, guilt or trick someone into being with you, but not into loving you. Not even by rescuing or fixing them. Prince Charming’s allure as an adult isn’t the tiara, it isn’t even about his ability to build us moats, it’s the idea that the only thing he needs from you is you. If I dare re-frame a damsel in distress as a lady willing to wait for a suitor with his act together, would you agree that she’s setting a good example?

Snow White ended up with the guy who fell for her when she was vulnerable.  Rupunzel didn’t hyperfocus on how to shed 5 pounds while stuck in a castle. Watch and learn, amigos. “Happily-ever-after” might be Disney’s way of recommending a partner who is “good for the long haul,” as Calvil Trillin put it. Someone who shows up, sticks around, and, as our friend Roxana observed when she spent an afternoon with Leandra and her husband, “slices a peach for the other and nibbles on the pit.” That’s love.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I totally want to have a moat one day. It’s just wholly unrelated to my romantic life.

Get more Postmodern Love ?
  • Dervla

    This is pretty awesome x

  • I completely agree, I think we’re reading to much into fairytales if we assume that little girls are going to take the stereotypes too seriously. I grew up on Cinderella and Ariel and I’m still not even 17, but I can tell you I don’t expect a prince to come ‘rescue me’. I certainly don’t see little boys prancing around on horses, and the only time any boy has ever thrown pebbles at my window was when my brother forgot his house key at 2AM. When it comes down to it, a girl is going to fall in love with a boy regardless of ‘who saves who’ or whether or not it imitates a Disney worthy fairytale. Besides, while Princes may represent an ‘ideal man’ with good values, I’ve always found them to be a bit dull (except for Beauty and the Beast, because he was a giant wolf-bear and if that isn’t quirky/exciting then I don’t know what is)

    • ..you know what. I was always taught to pick my battles growing up. Disney had no sort of effect on me. I wanted to be Pocahontas because she had exotic features and looked like my grandmother, not because she was a princess. Maybe it was me but I never reallyyy took the plots of the story seriously. I was all about the animation, the costumes, and the collectiable barbie that came out with it.

      I’m not totally sure how people were brought up but for a kid in a semi dangerous area these cartoons where a way to past the time and open up my imagination. I never thought too deeply into them and still don’t and I thank my mom everyday for letting me just be a kid and enjoy watching Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. I’d like to think that i grew up fine and i’m not sitting around with a unrealistic idea for a relationship. If you find someone, and it feels right then go with it. I feel like today parents put a ton of energy into things that kids can barely understand. But then again, if they don’t know what a Disney movie is then maybe it isn’t that serious anyway. Can’t miss something you’ve never seen.

  • This was a great Monday read! Glad I’m not the only one thinking this. We have become a bit cynical on love, and society always puts down women who are looking for “real love” and all that…”Stop fantasizing” or “This is the real world” just seems like an excuse to settle for a man that doesn’t seem to think you’re the only woman in the world for him.

  • I brought over Disney Princess stickers to a family I was baby sitting for. One of the girls had a friend over, and her mom told me, “I don’t like the Disney Princesses, I want my daughter to be a Queen.”

    … let me know how that one works out, lady.

  • Lisa

    The point is rather unclear here, should be fleshed out more.

  • Eu, my ex-bf pool one like that on me after 5 years of break. We stay together for two years so he could dump me again exactly the same way than before (as in, he cheat me and hook up with the new girl). Thus, tell you friend to run! Run on the opposite direction, for sure.

  • ok seriously, I JUST wrote about this last week! That’s it Man Repeller, we need to meet. Now I understand you think I’m like every other “stalker” out there, I’m not. We just literally share the same pov EXCEPT, I’m the opposite of a Man Repeller in that I’m a huge flirt & I like being mysteriously sexy. Don’t get me wrong I do the tomboy thing, but it’s sexy. We must meet. One modern day character to another. xx, Synderela

  • Rebecca Ragionieri

    (: Reb, xoxo.

    *Nuovo post sul mio blog, fammi sapere cosa ne pensi:


  • Technically, Snow White was a corpse when her “Prince” fell in love with her. That reads as a little more than vulnerable to me. She was also 7, at least in the Grimm version. I’m a sucker for fairy tales too, but a critical one.

  • Sgravalli Fashion Jewellery

    You know what I hated the most while growing up, those people who put ideas in your head about how your future husband should be highly educated, from the “good” family, read lot of books, speaks languages etc. One of my uncles married a lunatic like this who was so judgmental to me and my sis and really everybody in the family and I hate her! And the
    thing is, I got married to a guy who would fit into that description, but he was a great friend of mind from the high school that I accidentally run into years and years later. He is an awesome guy, and we have lot in common, but after 8 years together and a marriage, I realized the we actually don`t want the same things from life. Then, I wasn`t sure that I am doing the right thing, cause I loved him (or did I really, I ask myself today), but I was done with it. Only then, he realized too what I was seeing, and was eager to fix everything. Why always sh..t needs to happen so that something finally comes from your a.s to your brain, I wonder?! And how could I possibly know, that you are doing all that just to keep me?! It was hard, but, no, it was over. I don`t believe in second chances.

    Four years later, I am 36-year old now, and you know what, I have found my “prince”! Soulmate actually. And we couldn`t have been more different, but I guess, how we look at life, and its value, and values in people is what we share. And sex.

    I never liked any stereotypes, I believe you can be whatever you want to be in life, to do, to love, to marry, to divorce (I even got married incognito, just us and 2 best friends, went one
    day in jeans and did it). And life is so damn unpredictable, you never know what tomorrow brings, and nothing is written in stone for sure! I don`t like any “institution” to tell me what is right or wrong, I like to be FREE! (As long as it is within the law of course.)
    As for the kids, chances are, they will be filled with BS, but hopefully, they will pick up also the best qualities from their parents, and adjust themselves later. My parents raised me nothing like I am today, I had to “re-raise” myself, but I will always say, the best things about me, I got from my parents. You can`t blame parents, we are talking about different generations people, different times.

    Interesting subject, as you can see from my novel comment:) Just loving your blog.

  • Abigail Mötley

    Um….Am I the only one thinking where is princess Tiana in the picture above?
    She had her own movie and everything you know…

    • WEll i had a nice excuse for this and then I googled it and found one with her and the other one.

      • MMM

        Thanks for finding this photo. I wondered where she was.

    • Zoe

      So happy theres a black princess for all my lovelies… pero donde esta una princesa espana?! necesita una alejandra, no??

  • Whoa, I always wondered if that ever really happened to anyone. I would have loved to hear the details!


  • I feel bad for those girls who never get to experience Disney Princesses. From when I was 3-5 I wore a Little Mermaid costume almost every day, went to the opening night of “Beauty and the Beast” in my city, and saw every Disney movie, and I grew up to become an attorney who never felt like I needed a man to save me.
    I think there are a lot of good things that girls can learn from Disney movies, and I don’t believe that they are all anti-feminist. Belle was a strong woman who didn’t feel the need to marry, saved her father, and fell in love with someone for his personality and not his looks (who she saved by pulling him back up onto the balcony). Ariel rejected social norms to become what she wanted to be and marry who she wanted to marry, despite what her family told her to do. Mulan saved China. Pocahontas saved the man she loved, not the other way around. The new ones are even more feminist (I have young nieces so I’ve seen them all. Tangled is a great movie).
    And, if anything, they show little girls that you should look up to women who are kind, and that kindness always wins over meanness (or evil, but meanness seemed more appropriate in this case).

  • I *loved* these movies growing up! I think we don’t give kids – especially girls – enough credit for enjoying them. When Belle start poking around the Beast’s castle (despite instruction not to do just that) I totally felt her sense of curiosity and disdain for rules without proper justification (which if you recall, there was, but the justification wasn’t given). Anyway, fast forward or backward and we have examples of
    2, a mermaid who puts down her dad’s wishes for her to pursue dreams of her own (I’ll leave this to “gettting legs” and not just “getting a man”)
    3, an Arabic (??) princess who wants to escape the castle life and also rejects her father’s wishes for her to hurry up and find a suitor to marry

    I can’t vouch for all the ladies but I seriously enjoyed all the films and do consider myself a card-carrying feminist. It’s all good – IN CONTEXT. These stories – as others have pointed out – have been glosseyed by Disney for childrens’ consumption. If you’ve read the real stories – such as those by Grimm and also Hans Christian Anderson, you’ll know Ariel dies in the end because the prince chose another bride, and that Cinderella’s sisters cut off their toes and their heels to get the glass slipper on, leaving a trail of blood as the prince rode off with them. (Charming, I know). I consider myself fortunate enough in my childhood to have read the real tales and pick out the mores and morals they teach. But it’s ok to enjoy the Disney version the same way one might enjoy anything else without a lot of intellectual heft (tabloids, trashy reads, etc)

    So I leave you with this thought – rather than LIMIT what we expose kids to, why not EXPAND it so that we show examples of all types of leading ladies, including some of whom run this country (Can you paint with all of the colors of Hillary’s suits?)

    • Claire

      This is brilliant. Especially the tidbit about Clinton.

  • brunetteletters

    I think it’s Disney’s fault that we all want a prince charming haha…nice post 🙂

    It made me travel back to when I was young and I thought I was a princess. I wonder if Kate Middleton thinks this way too and then realizes she actually IS a real princess..

    Brunette Letters Blog

  • Grace

    You ROCK missy. (I am over 50, is it showing?)

  • That was excellent.

  • I find the Disney princesses’ movies problematic as well. I don’t like it when the boys are pushy and try to bully the girls into dating them (Okay, I’m thinking about Odette which is not a Disney movie but bear with me!). And what’s up with Snowhite’s prince, how DARE he kiss her without her consent? (the best “princess is asleep so I’ll wake her with a kiss” scene is in sci-fi film “The Fifth Element”. Leeloo is a kickass princess.) Not cool. Same goes for my boys, I don’t want them to be pushy “benevolent” sexists. My kids (when/if I ever have them) can watch Lilo and Stich because it’s about family.

  • I’m older (53) so let me just say that I grew up watching Disney movies and wanting to be in them, but I never put “damsel in distress knight on white horse rescue” together as a life dream- these wee cartoons! I learned that love can be a great thing and life is not easy. So shame on those parents who think Disney is reaching your child bad things – what are YOU teaching your child? When I received a nurse outfit for my Barbie I told my Mom she wanted to be the doctor – my Mom said – she can be the Dr- just say she is and don’t wear the nurse hat! Get a grip parents!

  • Costume De Rigueur

    I love the way you write! it’s funny and sarcastic and hilarious and a bit of oops I shouldn’t have said that…but I wanted…hahahaha…well done to Sally…what goes around comes around..as always…especially went it comes to men…Oh sorry..princes…x



  • Cassandra

    Growing up, I never thought about the romantic aspects of Disney movies (gross! yuck! was more my reaction), but instead always went after the strengths of the female characters – my favorite was Mulan. I’m not saying that the mushy gushy romantic stuff doesn’t subconsciously seep in there somewhere – I’m sure it does. But for years I went through life not wanting to get married, not waiting for any man (or person, period) to come rescue me. I guess it all depends on how you see things.

  • Serena

    Is it just me but do the only people who get published on here (guest writers), the people who actually know Leandra in real life?

  • alana bocco

    whaaaattt????? grammars missery

  • I had a dream where I was Ursella the sea witch, does that count???

  • dandy

    i totally want to have a moat one day too!


  • ana romero

    Mulan is my favorite princes without a doubt! and Mushu 🙂 I don’t know if you remember but he was awesome. Kisses http://www.rockafollow.com

  • Carly tati

    Love this. I TOTALLY get what your saying here. Totally agree, and think it’s so portably for women to create their own fairy tales. The right man will appreciate her just as she is. Cheers http//:www.carlytati.com

  • Jenaly Enns

    I love all those Disney movies, someday my kids will watch them. I think its ridiculous all the things that are “apparently” not good for kids anymore, yet we grew up with them and we turned out fine…..or did I just not get the message that we are messed up!!!!

  • Rachel Carter

    This is too good!

  • Kelcie

    This article only reinforces the notion that women must be passive to attract a partner. If we’re not a damsel in distress, is the only other option really to sit and wait for a decent suitor to come find us? Is there no merit in going out and pursuing non-romantic dreams, or measuring ourselves as women by something other than whether men find us attractive or not? As a Man Repeller, isn’t the beauty of one’s self-sufficiency bound up in the fact that one lives one’s life refusing to adhere to standards of men, and not spend life waiting for anybody to ‘show up?’

  • Sophie

    Whenever I babysit young girls and we are playing with puppets, dolls, etc the stories they make up and imagine always consist of a Prince saving the Princess from the hands of a evil lord. Can’t a Princess save the Prince and not fall in love and ride into sunset on a white horse? I would like to see a Disney movie where the Princess saves the Prince but they become best friends. Marrying a boy isn’t the only relationship you can have with them. Disney movies as far as I know never seem to show that.

  • tre


  • Belén Cavas Hernández

    I don´t really belive in Prince Charmings but I love of blancanives story!!! 😉


  • Sartorial Revenge

    Love this post!
    I read and watched all of these Disney stories as a kid and although, of course, I loved the thought of being a princess, not once did I take the plot seriously and expected a prince on a white horse to come and rescue me. They are cute stories with wonderful imagery and if you really want to interpret the way in which this may or may not influence a girl’s romantic expectations, you can probably argue any case you like.


  • Alba B.

    Once upon a time, I wanted to be a character called The MANREPELLER, now I just a repelling character of myself, but still in love with it.
    Can this be considered a happy end Disney novel, or just a consciousness of Happiness?!!!

  • The Provoker

    I agree on your views on these preconceived notions on romance and the baggage brought with it from watching these princess movies. I’m a guy who identified with the princesses (Im obvi from the showtune variety lol), and have gotten the wrong message too that someone will ultimately save me. Until I realize that I’m a boy and my chances of ever being saved was diminished to a spec. So I got up, brushed off the proverbial dust, and moved on, hoping to find someone good in the long haul.

    P.S. Am so honored you favorited that ‘cat in overalls’ images I tagged you in, it was just too cute! Btw, if you want to see some plaid on plaid on plaid action featuring Phillip Lim’s SS13 chiffon tee, I recommend you to see this ‘tomboy’ and ‘very man repelling’ look.

  • shab

    to be perfectly honest, as much as i agree with the article i think a more pressing issue in relation to Disney movies is the fact that they sing to inanimate objects and are friendly with talking animals and this is deemed perfectly normal. WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE IS THAT SENDING TO CHILDREN???

  • Another great essay, Sophie!

  • Maria

    Not letting your child see “the disney princess”, it’s like telling them right away that Santa Claus does not exist… Why deny the fantasy… I believe that in search for a partner later in life will depend on the family history they have had…and not a Disney Movie…

  • vicsmarket

    new disney princesses…..


  • BMills

    Loved every second of this.

  • Princess Annie

    the you for YOU thing is right on. thank you! I’ve been seeing a guy for a while who treats me like gold and my ex who I pined over and never gave me his whole attention just texted me that he’s always liked me and still does and it brought back this huge wave of confusing emotion. but this set me back on track. gonna keep my eyes on the prize thanks to you! xoxo

  • sutoro naruto

    very pretty girls..

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