Listen up, Little Mermaid.
Photo by Alex Perez on Unsplash
I might as well admit it.
I’m a sucker for romance and fairytales. Why? All I can figure is that such things have always represented an escape (if only imagined) from a terrible home life.
For far too long, I was blinded by a dream of love. I tried to run into my very own fairytale. And I ran away, too–as if I could exchange one prison for another until I found my home.
Spoiler alert: I never did find that home. I ended up having to create my own place without a lifelong romance, and you know what?
I’ve survived as a single woman and learned that I’m so much stronger than I ever knew.
But wouldn’t you know, I have already passed a love for all things pink down to my nearly 5-year-old daughter. And she’s apparently inherited my love for fairytales too.
Once upon an upload
Lately, she’s a big fan of Beauty and the Beast, as well as The Little Mermaid. Not just Disney, though. She likes her fairytales from YouTube. Whenever she watches a certain version of Belle and the Beast, she beams the minute Belle tells Beast she wishes to marry him.
Seriously. My daughter doesn’t even know what marriage is, but she gets so happy for the Beast–not when he transforms back into a “handsome” prince, but when Belle says, “But I love you and I want to marry you.”
Of course, it doesn’t end there. She’s into most fairy tales, but as I said, she’s partial to The Little Mermaid. She’s been watching the Disney movie and sequel before bed a lot, but I’ve also let her see some versions on YouTube that are more in line with Hans Christian Andersen’s tales.
Hey, even Andersen offered multiple endings. There’s the darker version, where the mermaid dies and turns into sea foam, all because she refused to kill her beloved prince after he married his own human princess.
And then there’s they happier (?) ending where the mermaid doesn’t turn into sea foam but instead becomes a spirit (aka daughter of the air) with a chance to earn a soul for doing good deeds for mankind.
I mean, hey. That’s somebody’s idea of a happy ending. Not mine.
All’s (not) well that ends well
At any rate, I like to give my daughter the full-spectrum of fables, fairytales, and short stories, just so we can talk about life and love more honestly. Original fairytales might seem dark AF, but they can teach you much more than any “happily ever after.”
One thing I’ve noticed is how I have had to start having that “talk” with my daughter about how romantic love isn’t worth losing your voice. That’s not actually romantic at all.
And I can’t tell you precisely why, but lately, the mermaid’s quick agreement to give away her voice (and ultimately, her life) for just a chance to be with the Prince? It’s wrong and triggering on so many levels.
Sure, Disney made it seem like all fun and games. We all laugh when Ariel mistakes a fork for a hairbrush. Oops, I mean, the dinglehopper. Of course.
But in the real story by Hans Christian Andersen? That little mermaid suffered like hell to show her love to the Prince. She danced for him, even though the sea witch’s magic made those new feet feel excruciating pain–as if they were being stabbed with knives.
Oh, wait. Now I know why I suddenly care so much about the little mermaid’s terrible bargain. It’s because I used to think I had to sacrifice everything for a man to love me too. When my daughter’s dad told me he wanted me to love him unconditionally, I gave and gave long past the point of bleeding.
Honestly, I love fairytales and I don’t mind my daughter loving them too. But there are things I still need to teach her, because so much truth within a fairytale lives below the surface of anything a child (or even some adults) can see.
No man is worth giving away your voice.
Or anything else for that matter. It’s essentially a social norm for women to give “unconditionally.” Too few of us ever learned about boundaries in love.
But we are the only ones who can truly fight for our lives and our futures. We can’t just give that away on a whim. We can’t afford to walk around as if our lives are nothing without love from a prince.
A good man gives back.
“The Prince” in so many of these tales receives all of the woman’s love yet somehow remains blissfully unaware of any need to reciprocate, turn down favors, or do much of anything.
Too many women are giving away their time, energy, and other valuable pieces of themselves in return for zero. Or scraps. Hints of affection without any real substance. That’s not love.
You need to do you.
If you want to travel the world, change your life, or find your freedom–whatever you’re looking for, you can do all of that before looking for love.
You don’t need a man (or woman) to make you strong, brave, smart, or beautiful. Yes, it’s nice when someone comes into our lives and makes us feel all of those things. But it’s even better when we feel those things for ourselves.
I certainly have nothing against The Little Mermaid. Like so many old fairytales, it’s a cautionary tale. So I guess what I’m saying is that I want to bring back some of that damn caution.
Love is awesome. I hope that one day, my daughter enjoys a good love that’s better than anything she ever imagined. But more than that? I want her to know better than to give up her voice–or her own agency–all for the chance to be “loved.”
My hope is that my daughter and I both use our voices to stand tall and proud. To love, and speak out against injustice.
The last thing either one of us needs to do is give up our beautiful voice!