Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast seduced me as an eighth grade girl. I yearned for adventure, and was desperate to fall in love (or at least have a boyfriend who wanted to hold my hand). As a nerd myself, it’s no wonder I picked the bookish princess as my favorite.
I grew up on a steady diet of princesses: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty (Aurora), Snow White, Rapunzel, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine. Each film references their beauty, and every single girl falls in love. We didn’t just read or watch the sanitized Disney versions of these tales, either, but the Hans Christian Anderson versions like the one where the little mermaid hurls herself into the sea when she is rejected, choosing to become sea foam instead of living a meaningless life without her prince.
From an early age, I absorbed this message: for your life to have value or any degree of happiness, you must fall in love.
I can tell you the name of every boy I had a crush on beginning from the age of four. Age four. Apart from the one time I was a cat and the other time I was a clown, every other Halloween I was either a princess or a bride. My brother and I got married more times than I can count.
Falling in love became an obsession. I watched movies, studying how the girls attracted men. Thank God Google and Facebook didn’t exist at the time because I’m sure I would have spent hours googling how to talk to guys or stalking the boys I had crushes on.
For whatever reason, whether because I scared boys away by pretending I didn’t like them or because I came on too strong, the boys I liked never seemed to like me back. My journals from those years are full of me scribbling about my crushes—“I sat next to so-and-so in science lab today,” “So-and-so looked at me in the hallway on the way to algebra,” “I think so-and-so might ask me to the ninth grade dance.”
One Christian boy finally showed interest in me my sophomore year of high school, but then broke it off a few months in, saying his parents wouldn’t let him date. Devastated (I was so sure he was “the one”), I vowed never to let that happen again. Soon after, I read Passion and Purity.
Though I admire Elisabeth Elliot for her devotion to God, her courage in moving to South America to learn a new culture and share Christ with those who didn’t know Him, and her strength in spite of losing not one, but two husbands, that book really messed me up. I once heard her say on the radio that it is not necessary to be attracted to your husband. Love, romance and desire were the enemy of love for God. Men were to be “held at arm’s length.”
Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, wrote the forward to the 2002 edition of Passion and Purity, mentioning how P and P had inspired him to write his book. At the end of the forward, he (mis)quotes C.S. Lewis: “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
The message was clear: falling in love could put your soul in peril. Falling in love was dangerous.
From then on, I took Elisabeth Elliot’s words to heart. I kept men at arms-length, always suspicious they would derail my love for God and His grand plans for my life. Men were the enemy of loving God whole-heartedly.
Didn’t Paul say much the same in 1 Corinthians 7? “It is good for a man not to marry…but if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (v. 1, 9)
“An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband.” (v. 34)
Given the choice, I picked undivided devotion to Jesus over pathetically falling for a man. The Hollywood version of “Happily Ever After” was a myth and a mirage. My true prince was Jesus. And He was enough.
Until I met Adam. You can read our love story here, but when I fell in love, I finally understood the metaphor of “falling.”
I stopped avoiding the dangerous plunge into love and decided to experience the thrill of the free fall. I discovered that just because love is not safe doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to jump in and enjoy it.
In fact, when exactly does the Bible advise us to avoid danger, to stay safe or to be comfortable?
Instead of completing me or stealing my adoration for Jesus, my husband strides beside me, urging me on the way. Rather than detract from my love for God, he enhances it. Instead of filling a void in my soul, our lights burn brighter when held together in the dark.
Even so, my experience worshipping Falling in Love makes me wary of princesses as I think about raising my daughter.
Do I want her to feel beautiful, special, and feminine? Yes. Do I want her to equate beauty with self-worth? No.
Do I want her to be adored, admired, cherished, and wanted? Of course. Do I want her to derive her self-worth and life purpose from a man, searching for a man, like in the movie Jerry Maguire, to “complete her”? No way.
In spite of my hesitation to allow my daughter to play with princesses, I’m learning they, like all things in life, should be approached thoughtfully, and with moderation. Princesses are not banned from my home, but they are not encouraged, either. I censor movies where the princess falls in love, instead choosing movies like Moana, where the girl has a male friendship without having to fall in love with him.
I also want to avoid being duped by the media and marketers targeting my 3 year old girl. The term “Disney Princess” didn’t even exist until the year 2000. According to Cinderella Ate My Daughter author Peggy Orenstein, executive Andy Mooney stumbled on the princess idea when he checked out a “Disney on Ice” show and noticed all the girls were wearing homemade princess costumes. He wondered “how such a massive branding opportunity had been overlooked” (p. 13). Within a year of releasing the first Princess items, sales soared to $300 million.
Shows/dolls/movies-turned-books have crept quietly into our home, like commercials in book form. So we read them, then they disappear, to be replaced with stories that won’t cause my child to want more toys or encourage her to watch certain movies and shows.
I don’t hate princesses, I just don’t want Disney to brainwash my daughter into thinking she must be slim, beautiful or fall in love to have a meaningful life. I don’t want her to worship Falling in Love, but I don’t want her to fear it, either. Instead, I hope she will know she is special, adored and valuable because she is made in the image of God. And if she does fall in love one day, I pray Jesus will still be the protagonist in her happily-ever-after, just as He was when she was a little girl, a teen and a single woman.
Join me this month as we explore the theme of raising strong girls. I have way too many ideas and not enough time, but my goal is to post on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays this month. Shoot me an email at scrapingraisins (dot) gmail (dot) com if you’d like to guest post on this topic.
As it’s sex trafficking awareness month, I’ll also be sharing some resources on that topic. Sign up for my mid-month digest and end-of-month secret newsletter to stay updated on all the posts as well as to get links to interesting books, podcasts, recipes and articles I’ve come across this month.
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