Amid trying to find the time to spend with friends/family and keeping the house clean and trying to find the right career and worrying about a bikini body, it’s sometimes easy to forget how good we have it. As weird as it sounds, worrying about some things is actually a privilege in its own right.
Remember Aladdin, from the Disney film? He was constantly worried about where his next meal would come from — meanwhile, Jasmine was worried about the direction her life was taking. Both were valid concerns for each of them… but Jasmine’s worries had less to do with basic human rights, and more to do with the luxury of being able to decide how your life turns out.
Everyone has a different struggle — but some, like finding the right pair of shoes to go with a summer outfit, seem to pale in comparison when you’re struggling just to put food on the table (and 46.2 million U.S. citizens are); or railing against systematic oppression (like North Carolina’s attempts to create laws to suppress many black voters); or fighting just to prove that racism exists (see the slew of people defending Paula Deen or — worse — George Zimmerman WHO SAID HE WANTS BLACK PEOPLE TO APOLOGIZE TO HIM).
In a perfect world, we would all be presented with the same opportunities. We would all be born on an equal playing field and how hard we worked and how good we were would determine how our lives turned out.
Unfortunately, that’s now quite how things work. And yet, it can be challenging to keep things in perspective when we’re wrapped up in our pretty great lives. For me, trying to balance work and life gets stressful! And I know I can get wrapped up in myself. Things that are not-so-important feel life-shattering; problems that feel like mountains are actually mole (or even ant) hills; and our challenges are less end-of-the-world, more tiny-hiccups-in-an-otherwise-lovely-existence.
How can we stay grounded? How can we keep things in perspective? Let’s use Disney princesses to explain.
1. Recognize your privilege.
What this means: Know the privileges you are lucky enough to have and wear them on your sleeve. If you’re white, wealthy, a man, straight, able-bodied, cis-gendered, pretty, thin, smart — whatever it is, you likely possess certain traits that give you a leg up in this life just because you exist. For me, I am a straight, smart, middle-class person with a pretty good education/background, which helped me get a leg up and have the lovely life I have today. Likewise, you were probably born with many of the things that contribute to your good life. (Which is not to discredit the hard work you’ve done, because that counts, too.) It can be difficult to recognize some of our “privileges” because they’re so much a part of our lives and who we are that we assume all people experience the same thing. So it’s hard — but one place to start understanding the concept of “privilege” is with Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
What this means for Disney princesses: Cinderella is poor. But she’s also pretty, white, and thin. The latter three qualities make it so that she’s more widely accepted in society. She isn’t questioned when she sneaks into the prince’s ball. People believe she’s the victim of unfortunate circumstances. And she isn’t blamed for the fact that she’s got no money. If she were, say, ugly, purple, and fat (think: Ursula), many of the townspeople would probably think she was the cause of all of her own problems and make fun of her. So while Cinderella experiences some disadvantages — she’s poor, and she’s unhappy — she still has advantages, many of which she was born with. They don’t make her a good or bad persona inherently — but they do influence the life she has. Make sense?
2. Be open-minded and understanding.
What this means: You’ve heard a lot of things touted as fact, but so much of what is reported by the media and then trickled down through your friends, family, and other well-intended (and not-so-well-intended) folks gets skewed. Be open to the notion that you (or anyone!) may not have all of the answers — and everyone’s life experience is different. It’s not always easy to “pick yourself up by the bootstraps.” It’s not always easy to follow your dreams. And it’s certainly not always easy — or even possible — to change your life and circumstances.
What this means for Disney princesses: Ariel wants to walk on land — and to that, everyone with legs says she should “just” change her life. If she wants it enough, works hard enough, and tries, she can have land legs! She should just stop complaining, because she obviously isn’t trying hard enough! But that isn’t true. It’s easy for people with legs to give advice to those with flippers. However, unless some things in the world change — unless it becomes easier for people with flippers to get legs, unless the judgment from those with legs stops, unless someone with magical powers shows up — Ariel can’t trade her tail for legs.
What this means: It may be tempting to interject to any conversation and share your story or your opinion or whatever it is. But listening is so crucial. That’s part of being open-minded — the ability to hear what others whose experiences differ from yours have to say, and then reflect on that.
What this means for Disney princesses: Pocahontas is chatting with Snow White over coffee. Pocahontas laments the fact that John Smith and his entire camp invaded her village and tried to kill her entire tribe. She is sharing a personal, heartfelt experience. Snow White interjects and tries to say she understands Pocahontas’s struggle because one time, Snow White snuck into a seemingly deserted house, claimed it as hers, and then had it invaded by seven little men. The two situations are not comparable; Pocahontas now must explain this to her friend. What Snow White said was insensitive; Snow White should have just listened.
4. Be aware.
What this means: Did you know that by calling the U.S. America, it erases other Americas in this part of the world? Did you know young, beautiful white women who go missing tend to get exponentially more media coverage than anyone else — including women of color? Did you know that people of color are NOT more likely to commit crimes, but they ARE more likely to be jailed? Did you know that it’s mostly white people who benefit from welfare? It’s true when they say “knowledge is power,” and knowledge also often requires independent research on your part. So when you see things being passed around social media — Facebook, Twitter, whatever — try to check on these to see if they’re true. Don’t be that person who continues to spread fake information. Check it out. Read. Do research. Think.
What this means for Disney princesses: Mulan, Shang, and Mushu are practicing their fighting. The subject of blond princesses comes up. Mushu starts gabbing about how blond princesses are dumber and less willing to give to charity than dark-haired princesses — it’s been scientifically proven! Mulan and Shang exchange a look. This information sounds believable, but is it? Mulan pulls out her cell phone and Googles it. She finds a reliable source and shows it to Mushu. What Mushu has said is not true. Don’t say this again, Mushu.
5. Educate yourself.
What this means: Strive to stay up-to-date on current human rights issues, especially through alternative forms of media. I’m sorry, but NBC, Fox, and CNN are just not talking about a lot of what really matters, at least not when car chases and shootings are so easy to report on. Start small and work your way up. Tumblr has been a surprisingly amazing resource for a lot of the things I know. A few places to check out for information on news that isn’t necessarily being reported by local news stations:
What this means for Disney princesses: Tiana has been told her whole life that if you kiss a frog, they’ll turn into a prince. But actually, if you kiss a frog, you’ll turn into a frog! She learns this the hard way, when she turns into a slimy green animal. If Tiana had consulted some alternative news sources, she might have known this! She also might’ve known that kissing frogs doesn’t actually cause warts… it’s just super gross.
6. Find the good.
What this means: Remind yourself of the GOOD in your life — through lists, through notes around the house, however you need to. Keep in mind the great things you have in your life and try to remember those the next time things feel like they will crumble around you. Similarly, being aware of other people’s problems can happen at the same time that you’re feeling sorry for yourself. You can know about world issues and still ALSO be really stressed about your job. You can have your struggles. You are allowed to be sad/upset/angry over seemingly “lesser” things. You can cry. You can throw a fit, stomp your feet, and be mad. You can say and think life is unfair. You can lament how things are unraveling in your life. (And anyone who tries to pull that, “Wow, you’re upset over THAT when there are starving kids in Africa?” card is an asshole.) Your feelings are all valid. But do also try, when you can, to take a deep breath and remind yourself of all that’s good in your life. It’s important. It’ll keep you sane.
What this means for Disney princesses: All Ariel wants is to walk on land. Her gadgets, her kingdom, her family — nothing brings her comfort when she feels she isn’t allowed to chase her dreams. Ariel knows there are some Disney princesses out there who have got it worse — Rapunzel is locked up in a tower; Tiana is a frog, Cinderella is a servant — but at the same time, Ariel is having a rough go of it. That’s okay. Ariel’s awareness is what’s important.