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Defending The Little Mermaid

Posted on November 22, 2019 at 7:00 AM

By Diana Scharf


I’m really sick and tired of hearing everyone complaining about The Little Mermaid. People suddenly seem to feel that this adorable children’s story is anti feminist because Ariel “gives up her voice for a man.” Well, I’m sorry Keira Knightly followers, but this just shows me that you weren’t paying enough attention to the strength of Ariel’s character.


Before Ariel even saw the prince, she was obsessed with being part of the human world. (Cue song here). Like, hoarder-obsessed. Literally any human object she could find went into her secret cove, and her favorite past time was searching the ocean for human objects and then trying to figure out how to use them. She’s not content just sitting around the palace, looking pretty and singing in seashells like the rest of her sisters. She’s exploring sunken shipwrecks, finding hidden objects in the sea and narrowly escaping death while she does it. She’s basically Indiana Jones with a fish tail.


So when the opportunity presents itself to chase her dreams and join the world she loves so much, she jumps at it. Wouldn’t you? Why doesn’t anyone talk about how brave Ariel must be to leave all that she knows behind and go out into the unknown? What do we tell our daughters when they have to leave us to go to school for the first time, or when they go to sleep away camp, or even (gulp!) off to college? Be brave like Ariel! She left her home behind and got everything she wanted.


Why doesn’t anyone commend Ariel for making the sacrifices necessary to achieve her dreams? There’s a good lesson there for little girls: if you want to achieve something great, you need to make sacrifices. Nothing comes for free in this world. You want to get into a good college? Skip that party and study for the SATs. (Sorry baby, Mommy isn’t Felicity Huffman or Aunt Becky).


Why does nobody mention how Ariel saves the prince’s life twice, and not the other way around? She’s not waiting around for a prince to find her. She’s diving into fiery shipwrecks and battling giant sea witches! That’s pretty badass if you ask me.


Yes, there’s a prince involved—it is a Disney movie after all. But he’s not the sole reason for the transition; Ariel becomes human because she wants to be human. And not for nothing, but if anyone wants to bother reading the original Hans Christian Anderson, the little mermaid so badly wants to be human that she endures great pain on a daily basis and turns down her chance to return to the sea, even though she knows it’s never going to happen with the prince. In the end, she earns herself a human soul and that is her happy ever after. In both the book and in the Disney movie, she takes control of her own life and makes herself better. What is more feminist than that?


Anyway, my point is that I’ve always seen Disney’s The Little Mermaid as an empowering story, and it just bugs me when people belittle Ariel’s achievements just because there was a man involved. I’ve watched The Little Mermaid with my daughter dozens of times, and I don’t ever worry that I’m teaching her the wrong values. She sees me go to work and run my business. We have lots of conversations about how girls can do anything. And she also sees that I’m a wife who loves her husband. Nothing wrong with that either.


When I teach The Little Mermaid in my yoga classes (yes, you read that right!) I stress the female empowerment. We use yoga poses to triumph over hungry sharks and giant sea witches. We discuss Ariel’s bravery and put her in yoga poses that both require and build strength. We talk about what dreams the students have and what steps they might take to achieve it. (And we don’t even have to give up our voice, we are so lucky!). I can even find an asana to match it.


So please, go show your daughters this movie without reservation...and then call me so we can act it out with yoga!


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Reply R Goldman
6:50 PM on November 22, 2019 
Diana, that was spot-on! That's how we brought up our daughter.
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