I’ve heard it said that you can tell a lot about a girl by her favorite Disney princess movie.
This is a little ironic considering I was raised in a culture where I had to lie about watching such things until some indefinite point in my teens when my mother Gave Up, but I do think there’s some truth to that statement. What someone idealizes does, whether they like it or not, end up having a strong effect on who they become.
I always liked Beauty & The Beast best, myself.
I’m pretty sure I almost broke the videotape when I was little because of how many times I watched it, and my earliest career goal was that I wanted to be Belle. From my perspective as an odd yet fairly mundane preschooler, Belle got everything. She got the cool house with the huge library (I learned to read when I was three and have had a book-buying problem ever since), she got dresses that were cute but still practical, and her love interest made a lot of sense to tiny me. Sure, the Beast ultimately ended up being boringly attractive, but that wasn’t why Belle loved him. No, she fell for him because he was kind, because he treated her like a person and expected nothing more than for her to see him with the same eyes.
Even as a little bug, I had issues with the cultural narrative of relationships I was soon to learn. It just took me a while to find the words to say that.
I knew, well before I had the words for it, that I wasn’t gonna be what the people around me wanted. I was and still am a domesticity fail, as evidenced by last weekend’s chili experiment (life tip – there is no reason to put two jumbo-sized cans of tomato paste in ANYTHING unless you’re cooking for a crowd) and the fact that my organization style is “I can’t lose anything if I can see EVERYTHING”. I’ve figured out my performative femininity acceptably enough, which is to say I like wearing cute dresses and I can run pretty well in three-inch heels, but I didn’t get to that point until the tail end of high school. It took me past my twentieth birthday to figure out that I actually do want to get married and have a few kids and probably homeschool ’em if that’s the best choice for who they are as individuals, and even then I’ve set those goals for myself for my own reasons instead of because they were expected of me. I’m not musically talented, so ’nuff said about that defect. In general, I just… turned out to be my own person in a culture that really wanted Stepford girls.
Obviously, said culture didn’t give me a game plan for relationships with the opposite sex.
(Sidenote – turned out I’m bi as hell, but that’s irrelevant here. Maybe someday I’ll share the story of how I figured that out, but for the purposes of this post, I’ve got enough trouble as a girl attracted to guys. More than enough trouble, really.)
There were the books, of course. Before You Meet Prince Charming was a real big hit in the local community. I remember thinking, as an extremely innocent thirteen-year-old, that maybe it wasn’t good to get your relationship instructions from someone who’s never been in one. I made the mistake of actually saying this to a few people and… well, I was already the black sheep girl of the group, so wasn’t like I could do anything worse unless I got pregnant or something.
(Spoiler alert – that didn’t happen. I thought I was asexual until I developed my first major crush when I was seventeen, it took another six years for me to crush on someone who liked me enough to kiss me, my physical innocence is still pretty intact, and I’m a smart enough woman to be on birth control for the sake of covering my ass anyways. Didn’t stop me from having a Virgin-Mary-panic moment a few weeks back, but that’s a mandatory experience for anyone who has a uterus. Even one of my close friends who is solidly lesbian and physically inexperienced has had a panic-induced pregnancy scare. Srsly.)
As if the books weren’t enough, there were the social pressures. I remember, for some very weird reason, deciding I wouldn’t kiss anyone until I was engaged to them. No freaking idea why that seemed sensible to me, but it was restrictive while still being realistic (or at least that’s what I thought at age 15-ish). We did not talk about crushes, ever, and there were a few secret relationships amongst my peers that I didn’t learn about until several years later. Not to mention, girls were never allowed to initiate anything. Ever. Just wait around like good little wallflowers until a Good Bubble Boy thought we were worthy of forever.
I’m not sure how old I was when I realized my fate was probably not gonna go that direction, but at some point in high school, I started constructing my own alternative fantasy.
I was damaged goods, or at least that’s what I figured. I was vaguely aware of my status as a Survivor, and a lot more aware of the self-harm scars on my legs. I had no culturally valuable skills or personality traits. Obviously, I was never gonna be anyone’s first choice.
Once again, Beauty & The Beast saved my ass.
Obviously, I subconsciously told myself, what I needed was a slightly damaged man. Not dangerous, mind you; more of a brooding type without the asshole-ish qualities that usually come in the same package. Someone who had definitely Seen Some Shit and was visibly a different person because of it, but still had flickers of light in his soul. Someone quiet and kind and above all else protective. Someone who could deal with my bad depressive days and still, somehow, actually like me.
Then, armed with those desires, I discovered fanfic and shipping and all of those fun things.
I firmly believe that fanfic can be therapy. You’ve just gotta find the right thing to write it for, the right characters and pairing to make your life make sense. I’ve processed a lot of major life events through fic, and some of my friends have told me that they can tell when a plot point in a story actually happened to me because it feels more real. I also used that outlet to figure out what I wanted. If you’re an inexperienced little bug who’s pretty convinced they have no real chance of changing that… trust me, playing in someone else’s sandbox makes life make so much more sense.
I found some unexpected stuff along the way. I found friends who are like sisters. I found inspiration for my tattoos, both existent and planned. I found things worth living for.
Oh, and I convinced myself I had relationshipping down, which was real freaking cute when it got crash-tested.
Be careful what you wish for, I guess?
I did good, in the grand scheme of things. My “type”, if you will, is a solidly good type of human. Compared to one of my besties, who is a little too interested in fictional sociopaths and has made an effort to make sure her RL “type” is much different for her own safety, at least mine is something I can safely go after. I created this for myself, after all, and I might as well see what paths it leads me down.
But srsly y’all, if your kid’s favorite Disney princess movie is The Little Mermaid and your kid has seen all the Disney princess movies, you’re in for a wild ride. Just sayin’.