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Lies Mulan’s Mother Taught Me

Over the weekend, my boyfriend was trying to explain to me that he thought I was beautiful without any make-up and without dressing up.  He was trying to explain that he doesn’t need me to try and impress him or attract him; me being myself is attractive enough.

And it upset me.

Why on earth would that upset me?  Isn’t that every girl’s dream?  To find someone who sees you as beautiful when you’re not even working at it?  Shouldn’t that make me feel elated?  Why, then, have I been dwelling on this as something negative for the past two days?

I’m blaming Mulan.

More accurately, I’m blaming Mulan’s mother and Disney.  Let’s start with “Honor To Us All.”

Thematically, the point of this song is that Mulan is different.  She is being forced into this mold of what a perfect woman should look and act like, but despite her best efforts, she fails.  However, the song is still in the movie, and it presents the image that women should conform to a falsified version of beauty in order to find a husband.

So Mulan disguises herself as a man, and from a man’s point of view, she gets a glimpse of what men think of women.  Here’s “A Girl Worth Fighting For.”

And so now, we’ve had it doubly reinforced that men (most men, the average man) are only interested in women who are shallow, surface-pretty, and empty headed.  Even when suggested by the “male” Ping, a girl who “always speaks her mind” is rejected.

But you’re saying that the point of the movie is that Mulan is different, and that she finds her happiness in following her dreams and desires.  This is true, for Mulan.  But I would argue that there is an implication that only Mulan can achieve this.  Check what the emperor says to Li Shang:

“You don’t meet a girl like that every dynasty.”  Mulan is one-of-a-kind.  Well, that’s great for Mulan, but what about every other girl out there watching this movie?  If she’s the exception to the rule, then we must (by default) comply, otherwise we will never find love or happiness.

We’ll all be stuck waiting for our reflections to show us a grain of inner truth.

I could systematically go through so many different films about a woman rising above social pressure to find happiness and point out how it leaves the rest of us more determined to stick to society.  Unfortunately, most of these films are geared toward children.  It’s an awful catastrophe that movies which intend to uplift simultaneously tear down.  Mulan is just an example.

Going back to that conversation with my boyfriend, I was wrestling with my feelings about it last night.  And I realized that I am so conditioned to believe that I can only be pretty and beautiful with all of these superfluous layers of paint and polish that I don’t believe I can be beautiful without it.  The fact that someone was telling me otherwise just did not compute in my brain.  And I realized, when I started to accept it, that it made me feel embarrassed, even ashamed.  Ashamed of being naturally beautiful–now, how does that make sense?  It doesn’t.

Like Mulan being told, “you will never bring your family honor,” by the matchmaker, we all have matchmakers in our lives telling us that we will never bring honor or beauty into the world.  Ladies, that is a lie.

Because within all of this social pressure to be picture perfect dolls, the truth is that you are your most beautiful when you are yourself.  My boyfriend tells me that.  My roommate’s boyfriend tells her that.  We don’t believe it; maybe we’ve reached a point where we, as women, can’t believe it, but it is true.

There is so much negativity out there, so much social pressure to look and act a certain way, to perform instead of being yourself.  When we start to cave to it, we run the risk of losing ourselves, of being every other plastic person in the world instead of being the Mulan that we all have the potential to be.

We are all beautiful.  It’s time we see that.

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2 thoughts on “Lies Mulan’s Mother Taught Me

  1. I would not blame Disney or Mulan as the root source of this dilemma – I’d probably go broader and say it is the media industry as a whole that has systematically formed and reformed our cultural, systemic idea of appropriate beauty. It is easy to see how influences from outside our homes have powerful implications and often override the beliefs and examples presented in our homes. Take my legs for example.

    Thanks for posting.

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