Abbreviated version originally published in The Mainsheet: Volume 65 Number 6
Over Spring Break, I took five of my little cousins to see Disney’s new live action movie, Cinderella. I am not afraid to admit that I had been looking forward to seeing this movie for months. Cinderella had always been my second favorite princess, behind Mulan.
Cinderella’s rags to riches romance has always captivated and bewildered me. In Disney’s animated 1950 classic, Cinderella is hardworking, genuine, but helpless. As the girl group the Cheetah Girls put so perfectly: “I don’t want to be like Cinderella sittin’ in a dark cold dusty cellar waitin’ for somebody to come and set me free. I don’t want to be like someone waiting for a handsome prince to come and save me... I’d rather rescue myself.” I always loved Cinderella, but as I got older, I wanted her to take charge of her own fate. I wanted her to know that she was strong enough to rescue herself, to be the heroine of her own story.
So when I walked into the movie theater holding the hands of excited little people who were seeing a Cinderella movie for the first time, they had read the story but never seen the original movie, I hoped that they wouldn’t subconsciously absorb the message that I had 15 years earlier: you need someone to make you whole.
The movie defied my wildest expectations. It portrayed a fully fleshed human being: Ella. A girl who felt the immense pain of losing her mother too young. A girl who often put other’s happiness before her own. A girl whose father left one day and never came back. A girl who was stuck living with a replacement family of strangers: mean, insecure stepsisters and a truly wretched but grieving stepmother. Nothing in the movie was simple or clear cut. I loved it.
The conversations about honoring those you love and following your own heart were touching and relatable. And best of all, the character development of Ella, Prince Charming, the stepmother, and stepsisters gave me a better understanding of Disney’s new interpretation. The stepsisters were rattled with insecurity and a lack of confidence, which helped me better understand why they were lashing out. The stepmother felt immensely lonely and vulnerable after the loss of her first husband and took that pain out on Ella. Prince Charming struggled with doing what his father thought was best for the kingdom and what he himself thought was best. Ella struggled with honoring her parents’ wishes to stay in her family home when home was no longer a safe place.
Throughout the course of the movie, Ella gained the confidence to leave her childhood home while offering forgiveness to those who had done her wrong and did so on her own two feet. Prince Charming may have been a catalyst to help Ella get out of a bad situation, but she moved on, forgave, and opened her heart all on her own.
Cinderella left me with three takeaways. One: We all walk around with our own pain and shame. And yet, Ella didn’t feel shameful about her pain. She allowed herself the profoundly freeing experience to feel the darkness in the depths of her soul. I believe that when you understand your own pain, it’s easier to show compassion towards the pain of others. Having compassion towards your own pain, self-compassion, leads to empathy, kindness, and love for yourself and others.
Feel your pain, and allow others to feel their own. You don't have to walk around with a smile plastered on your face all the time. You are allowed to be mad, frustrated, unhappy, upset, joyful, grateful, and excited. Don’t let others diminish your pain. Don’t let others tell you how you’re supposed to feel. Allow yourself to have compassion for yourself and all of the trials and tribulations in your life.
Two: It’s true that fairytales are a fantasy. We live in a world that can be filled with immense intolerance and hatred. We live in a world where girls as young as three years old have to walk miles and miles for water instead of going to school. We live in a world where extremist groups like ISIS reign in terror, massacring the people that stand in their way and destroying the ancient artifacts and culture of the territories they conquer. We live in a world where unarmed black men are shot in our country’s streets. We live in a world where many people feel alone and abandoned. We live in a world that can be cruel and unfair.
It’s also easy to forget that we also live in a world full of good people doing wonderful things. We get to meet people that are striving to change the world for the better. People like Michelle Geller who valiantly raises awareness for animal abuses. People like Ms. Jessica Ahl who generously and selflessly shares her wisdom, time, and talents with students. People like Victoria Ojetunde who is not only humble and eloquent but also graced with the athletic prowess of a dancing diva and a track tiger. People like Ryan Apfel who has such warmth and grace in the way he treats those around him. People like Ms. Natalie Johnson who isn’t afraid to ask her students tough questions and push them outside their comfort zones. People like Allie Claman who fights to help others improve their wellbeing and health. People like Mr. Patrick Wallace who teaches his students with such enthusiasm and passion that his voice rings out with excitement all over campus.
The world we live in isn’t so black and white. I often feel that we try to oversimplify the complexities and people in our lives. People aren’t all good or all bad. High school isn’t all good or all bad. Getting older isn’t all good or all bad. Wouldn’t life be boring if we could just put things into two groups? Well, we shouldn’t, but we do.
I believe that compassion for others becomes a whole lot easier when you realize, like Ella did with her stepmother, that even the cruelest people have goodness and humanity in them. That doesn’t mean we need to subject ourselves to abuse, but it does mean that maybe we can see the entirety of who someone is and why they are the way they are.
Three: When we go off to college, most of us will be far away from family and friends. For the first time in our lives, we will be in the driver’s seat. It’s up to us to decide whether we will be the heroes or heroines of our college experience and lives. We can wait passively back for someone to rescue us and show us the light, or we can search for it ourselves. We don’t have to be like Cinderella waiting in a dark, cold dusty cellar for somebody to come and set us free. We can consciously make the courageous decision to light our own way, to pursue our passions, and stand up for what we believe in, regardless of what others might think or say. We have the power to complete ourselves.
Throughout my 13 years at Chadwick, I learned the importance of kindness to others and kindness to myself. I learned how limiting putting yourself and others into black and white boxes could be. I learned that I am my own heroine. I make my own decisions and make my own way.
As Ella’s mother told Ella right before she passed away, “Have courage, and be kind.” Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we tried a little harder to follow her advice?