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5/3/15blog post

is Cinderella bad for kid's mental health?

On one level, the recent Disney version of Cinderella is absolutely delightful! This is a sweet movie of young Ella following her mom’s dying advice to “have courage and be kind,” even when confronted with adversity.

Ella falls in love with a prince and all ends well.

However, Ella is a dreadfully offensive role model for children, particularly young girls. Ella’s behavior represents a terrible way to deal with abusive relationships.

The death of Ella’s father leaves her in the care of stepmother, who immediately begins to abuse and humiliate young Ella. After working endlessly to complete household chores, Ella sleeps near the fireplace, leaving some dark ash on her cheeks. Her stepsisters use her physical appearance to further degrade this young girl.

One stepsister suggests that Ella be called to “Dirty Ella,” while another recommends “Cinder Wench.” When they finally settle on “Cinder-Ella” as a way to shame her, the stepmother responds, “Oh girls! You are so clever!”

Ella’s response is typical of abuse victims. She passively accepts this humiliation. Even when relegated to the attic of the house, Ella says little other than to constantly remind herself of her mother’s advice.

As a psychologist who works with abused and neglected children, this is an uncomfortable movie to watch. Ella is subject to constant degradation. When she sews a dress for the ball, her stepmom rips it up. When the stepmother finds the glass slipper in Ella’s room, she smashes it to reaffirm Ella’s subservient role. “A ragged servant girl is what you are and what you will always be.”

How does Ella respond to such abuse? Her character is portrayed as consistently submissive and obedient. She remains incredibly polite and passive when confronted by ridicule and treated with disdain.

This is not the way we want our children, particularly our daughters, to respond to abusive relationships.

It struck me as odd that Ella kept repeating her mom’s advice of “have courage and be kind” throughout the movie. For Ella, being kind was equated with being submissive to the abuse of her step-family.

Wouldn’t it have been an interesting movie if Ella had taken her mother’s advice of having courage and applied that to her abusive situation? It would have taken some audacity for Ella to figure out a way to respond effectively to her abusive situation.

Rather than being rescued by a strange man she met in the forest, what if Ella somehow used her wit and wisdom to free herself from her sadistic stepfamily?

That’s the kind of movie we’d really want our kids to experience.