The Little Mermaid: Bad Role Model or Just a Girl in Love?

One of my favorite movies gets tainted by motherhood.

When I was growing up, my mother always bought me the Disney movies. I loved watching Cinderella and Lady and the Tramp. There weren’t as many Disney princess movies as there are now, but the ones I had, Cinderella, Snow White and The Little Mermaid, were just fine with me. I loved them! So it comes as no surprise to anyone that my 22 month old daughter has all of the princess movies and can name all of the characters.

When you are young, you don’t really give movies too much thought. Well, at least I didn’t. Now as a mother, I am looking at these movies in a whole different way.

My daughter was watching The Little Mermaid. Usually I try to sit with her while she is watching because I enjoy them as much as she does (maybe more!) For those of you who have not been sucked into the Disney vortex, The Little Mermaid, Ariel, lives in the sea with her father and sisters. Don’t even get me started about why she doesn’t have a mother. That will be a whole other article (thank you Disney writers that obviously have mommy issues.) She is obsessed with the “human” world and falls in love with a “human.” Or as her father calls them “barbarians” and “fish-eaters.”

So here is where my issues come in. Ariel falls so madly in love with this “human” that she forsakes her entire family and being a mermaid to “live happily ever after” with this “human.” WHAT?

I am all for being in love… but at the cost of your entire identity and family? I have never been the type of girl to meet a guy and take on his identity. By this I mean taking up his activities, doing only things that he likes to do and getting so involved with his family that I forget mine. I know many women who do this. It is great to share interests, but don’t forget the ones that you had before you met this other person.

So is The Little Mermaid really the role model that I want for my daughter? Probably not. I mean for crying out loud she got turned into a human just to be with a man! Now I realize that in the Disney movies they usually do live happily ever after, but what if they don’t? Would she then want to turn back into a mermaid? Would her family accept her after she turned against them to become human? And what if there are children involved? How would the children visit their underwater relatives? Silly, I know. But you get my point.

I want my daughter to learn that just because she is one half of a couple, doesn’t mean that she has to forget who she is. She needs to still do the things that she loves and enjoys whether she continues to enjoy them by herself or with her significant other.

When she gets old enough, I will explain all of this to her. But for right now, I will just enjoy how excited she gets when she sees a princess and let her enjoy these movies on the child level that they were meant to be enjoyed. And I will try to stop seeing them from the cynical mother point of view.

Christina Andrade July 20, 2011 at 04:17 PM
I think in terms of how "human" behavior relates to the movie: if someone changes in a good way for another because they want to, or someone makes them better, that is ok. not ok when someone adjusts for someone else in an attempt to make that person like them more. Ariel wanted to be human before her human so I think its not so bad. haha! I kind of like how they dont make all disney movies picture perfect like the no mom thing. not that its a good thing but in real life families come with different dynamics so this makes the kids feel like they are not singled out who come from non-traditional families.
Christina Andrade July 20, 2011 at 04:23 PM
BTW: Beauty and the Beast is my fav Disney movie of all time :))
Heidi Beck July 20, 2011 at 06:22 PM
If you want another perspective on the Little Mermaid, read the original Hans Christian Anderson version of the story. It has a very different message.
Angela Jordan-Chetcuti July 20, 2011 at 06:31 PM
Will do Heidi! I have been looking for my next book to read. Thanks!
Debra Scott July 21, 2011 at 01:52 PM
I also have a problem with Beauty and the Beast. Come on.. he's a Beast but the love of a good woman changes him to a Prince? Um.. anyone see the influence of this movie might make girls think that they can change that Bad Boy if they just love him enough.. he's good inside.. really.. he'll change. He will stop beating me, or stop emotionally abusing me, or stop drinking and take responsibility for his children.. and if he doesn't.. its because I didn't love him enough. I mean the other side might be that everyone has good in them and everyone deserves a chance.. but not at the risk to their own emotional/spiritual/physical health. I do let Disney movies in the house.. but I tell my daughter I don't really like them and I tell her why. I also read her the original versions of fairy tales.. like the original Little Mermaid where she doesn't get the guy and dies. I also read lots of Brothers Grimm and talk about the cautionary tales these faerie stories were trying to teach. We talk about what the stories say and stuff. Now my daughter is 6. She's 'grown out of the Disney Princesses.. she told me the other day. She said she still likes princesses but only the tough ones. (whatever that means).
Debra Scott July 21, 2011 at 02:19 PM
I think about Cinderella and how she was abused by her Stepmom and sisters and how she was just sweet and lovely and then the prince took her away from all that. And what message that sends. Be sweet and take the abuse and you'll get your reward in the afterlife comes to mind.. Not sure that was the intent.. but that's a whole nother thesis. Good luck ladies figuring it out. We haven't even talked about the fact that there are now non white princesses, like Pocohontins, Mulan (not really a princess but she ranks.. she's my fav actually), and the new one from the Frog Princess. But even though they have created them.. they don't get used in any of the Princess group stuff. Most of it is still Aurora, Belle, Cinderella and Ariel and SnowWhite. I have a good friend who is not white and she doesn't let the Princesses around her kids because they made her feel like poop when she was a kid. She felt because she had brown skin and dark hair she could never be a princess.. that she was defective. I cried for her, cause I never thought of it that way before.
Kim B July 21, 2011 at 03:27 PM
I got hung up on the same thing. My daughter is absolutely obsessed with Ariel and I thought the same when watching the movie. However, I realized that Ariel identifies as a human long before Erik shows up, and I think that's important. What I've decided is to use these stories as a springboard for conversation with my daughter about good and bad decisions. What I don't like is that "Happily Ever After" usually means a wedding. They ALMOST got it right with Tiana (Princess and the Frog - who, btw is VERY present in Disneyland park and almost all princess merchandise), however, when Tiana talks about her dream her MOTHER comes along and dismisses it, saying that what she REALLY wants to see is Tiana to find love. Groan. I agree with you - if Ariel's mother would have been around she never would have gotten into all that trouble for sure. I think the lesson in that is for Triton. As Sebastian said "Children got to be who they are".
Kim B July 21, 2011 at 03:40 PM
I meant to add that my other problem is that I'd like just one of the girls to have a dream other than finding the right guy, and for it NOT to be facilitated in any way by that guy! Rapunzel uses Flynn, and her happily ever after is being home with her family, but also includes getting married to the thief that stole from her family that she "changed" because she was so amazing. I will just explain to my daughter that this simply does not happen in real life. People can change and grow together, and that's great, but you can't bank on a criminal changing their ways. Thank goodness our daughters have their mothers around to talk to them! Oh - read or watch Sleeping Beauty again. Would you let the 3 fairies even babysit your child? I feel so sorry for Aurora's mother.
Angela Jordan-Chetcuti July 21, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Thanks so much for the feedback ladies! I think as long as we recognize that these movies aren't the "ideal" things that we want out daughters to learn and make sure that they know this, they will turn out just fine. I also think this rings true for boys. They need to know that they don't have to "rescue" women and always be the hero. I'm pretty sure I can take issue with every Disney movie ever made, but I still enjoy them. See future articles that will cover the whole "mommy" issue with Disney movies. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!
Ashley July 21, 2011 at 06:06 PM
Hey Angela, just thought I would throw in that I grew up with the princess movies and my Mother did what all of these other ladies recommended...using the movies to open a dialog about real (healthy) relationships. To make you feel better, I am now married to a wonderful man that supports me and loves me unconditionally. So no worries.
Sara October 01, 2012 at 02:39 PM
I grew up on Disney movies.. I turned out just fine. It's not the movie, it's how you raise your child to understand things. Nothing is perfect in life. Your child will grow up and see the world regardless. They will see different types of families. The mermaid shows that people make mistakes. She wanted to become a mermaid and then realized what she had done.. In the end her father saw she was really in love and wanted her happiness.. This shows a girl knew exactly what she wanted and went after it. It's called following your dreams. Yes, she didn't go about it in the best way and she made mistakes along the way but that's just life. It's judgmental to be so critical of the movie. If you talk to your children and teach them, they will take lessons from the movie.


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