Jenny Call: Empowering the “Good Girl”: a Disney Princess I Can Get Behind

I don’t go to movies often as I would prefer to curl up with a book, but checking out the latest Disney movie, “Frozen”, seemed like a nice family activity to wind down Thanksgiving. I had heard positive reviews of both the movie’s message and music, but I was still surprisingly blown away. This may become my favorite Disney movie of all time. While the animation was lovely and the characters were charming, I resonated with the themes of the story as they connected with a book I’ve been reading. After savoring Emily P. Freeman’s latest book A Million Little Ways, : Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, I began reading her earlier work, Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life.

I’m a self-proclaimed “good girl”, and was often derided as a “goody-two-shoes” in my younger days. Performing well at school and at church became a mask for me, a way of creating an image of having it all together. The outer shell of “perfection” hid the fears and chaos I held inside. Somehow I had received the message that if I did all the “right” things then I would find happiness. It’s still a battle I fight daily, balancing my Pinterest ideals with a lovely (but not perfect) reality. I struggle with my inner critic and the voices of a culture that sells me the idea that I must buy more and do more to be more. There are the societal norms that regulate what I “should” say and how I should act as a woman, and religious dogma that sometimes narrowly defines (and denies) my role and call as a woman in ministry.

I’ve hidden behind my “good girl” persona, doing what I can to please others, be nice, and do what is expected of me. I’ve hidden and apologized for my anger and have not spoken up when I should have. I’ve relied too much on myself, as Emily Freeman describes the good girl in her book, “Hiding behind that good-looking mask, her arms are folded too tightly to give and receive grace, or to fall into an embrace from a God who sees beyond her good reputation” (Grace for the Good Girl, p. 45). It has caused me to keep others (and sometimes God) at a distance, and has allowed fear to make too many of my decisions.

This is where I most connected with the movie “Frozen”. The story centers around two sisters, who being Disney main characters are, of course, princesses. The elder sister, Elsa, has a special gift of creating snow and ice just from her touch. This provides magical snowy playscape for the sisters until Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with her powers. Elsa feels guilty and afraid and vows to hide what she now sees as a curse. When she is unable to control it, she ends up hiding herself away, putting distance between the sisters. After their parents die in a shipwreck (why do parents so often meet an unfortunate end in Disney movies??) and Elsa is preparing for her coronation as queen, her magic is unintentionally revealed. In fear, and for others’ protection, she runs away from her home, creating a new castle for herself out of ice (there’s a strong metaphor). She is alone, but finds freedom in finally being able to be who she truly is without hiding. She is surprised by the beauty that results.

At this point in the movie, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel of “Wicked” fame), sings “Let it Go”. Here are some of the powerful lyrics:

Don’t let them in, don’t let them see,
Be the good girl you always had to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well now they know.

Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn my back and slam the door
And here I stand and here I’ll stay
Let it go, let it go
The cold never bothered me anyway

It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all.
Up here in the cold thin air, I finally can breathe.
I know I left a life behind, but I’m too relieved to grieve.

There are twists in the plot that keep the movie from being a traditional Disney story. In fact, the movie pokes fun at the idea that the females need to be rescued, or that all is made right with “true love’s kiss”. In the end, it’s the bonds of sisterhood that are the evidence of true love, and the strength of the female characters save the day. Love is the cure for the power that has become destructive, and it restores everything to wholeness and beauty. Elsa learns that there is power and freedom in letting go of the walls she has built and seeking connection with others. Her strength comes in learning to embrace and use her gift, viewing it through a lens of art instead of fear.

What if we could all do the same? What if we could break through the places where fear has frozen us and find the empowerment to be who we were created to be?

Perhaps I should take my tea bag wisdom seriously.

This post originally appeared on Jenny’s blog on November 30, 2013.


Jenny Call is a minister, mother and chaplain at Hollins University, a women’s college in Virginia. Her essay, “Letting Go” (how apropos!) was published in A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood

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