Dear Beautiful Girl –
I have watched grown people aim nasty glares at a children in princess dresses, then hurl charming judgements in the direction of their mothers:
“Those stories are everything that is wrong with girls today.”
“You shouldn’t let your daughter watch that garbage.”
“You should teach your girl to value her mind and her potential.”
“You are feeding her lies.”
Are there bits of truth in these unsolicited accusations? Certainly. But, my love, there is also so much more.
In this city, the city that your Daddo and I love and have chosen for you, we have no shortage of soapboxes. There is a powerful division, here, between the right and the wrong, the healthy and the damaging, the oppressive and the uplifting, and you will be faced again and again with those who want you to believe that there is only one telling of all stories, only one right or wrong way of looking at things, only things that will hurt you or save you and nothing in between.
Sometimes, these people will be right. Some things are black and white, true or false, real or make-believe. But most things? Most things live in a half-way space, a middling ground where they can be transformed by your perception, your abilities, your passions, your heart. Most stories are only just stories, and how you read them is just as important as the words on the page.
Cinderella, having had so much taken from her, gave what little she had to her tiny friends – used her limited resources to clothe and feed and nurture them, after hours spent scrubbing and serving and being belittled – she gave, and she loved. She cultivated hope. She dreamed crazy dreams (attending a royal ball? Please.) and worked hard, stitching together found-ribbons and discarded beads, taking the time to build something beautiful for herself, to give herself the best chance. She wasn’t too proud to accept help when it was needed and offered. She had the guts to go to a party where she didn’t know anybody, all by herself, and when a prince asked her to dance, she had the confidence to say yes. And sure, she married that prince and therefore got out of her dingy attic digs and into a castle to live happily ever after, but she’d never have met him – he’d never have known she was there to “save” – if she hadn’t been brave, and strong, and worked hard, and been kind, and held hope. The prince didn’t save Cinderella – she knew what she wanted and she did everything she could to get it. That girl got herself out of that attic, and she did it in adorable shoes.
Don’t get me wrong – stories are not perfect. We are imperfect people who write imperfect tales full of imperfect characters. There are some stories I’d rather you didn’t fall in love with, some lessons I’m not sure I’m keen for you to learn. But I don’t care a lick if you want to grow up to be an explorer, scouring the world for new discoveries and cultivating your independence, or a scientist who juggles raising a family while pouring over gene sequences and patterns and hope, or a princess who rocks incredible dresses and desires little more than falling in love and finding someone gallant with whom to share her life – be any of those girls, be all of them, be brilliant and beautiful and stylish and smart and nerdy and fantastic and athletic and brave and humble and gentle and all of these things at once or whichever of them you choose, but more than ANY of them, be the girl who sees more in the story.
Be the girl who sees more.
Grow up to be the kind of someone who recognizes her power over story and situation. Be the kind of girl who can see beyond the surface and seek out beauty even when it’s hidden, discover value in the darkest patches, eek out a glimpse of worth where others have overlooked it. Be the girl with the imagination and creativity to take a story and make it her own, tell it her own way, and choose to see the good and the right and the potential. Be the girl who doesn’t dismiss another girl as vapid because she loves fashion, or as boring because she loves books, or as bossy because she longs for success and leadership, or as foolish because she longs for love and companionship. Be the girl who rips people out of their boxes and holds them up to the light.
Snow White, having been kicked out of the only home she’d ever known by a jealous and mean-hearted queen, wasn’t afraid to befriend people who were very different from her. Not only did she befriend them – she showed them love and hospitality. She supported and encouraged them, as they did her, and she created a new situation for herself. She trusted. She gave people the benefit of the doubt. And sure, eventually she took an apple from a stranger and fell into a deep dark sleep, and sure, a prince kissed her and carried her off to live happily ever after, but she’d never have met him – he’d never have known she was there to “save” – if she hadn’t been open and accepting and forgiving and resilient and a little bit fierce. The prince didn’t save Snow White – she valued people, and they in turn valued her. That girl got herself out of the spooky woods, and she did it with a smile and a song.
It matters, this ability to see more. It matters, because there will be seasons in your life that aren’t perfect – seasons that seem shallow and stuck and wasted, seasons during which it is hard to see yourself as anything more than victim, than failure, than broken or foolish. Be the girl who writes down the painful words of the stuck places, reads them aloud to herself, and dreams up new ways to hear them – new ways to shout them so that victory and intention and always, always love echo into all of the irritating plot twists, the unexpected villains, the vain and fading happily ever afters.
We begin with fairytales, but ultimately, we wind up the tellers and believers of our own stories. Remember Who is writing yours. Remember that your story is part of a much bigger, beautiful, endless and magical one. Remember that you can tell it any way you like.
And when they try to tell you that you must take sides, must be yes or no, must be pretty or smart, must be whole or broken, must all or nothing your way through life in the business of being one or the other – be the girl who tells them a story. Be the brilliant girl in the ruffly gown who stands in the middle and whispers “We can be both. We can be all. We don’t have to be one or the other.” Grab fast onto hesitant hands and pull them to each other.
Tell them a story, beautiful girl. Tell them your story.