Songs from different eras have a message

March 29, 2014 

Attention fellow '80s babies: what Disney song did you sing over and over as a girl in the grotto -- I mean, bathtub?

"Look at this stuff. Isn't it neat?"

Go on. (You know you still remember the lyrics.) Ariel, the clever, ambitious, fiery-haired mermaid, sang "Part of Your World" in the 1989 Disney film "The Little Mermaid" and stole our hearts. Here was someone to look up to: an almost-woman who overcomes her differences so that she not only fits in to the world above, but also marries a human prince!

Ariel's got it all underwater. "But who cares? No big deal." She wants more. She's the company exec who has her baby and her career. She's the modern woman whose shape shifts between sexy ingénue, zealous maverick, and respectable wife to fit the backdrop. She actually traded her voice for legs. Come on. That's a woman who'll make sacrifices for upward mobility. Pun intended.

But today there's a different anthem. And I've heard way too much of it to ignore it anymore. "Let it Go," the unstoppable song from Disney's 2013 film "Frozen," encourages young women to forget the haters and be themselves.

Elsa, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "Snow Queen," has a unique power that was diagnosed as a problem

worth hiding from a young age. While singing "Let it Go," she realizes that her power isn't a problem after all, but an incredible asset. She determines her own worth, regardless of normative opinion. Sounds like a role model today's girl can get behind, doesn't it?

But I'm torn. On the one hand, Ariel remains a relevant example. Women are still overwhelmingly encouraged to conform in order to achieve traditional success, be it in the workplace or home.

Ariel does just this, and achieves her dreams because of it. Rather than lament the fact that her fin is a deal-breaker, she decides to do whatever it takes to get rid of it so she can reach her goals. A bit harsh and reactionary, but practical.

On the other hand, Elsa gives today's girl a more independent and fresh heroine. Far away from the pressures and expectations of her parents and society, she is able to create incredible ice art with her powers and can finally feel proud of her differences.

A line like "I don't care what they're going to say" resounds in a bully-conscious culture that has become increasingly protective of children's uniqueness and self-esteem.

It's admittedly frightening to hear a 4-year-old clutching a Frozen costume screech, "No right, no wrong, no rules for me!" while tearing down a Toys 'R' Us aisle. But I'd rather see a 4-year-old in that costume than an Ariel bikini any Halloween.

Despite my history with "Part of Your World," it's not easy to choose a favorite. Because while the songs' messages seem to be at odds, they do both speak to "bright young women, sick of swimming, ready to stand." The difference now is the nature of the ground on which they do so.

Natalia Naman Temesgen is an independent correspondent. Contact her at nataliadian1@gmail.com

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