Just saw this film this afternoon while spending a mother-daughter day with my Elder Spawn. Beautiful movie in many ways, and there were a lot of things I loved about it, but by far the most beautiful aspect is the metaphor for a seldom-skewered form of abusive parenting–emotional invalidation.
The king and queen in this movie are not stereotypical physical or mental abusers of children, beating their daughter with belts, burning her with cigarettes, throwing away her toys, calling her names or raping her. But what they are doing to her and to her younger sister by proxy is terrible nonetheless. Because imprisoning a child in shame and self-loathing, taking a child who is different and teaching her to become massively dissociative, withdrawn, depressed via emotional invalidation–is very real and very damaging abuse. And separating two siblings who loved each other this much by building a Wall of Shame between them was criminal.
“Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show” is the defensive mantra of the abused in any abusive environment, especially in childhood. When you’re abused, you learn that any public expression of your inner truth is unsafe and unwelcome early. You accept that no one is really interested in what you think, how you feel, what you want or need. You accept that being in pain, being alone and being unloved is simply How Things Are. And in cases like this, the abuse of emotional invalidation does its worst damage when it comes from people that you depend on for love and approval and safety.
This film finds powerful visual metaphors for a lot of very real feelings. How good it feels to break free of the restriction of denial, of the prison of constant fear and shame–even if the only place you can be yourself is in some counter-dependent Tower of Isolation. How empowering it is to be yourself, no matter how terrible you’ve been taught the Real You is in the eyes of the world, and unleash your creative powers.
It is also a pretty good example of how your damage can 1) make you a target for sociopathic predators 2) destroy your ability to connect and take comfort from people who genuinely care about you and 3) seriously harm the people who love and need you by making it difficult for you to see and accept and meet THEIR emotional needs.
Great little film. Highly recommended. This and “Brave” are my two favorite Disney flicks from a feminist perspective.