There are plenty of Disney moments from my childhood that read differently as an adult. You might remember this one: the ballet scene in Fantasia, “Dance of the Hours” playing—the sixth musical segment. Hyacinth, ballerina and hippopotamus, slowly emerges from a fountain in the middle of a grand courtyard.
From my lens, it’s one of the crueler jests you’ll find in the Disney portfolio, and as a child of the 80s and 90s, in the era of supermodels and diet pills, I didn’t blink twice at the joke. She’s a hippo in a tutu, here for laughs at her expense.
But my daughter, oh my daughter. She saw this hippo come into full frame, gasped, and grabbed her tutu.
“Mama. She’s BEAUTIFUL.” She whispered.
It was the most pure expression of the word I’ve heard her use, in the exact opposite way I could make sense of it as a kid.
When I think of the eating disorders and self-esteem issues that followed the years I dressed up and danced to Fantasia, I can’t help but feel immense relief and gratitude for the women out there today actively breaking down the oppressive and toxic beauty standards of yesteryear.
I’m thinking about how far the narrative has shifted from my upbringing in terms of where women find their sense of value in its broadest sense. It’s not in striving toward sameness or toward a particular standard of “beauty” but rather in recognizing and making space for what makes us us.
Hyacinth the hippopotamus is my daughter’s ideal ballerina. She dresses to match her, squeals when her solo finally arrives, and is in awe of her spins, leaps, and command. She does not see size or shape as labels or value. In the eyes of my three-year-old, Hyacinth simply is.
While the rest of this scene includes moments that horrify (HELLO CROCODILES HAVE YOU HEARD OF CONSENT), Bennett sees what I can’t, what I still grapple with, long before she’ll understand why it matters so much.
Today, on International Women’s Day, I’m thinking about how far the narrative has shifted from my upbringing in terms of where women find their sense of value in its broadest sense. It’s not in striving toward sameness or toward a particular standard of “beauty” but rather in recognizing and making space for what makes us us—self-defined, with the opportunity to thrive no matter the label, box, or pronoun.
The values and narratives with which I grew up have given way to an entirely different experience for children today, one that wouldn’t be possible without you and me, and all those who stood up for the expansion of opportunities.
I hope I can raise my children to understand that what defines womanhood cannot be encapsulated by one singular experience. When we welcome the parts of ourselves that defy sameness, that move beyond the status quo, we can continue to carve out space in our world where acceptance is not conditional.
I hope I can raise my children to understand that what defines womanhood cannot be encapsulated by one singular experience.
All this being said, there is certainly room for improvement when it comes to gaining equal rights and honoring our individual qualities. And while we may not see the full extent of the change we hope for in our lifetime, we each have the opportunity to make an immediate difference in our homes, in our communities. We can start with ourselves, and we can start with our children too.
Happy International Women’s Day. May you find the freedom to be who it is you are meant to be.
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