Years ago, I wrote a blog where I would rant and rave (but mostly snark) about Disney films and other properties Uncle Walt owns. At 19, I thought there were no more life lessons to glean from fairy tales. Post-Tangled and Pre-Frozen, there seemed no more good added to my life from these films. I realize now that I had missed a valuable lesson from one of those aforementioned films, that being the impact of emotional abuse.
Mother Gothel from Tangled straddles a dangerous line. She is outwardly affectionate-- giving gifts and showing interest in Rapunzel's interests. She uses her amazing gourmet chef skills to create a delicious birthday dinner. She shows genuine concern for her adopted daughter when she disappears. But of course, we, the audience, know why she is worried. She is possessive of her daughter for what she gets from her: eternal youth. Every word from her mouth serves to lower Rapunzel's self-worth, to make her daughter submit to her will without coming across like the villain.
The moment from the film that haunts me, playing over and over in the cinema of my mind is Mother Gothel red-faced screaming "You will never see those lights ever!" Her true nature is revealed, the cloak thrown off if only for an instant. Then realizing that she has lost control she says, very calculatingly, "Great. Now I'm the bad guy."
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Her very movement suggests calculation and purpose. It is textbook emotional abuse.
The reason it haunts me so much is because I had an extremely emotionally abusive relationship. I have had conversations that followed that train. Replace "seeing the floating lanterns" with "hanging out with my family during Christmas instead of you." Replace "Plus I believe gettin' kinda chubby, I'm just sayin' cause I wuv you" with "You are really smart. Guys are intimidated by that. That's why they didn't want you. Not me, of course." It is the same thing.
Some of you reading this may know my ex. This is not meant to bash him in any way. I maintain that we both thought what he was doing was part of love. It took me two years to admit to myself that what he did and said was not love. It took me an additional four years to admit that it was okay not to want him in my life. I stayed because I didn't want to be alone, and on some level, he made me feel like he was my only option. I stayed because I didn't want to hurt his feelings, and on some level, he made me feel that his emotional health and happiness (or lack thereof) were not only my responsibility but also my full-time job. Regardless of my needs or moods or wants or the fact that we lived with a six-hour time difference. We scheduled around his life when we Skyped or went on dates, even though I was an athlete, quiz bowler, swing dancer, and stage manager over the course of our relationship. When I was busy, there were problems. The relationship crashed and burned over a fight where I was stage-managing around Hell Week and missed a phone call from him where he flung accusations in my face of being the lowest of the low. The things he said that day still haunt me. And I still stayed with him.
At seventeen, I did not know any better. I did not know I could do better. And I did not think I deserved better. Coincidentally, Tangled was released only two weeks after that fight, and my friends in high school were OBSESSED with the movie; in fact, the following summer, we even threw a Tangled-themed surprise party for one of our friends in that group.
But even with that in mind, the message had been lost on me. Abuse is not always some decrepit Dicksenian miser, who uses a bamboo cane and calls a child "guttersnipe." It is not always a burly man in an aptly named tanktop leaving aubergine bruises across the face. Sometimes, abuse wears the mask of desire and calls itself your "Beloved." Sometimes it makes you hazelnut soup. Sometimes it buys you very expensive necklaces. Either way, you live in a fear. In the case of myself and Rapunzel, fear of losing love. But just like Rapunzel, I saw the light. I just wished I had seen it sooner.
This post was inspired by a conversation I had with my friend Ann about Beauty and The Beast and Tangled and what they taught us about life and love. And I might pick up with this again next week.