Troubles in Fantasyland

photo: Carlota, one of Maria Luisa Cascajo’s daughters wearing a Rapunzzel wig and costume / TAYLER WILEY

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“If you can dream it, you can do it,” Walt Disney.

THIS IS WHAT MANY CHILDREN ARE TAUGHT. The danger this quote implies lies not in the imagination of youth, but in the realization of reality that comes with age and graduation ceremonies.

“NEXT MONTH IS MY-” María Luisa was stopped mid-sentence as a crash came from the other room, followed by hysterical crying. María Luisa Cascajo, wife and mother of four young children, came running back into the room with a baby on her hip and an exasperated look on her face.

AFTER A DEEP BREATH SHE CONTINUED, “Next month is my 36th birthday, and… and when the baby’s crying, Fernando (husband) wants something done, I realize there are bills to pay, and remember that my acting career still hasn’t taken off, I wish I could just jump into a Disney movie so that everything could be alright.”

“WHY, SOMETIMES I’VE DREAMED UP as many as 6 impossible things before breakfast.” The ageless Alice, from Alice in Wonderland, seems to be mocking this busy young woman, caught in the reality that production companies are much less interested in you once you’ve passed age 35.

“I’VE HAD TO ACCEPT that where I am now is probably where I’m going to be until my children
are older,” María Luisa explained as she exhaled. “I’m happy but…” she trailed off as she looked to the coffee pot that had started steaming, adding to the ambient chaos.

AS SUNG IN A SOMEWHAT SATIRICAL TONE by song artist Lilly Allen, “It’s sad but it’s true how society says her life is already over.” The statistics given in the documentary Miss Representation (2011) echo truth to these lyrics. In the U.S., women in their teens, 20’s and early 30’s are 39% of the population, yet are 71% of women on TV. While women 40 and older are 47% of the population, yet are 26% of women on TV.

IF THE MEDIA ILLUSTRATE our (unrealistic) fantasies of success, it could also be said that it is the media which embody the “American Dream,” that has become a commonly accepted concept worldwide. In this “American Dream,” youth, academic growth, and material prosperity are emphasized above all else, but at what cost?

IN A STUDY BY EGGERMONT (2006), it was found that television viewing predicted traditional social scripts regarding romantic relationships, which are highlighted in the Disney Princess films.

ALTHOUGH THE FIRST MOVIE in which a Disney Princess appeared, Snow White, was released in 1937, the Disney Princess line, started in 2001 as an advertising and marketing franchise that has reinvigorated its popularity. The campaign aims to attract a global audience of girls with the ultimate goal of encouraging children to personally identify with the characters, so they will purchase the associated products.

THIS AMERICAN DREAM has come to represent materialism. It emphasizes extrinsic goals, focused on rewards such as money, image, and status. These extrinsic motivators are proven to be on the opposite end from intrinsic motivators like personal growth and community feeling, which tend to lead to higher levels of happiness (Kasser 2011). “If strong values are important to happiness, this explains the anomalies in happiness research” (Happy 2011).

THE SECRET TO “INSTANT HAPPINESS TODAY” has been featured on countless magazines, and in 2009 Coca Cola coined their slogan “open happiness.” Businesses use marketing techniques to define happiness as the product they are selling, and in doing so, oversimplify its meaning.

WHEN WE ARE ENCOURAGED to obtain this oversimplified image of perfection, living in the dream world created by the media only leads to dissatisfaction in our daily lives.

“WHEN I WAS LITTLE I saw my parents working and playing. They seemed happy, and spending money like it was from a Monopoly game,” remembered María Luisa, “so it was a big wake up call when I suddenly had my own utilities to pay and a job that maybe wasn’t ideal.”

“TO ME NOW,” she continued, “I worry when someone showers too long or leaves the light on over night. That’s money that could be put to a trip or a house repair. I worry a lot more.”

WHEN WE ARE YOUNG many girls dream to be princesses or presidents, but harsh the reality is that by just dreaming it, as Walt Disney so eloquently put, you won’t achieve it. There are bills to be paid and compromises to be made.

OUR SOCIETY is run by many different moving parts. No one dreams of being a truck driver, a street cleaner, or even a waitress, but everyone relies on those jobs to be done.

BY SOCIETAL EXPECTATIONS of the “American Dream” perpetuated through the media, we are told to see ourselves in a happy marriage with the perfect husband and “beautiful children,” in an expensive house.

IN THIS DREAM, there’s no room for the ugly scenes, for the bills we have to pay, for the unplanned child, the divorce, or the home eviction. Yet today, divorce rates are higher than ever, and in economic crises eviction is prevalent. So what happens when you realize your youthful Disneyesque dreams aren’t coming true?

ALTHOUGH LIFE is not a sequence of perfectly edited scenes with an “and they lived happily ever after…” the real world can be much more rewarding, because of the challenges not in spite of them, the personal growth and community feeling.

IN THE MODERN WORLD we cannot expect for the man to be the perfect prince, and it’s no longer sufficient for the woman to be only the damsel in distress. “If you want to be a happy and fulfilled woman,” María Luisa explained, “you need to be both the princess and the prince. You need to save yourself every once in a while, otherwise reality will only let you down.”

HOWEVER DRASTICALLY becoming an unexpected mother has changed her life, María Luisa loves her family and it is visible in every expression, every laugh, and all she does. Through the good and the bad, she is playful yet realistic, and therefore proudly says that it may not be Disney material, but she “is incredibly happy.”

MARÍA LUISA REPRESENTS the beautifully real image of setting your own standards and finding a true and lasting happiness in imperfection.