“That Perfect Girl Is Gone”: A Letter to Elsa

This is the latest in my series of letters to inspirational female characters that will be compiled in a book alongside letters from my fellow fangirls and fanboys. If you are interested in being part of The Fan Mail Project, I’m still taking submissions on a case-by-case basis, and you can check out all the information here

elsa

Source: frozen.disney.com

Dear Elsa,

You weren’t around when I was growing up. Instead, I had a plethora of Disney princess role models who were all strong and kind and incredible in their own ways. I grew up with Belle teaching me to love books, Jasmine teaching me that I wasn’t a prize to be won, Pocahontas teaching me to follow my heart, and Mulan teaching me that I was just as capable and powerful as any man. I will always be thankful for the lessons they taught me, but a part of me will always wish that I could have grown up with you.

Those princesses were smart and fierce and courageous and…pretty close to perfect. And while it’s wonderful for little girls to grow up with an ideal image of all they can be, it’s also important for them to see that it’s okay to have moments when they’re not perfect princesses, even moments when they hurt people—not because they mean to, but because they are struggling with things that feel beyond their control. It’s important for them to know that every princess (or queen, in your case) is flawed, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make them unlovable or unforgivable; it makes them human.

So thank you for giving a new generation of girls something I didn’t have when I was little—a Disney princess who struggled with something internal rather than external, a Disney princess who lived out the conflict women often struggle with between the perfect image we feel we need to project and the messy reality of who we really are. The biggest fight many of these girls will face in their lives won’t be with some terrible villain; it will be with the darkest parts of themselves. And in you, those girls will see a champion, a symbol of their own ability to accept the parts of themselves they feel they’re supposed to hide and hate—and their ability to turn that acceptance into power.

I didn’t have you when I was little, and I wonder how different my life would have been if I did. I first remember getting sick from being anxious when I was seven years old, and the more I tried to hide my feelings of anxiety as I grew up, the worse my reactions were when they finally pushed their way to the surface. And when I calmed down, I always felt ashamed, like I needed to lock myself away in a room until I could present a better face to the world—a feeling you would understand all too well.

But I’ve come to learn that there is no “better face.” The anxious side of me is as much a part of who I am as the enthusiastic side of me, and when I started acknowledging moments when I felt anxious and afraid, I started to feel more in control of those negative feelings. “Conceal, don’t feel” doesn’t work; nobody knows that better than you. We can’t hide the parts of ourselves that we think others won’t understand or accept in some attempt to “be the good girl [we] always have to be.” It’s taken me 27 years to learn this, and I still have a long way to go toward putting what I’ve learned into practice. But I hope that—because of you—little girls growing up today won’t need 27 years to get to where I am. I hope that every time they get to the part of “Let It Go” where you sing, “The fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all,” they sing along at the top of their lungs and understand what that line means. Their fears, their insecurities, and their flaws don’t have to control them. They don’t have to be afraid of themselves.

Thank you for being a shining example for girls who might feel controlled by negative emotions that they can learn to control them instead, but they can’t do it alone. Thank you for making the mistake of trying to handle things on your own and then learning from that mistake. Thank you for finally embracing a support system, because all too often we as women are taught that we have to handle everything—especially our internal battles—on our own.

Your story matters. The fact that a woman like you showed the parts of herself she was afraid to reveal to the world and still became a beloved leader matters. The fact that you hurt your sister when you were at your worst but she still loved you enough to risk her life to save you matters. Because it shows that there’s hope. Even when we feel we’ve done unforgivable things—even when we push away and hurt those we love out of fear and self-loathing—we are still worthy of love, we are still capable of doing the right thing, and we are still strong enough to be leaders. All too often, young girls and even older women are taught that we have to be perfect in order to be worthy of leadership positions or the love of good people like Anna. But you ended this chapter of your story with your kingdom and your sister’s love. You weren’t seen as weak for the struggles you faced; you were seen as strong for overcoming them.

I may not have had you to look up to when I was a kid, but I can still draw inspiration from your journey as an adult. And I can still beam with pride and hope when I see young girls sing “Let It Go,” subconsciously learning to accept themselves for who they are—flaws and all.

For the little girls everywhere who just want to know that it’s okay to struggle sometimes; for the teenage girls everywhere who have trouble controlling their negative emotions and feel ashamed of themselves because of it; and for the women everywhere who want to believe they can be open about their flaws and still be loved and respected—thank you.

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9 thoughts on ““That Perfect Girl Is Gone”: A Letter to Elsa

  1. Preach, sister.

    This is such a powerful message . . . “conceal, don’t reveal” creates heartache and pain. What was originally seen as destructive was actually a very powerful, positive force — once accepted. (And good grief, is this a great analogy for the teenage years . . . the possibility of random destruction once the emotions are engaged? — Or maybe that was just my teenage years.) I hate that our society so rabidly jumps on any mistake or error. We need space to make mistakes, space to figure things out We need an Anna (or two or three) in our lives who will go searching for us uphill, in the snow when we try to run away from ourselves. We need to know that we can make Olafs.

    Thanks, Katie, for another beautiful letter.

    • Thanks, friend!

      “We need to know that we can make Olafs” might be one of my favorite sentences I’ve read in a long time.

      And for the record…definitely not just your teenage years. 😉

  2. With time I’ve been realising, with some surprise, that I can relate to Elsa in a lot of ways. One of them actually relates more to Elsa’s (and Emma’s) arc in Once Upon a Time. Similarly to you, I suppose, I have a very proeminent geeky side and people in my life don’t accept it very well. I think they’d be thrilled if I somehow erased that side of me – the very thing that, in my opinion, makes me special – and became “normal”, a perfect girl by their standards. It’s very hard to deal with, it took years for me to learn that my geeky side isn’t a flaw, on the contrary. The best thing about the Internet is getting to find people with similar tastes and/or who have been through similar struggles.

    • First of all, I’m so sorry that there are people in your life who don’t support your nerdy passions; that’s such a hard thing to deal with. It always helps me to remember that everyone is a geek/nerd about something—whether it’s sports or politics or music or TV shows—it’s just that some people don’t let that part of themselves shine. You have chosen to let that part of you shine, and that makes you incredibly special and strong. Second, I’m so glad you have found people on the Internet who make you feel less alone. That’s the beauty of fandom and my favorite thing about it. ❤

  3. This was great Katie! I am definiately an Elsa and it also took me a long time before I was comfortable showing my weaknesses. I am a a stereotypical perfectionist. I want things to be perfect, and it’s hard not to feel like a failure when I make mistakes. But nobody is perfect, and I have learned that trying to hide ones flaws only makes things worse and makes you feel more isolated and alone. It’s why I have tried more in recent years to not only admit my failures to myself, but to share them with others. Because for me, knowing I am not alone in my struggles helps immensely. And if I can provide that same level of comfort to someone else, I want to. I think this is one of the major reasons why I love Jennifer Morrison as much as I do. I can’t tell she tries hard for perfection, but she admits when things are hard or when she makes mistakes. And I respect her so much more because of it. If we don’t admit when we are struggling, others will never know how or when to help us. No one archives anything alone, and the first step is being open to and knowing where you need the help!

      • I like the mistakes . . . I especially like “no one archives anything alone.” 😉

        Ok, seriously now, you make SUCH a great point about sharing struggles. This is how we learn and grow — seeing how people handle their struggles and just knowing that others have the same (or similar) struggles. This is how we develop empathy and compassion. This is what makes us better people. This is what creates community — that and Doctoberfest mugs. (Yes, you all know you were waiting for me to drag that in.)

        • Archiving is tough business! Sometimes I feel like my phone has a mind of its own! And the tiny comment window is not useful for proofreading!!

    • Perfectionists unite! I completely relate to everything you said about feeling like a failure when you make mistakes. I have never been good about asking for help—even when I need it—because I’ve always been afraid that I’m showing weakness. But, like you, I’m coming to learn that admitting I’m struggling with something often leads to finding others who’ve struggled with the same things. And God knows there is no better feeling than knowing you’re not as alone as you thought you were.

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