To All the Girls Who Aren’t Like the Rest
Mulan II, the 2004 direct-to-video Disney animated musical film, was poorly received by critics. Probably because it’s impossible to create a banger better than I’ll Make a Man Out of You, or a ballad more tear-jerking than Reflection. That being said, there is one song in Mulan II that really shines: I Want to Be Like Other Girls.
Here’s a brief plot synopsis for those who may not be die-hard Disney fans who frequently watch obscure animated sequels. In the film, Mulan, our kick-ass, take names, and save China protagonist, gets engaged to General Shang. But the celebration is short-lived when the happy couple are given a mission to escort the Emperor’s three daughters across the country to meet, for the first time, their own soon-to-be fiances. In a shocking turn of events, the three daughters are unhappy with their arranged marriages, but still want to do their duty to their father and country.
Anyway, back to the song that should’ve been a smash-hit. I Want to Be Like Other Girls is a song the princesses sing about wanting to be free to make their own choices. They desperately want the chance to scrape their knees, climb trees, and dance around in their underwear (not panties, just saying). As a child, I could not get enough of this song. They were singing about doing everything I wanted to do. Running around without supervision, slouching when they sit. There’s even a line about eating a whole cake! I saw myself in them. They wanted freedom. I wanted freedom.
The Wrong Side of the Tracks
But, I didn’t necessarily want to be like other girls. I wanted to be different. Unique. I wanted to be the edgy girl who didn’t conform to the societal norms. Picture a chubby twelve year old girl wearing dark blue eyeshadow and black nail polish who wouldn’t crack a smile to save her life. This girl tried so hard to reject girly stereotypes. She wanted to separate herself from the dresses and the skirts and the dolls, and God forbid...the pink.
I rejected my emotions, trying so hard not to be perceived as weak or vulnerable. I wanted to march to the beat of my own drum and smash a hole in it at the same time. My younger middle school self didn’t take pity from anyone. She was tough and walked around with the thickest skin no money could buy.
During this time in middle school, my parents split up for good and I pretended that I was doing just fine. I told myself that gone was the little girl with wide-eyes and a bright outlook on life. Sometimes moms and dads fall out of the love that they were probably never in to begin with. So I became a rock. I swore to be resilient, and never let them see me cry. I stopped laughing. I became moody and agitated. I wanted people to look at me and see someone who could handle it all. But I lost myself in my crusade to be a tough guy.
Everything about me was artificial. I still loved to play with dolls even if I acted like I was too cool for it. I wanted to wear heels and pretty dresses, but I had trained myself to say no to every dress my mom picked out. It was automatic. Is this thing girly or frilly or sparkly or pink? Yes? Then I don’t want anything to do with it. I wanted people to associate me with some bad bitch from the wrong side of the tracks. “Look at her,” I wanted them to say, “she’s hard as nails.” Above all, I wanted attention. I wanted my family to see that I was struggling and these superficial ways in which I was trying to morph myself into someone I wasn’t, was a just a cry for help.
Unfortunately, no one seemed to get it. I was obviously going through some sort of emotional breakdown/depressive episode, but all I got was “Why don’t you smile more?” “Think happy thoughts!” Once, my grandmother even asked the other girls in my class if I was in a bad mood when I went to school, and if it bothered them. They said yes, and I got a good talking-to about how the other girls weren’t going to be my friend if I didn’t wise up.
Well guess what...screw them, I thought.
I’m Cool, I’m Chill, I’m Laid Back
In high school I mellowed out a little bit. I still prided myself on being tough, and honestly I kinda still do now. But instead of walking around ready to fight someone all the time, I began to adopt a new attitude with others. Circa 2014 and I was now chillllllll.
I grew up a little bit (not enough) and shifted into an easy-going, more relaxed girl. I still had the attitude, but I reigned it in a little bit more around my friends. I still wanted attention, and I still wanted people to think I was cool and unique and different from the rest. My wardrobe became almost exclusively black, something I still subscribe to actually. I also started labelling my music taste as “emo punk alternative” even though I was still hardcore rocking out to the Jonas Brothers in the comfort of my own home (how about that comeback?!) I expertly curated a laptop case covered in what I thought to be the least basic stickers imaginable. Think Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, obscure TV shows, the Millenium Falcon. I was trying to be emo at the same time I was attempting to embrace my quirkiness.
But, I was cool, girl. I was chill.
I cared about school. A lot. But don’t catch me acting like I’m too stressed out to function. I was descending into a deeper depressive episode that was probably becoming full blown depression. But you still won’t see me crying about it. You want to hear about my feelings and emotions? Not today.
Checking in With the Inner Self
Today, I would say I’m a more developed version of who I was in high school. I fully embrace my quirkiness and emo tendencies. I can talk about Star Wars and the Spotify Pop Punk Powerhouse Playlist for days. And my favorite color is pink.
I also feel that I have a better grasp on what was going on in my head during those formative years when I did my very best to be a dark and broody tomboy. I’ve come to realize that my younger self refusing to identify with anything that remotely resembled girly tendencies, was the patriarchy at work. I rejected traditional feminine characteristics simply because they were feminine, and being feminine in our society so often means that you are weak. And weakness was and is something that I vehemently refuse to let anyone see in me.
This isn’t right ladies. Everybody has moments of weakness, even boys. This doesn’t mean you’re a wimpy chick. It means you’re human and it is completely and utterly ridiculous that so many young girls feel the need to change themselves so deeply just to stand out from the crowd. To separate themselves from the other girls.
It’s up to us to teach young girls and even ourselves that being a girl is ok. In fact, it’s great! Wanting to subscribe to traditionally and even sometimes stereotypical girly and feminine things doesn’t have to be so stigmatized. Do what you want and live your truth. Be the best girl or womxn you can be and be a role model for others who might be afraid to be themselves.
If you’re interested in adding I Want to Be Like Other Girls to your bangin girl power playlist, I highly recommend the alternate version by Atomic Kitten. It’s a cute little bop with a more modern feminist twist than you’ll find in the Mulan II version.