Editor’s Note: Babble is a part of The Walt Disney Company.
Last weekend, I took my daughter to see Disney’s latest release, the live-action version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved.
As a kid I had loved the book, but I was most excited about the movie’s diverse and mostly female cast — including Oprah, Mindy Kaling, and the film’s lead, Meg Murry, played by 14-year-old Storm Reid. Right away, the film drew both my daughter and I in, with its dazzling colors and surprising plot twists. But I think both of us ended up leaving the theater with an unexpected lesson, too.
Throughout the film, its main character Meg is struggling at school after her father’s sudden and mysterious disappearance. She’s bullied and critiqued for her appearance, her family life, and even for being just a little bit quirky — something my 8-year-old daughter could immediately relate to.
There were many times this school year when my daughter struggled to face her own bullies, just as so many kids these days seem to be. And I, in turn, felt powerless to help her. The truth is, I often feel at a loss for words when trying to help her cope with these tricky social situations. Especially when I know how challenging it is and that my “help” might not actually make that much of a difference when she heads to school tomorrow. I’ve even found myself throwing out the same cliche phrases we’ve all heard before.
Just believe in yourself … don’t let anybody get you down … no one can make any less than you are.
And while I meant every word that I said, I knew in the back of my mind that saying these words and actually believing them are easier said than done.
The truth is, my daughter did let the ones picking on her get her down; but it would’ve been hard not to. She’s a perceptive kid at an intense point of figuring out who she is and what she’s about. And she’s just now starting to see how she’s the same or different from the kids around her.
Those bullies brought on a flood of emotions in our home this year — both my daughter’s and mine. But I couldn’t simply keep telling her to shrug it off and not to worry about them. Even though I wasn’t walking the halls at school alongside her, I knew just how emotionally draining it all was to face. And I knew that I’d be feeling every bit as awful if it were me.
Even now, decades after I last sat inside a classroom myself, I can still remember the kids who weren’t so nice to me in school and the things they would say behind (or in front of) my back.
Growing up is hard; and feeling alone makes it even harder.
In A Wrinkle in Time, we see Meg struggle in the same ways real kids do every day — not always so gracefully. But just as Meg is battling her way through the unknown to find her father, she’s presented with a choice: she can keep fighting, even when everything looks grim, or she can accept that who she is is really not all that great, and return to Earth as Ultimate Meg, the sleek-haired, glasses-free, perfect version of herself. In other words: She can get rid of all her flaws, or she can embrace them. (Don’t worry, I won’t give it all away; but if you had Oprah’s inspirational voice running through your head, what would you do?)
The film’s central message — about embracing your flaws and being unapologetically yourself — is a powerful one. And as I watched in the theater next to my daughter, I couldn’t help but think that it’s a message I never really got as a kid. At school, kids are urged to try hard and be good at everything. We grade them on their performance in math, art, reading, gym, playing sports … this list goes on. We don’t often think of it this way, but kids are often expected to do it all and excel at all of it, too; which is almost the exact opposite of what we do as adults — when we find the one thing we’re good at and stick to it. In the process, it’s all too easy to focus on what you’re not good at — especially when someone else is pointing it out to you.
The truth is, when you really know yourself, bullies have no real impact on you. As Reese Witherspoon’s character says, “I give you the gift of your flaws,” before sending warrior Meg into battle. And so, she learns that she has to love even the parts of herself she’s tried to hide away, in order to be set free.
It’s a lesson I was so glad to see played out on the big screen for a younger audience — the very thing I hadn’t learned as a kid in school, or been able to put into words to help my own daughter. But now, this strong cast of female characters has shown her that your flaws are what make you amazing. Being good at everything doesn’t make you who you are. Being full of quirks and failings and loving yourself anyway does. It’s an even greater super power than being smart, beautiful, and all-around perfect. Because perfection isn’t real, even if it seems that way.
As children, we learn quickly how the world wants us to do things and who it expects us to be. If we can also figure out a way to teach our kids that loving yourself is the most important thing they’ll ever do, and that no one can stomp your light out when you know who you are, they will carry that with them through the rest of their lives.
I know my daughter will.
A Wrinkle in Time is now on Digital & Movies Anywhere and Blu-ray.