You probably think those two words are entirely unrelated. After all, what does a gorgeous Princess with a pure heart have to do with finances?
Apparently a whole lot.
A few months ago, Sarah from The Yachtless, invited everyone to examine popular stories and unpack the financial messages (good or bad) that each story conveys.
For me, the story of Disney’s Cinderella begins with a journey back in time.
The year is 1999.
Sitting in front of the television, I cheer. My chubby, six year old hands clap as fast as they can while Cinderella, the gorgeous animated princess in a blue dress, marries Prince Charming. She is now a Princess and will live with her prince in a huge castle. I sigh contentedly as my mom tells me it’s nap time. The greedy stepmother is punished and Cinderella is granted a lifetime of riches and love. Everything is it should be.
Years have passed and I’ve grown from a chubby 6-year old to a sporty 22-year-old who is about to graduate college.
The year is 2015.
The movie theatre erupts in applause as Cinderella kisses the Prince. It is 2015 and Cinderella is no longer a cartoon character; she is a real life actor and her dress is more magnificent than ever before. It glitters as she twirls in the ballroom. Good hearted and beautiful, Cinderella is given everything she deserves: wealth, love and a royal title. Her greedy stepmother and stepsiblings are forced to leave in disgrace as they continue to relentlessly pursue wealth. I whisper to my partner, “That is the dress I want for our wedding.” We both laugh as we exit the theatre.
The message in Disney’s Cinderella is simple: greedy, evil people (the stepmother and stepsisters) desire money and good-hearted, kind humans (Cinderella) do not.
This message isn’t particularly new. From works by Charles Dickens to Shakespeare and everything in between, the theme of greed as evil is incredibly common.
It isn’t until we dissect the notion of greed that we can start to fully understand our underlying money beliefs.
So let’s dissect.
The stepmother is classified as “greedy” because she wants to be rich. In addition, to greedy, the stepmother is also cruel, mean and petty. All of these traits are presented as equally horrible.
Summary: Desire for money = Bad
Because greed is considered bad, the stepmother is punished. When the movie ends, the stepmother is alone and poor. (Note: The 2015 movie has a slightly different ending for the stepmother, but overall, it is the same.)
Cinderella does not desire material goods or money. Her desires are simple: a happy home, time outside and safety for her animal friends. All of these traits are valued the same and considered “good.”
Summary: Not caring about money = Good
Because Cinderella is considered “good,” she is rewarded. By the end of the movie, Cinderella marries into royalty and is filthy rich.
So what’s the problem?
The underlying messages are simple to understand, but harder to deconstruct because they are so prevalent in our society.
In fact, the American Dream is based upon the exact same notion. According to the narrative of the American Dream, hard work and a pure heart is the only ingredient that is necessary for financial success.
And Americans love stories about bootstrapping business owners and hard-working office workers who climb the proverbial ladder. These are the stories upon which we have built our society.
Anyone can be anything that they want and there’s only one rule…you can’t say that you want money.
The minute that you say that you want money is the minute that you become the evil stepmother.
You can want money. You can dream about money and you can work hard for money, but you can’t say that you want money.
People who say that they want to be rich are immediately classified as one of the following:
It’s only okay to be rich if it happens by accident. The hardworking small business owner who “accidentally” earned millions. The actor that was “discovered” in a mall. The digital entrepreneur who “stumbled upon” a lucrative marketing strategy.
These are the stories that we accept. They are the stories that adhere to the narrative we’ve been told.
Wealth is only okay if it’s an accident.
But what if that wasn’t true?
What if Cinderella did dream of becoming a rich Princess? What if she wanted financial freedom more than anything else? What if she wanted crowns and jewels and everything that sparkles?
But more importantly, what if Cinderella wanted all of those things and still had a pure heart?
If these things were true, they wouldn’t detract from Cinderella’s kindness or big heart. It would make her human. We are all walking paradoxes that want multiple, seemingly unrelated things, and that’s okay.
So what if Cinderella was like the rest of us?
The truth is that we all want to create a life of wealth and prosperity for our families and ourselves.
There’s nothing evil about wanting to create a better life for yourself.
When I look back at the story of Cinderella, I notice something surprising. Marrying the prince (aka: acquiring money) was the reason Cinderella was able to escape a horrible, abusive living situation.
Money provides freedom and there is nothing wrong with wanting it, dreaming about it and working towards it.
And honestly, I’m pretty sure Cinderella would agree.