Why Watching Disney Can Cure Your Perfect Asian Daughter Struggles

Disney movies have always made me cry.

Ever since Mulan came out in 1998 (didn’t even need to Google the year!), I’ve been gobbling up their stories left and right.

The thing is though, I’ve found that only a very specific type of movie gets me going.

And I don’t mean a single tear sliding down my cheek; I mean grown-up woman bawling in the theater while people beside me held their kids tighter.

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With the exception of Up (who makes a montage about an aging couple for a kids’ movie?! 😭), 3 films deeply struck a chord: Mulan, Zootopia and Moana.

When I thought about why they hit me so hard, it boiled down to one theme: family honor.

ASIAN PERSUASION

I was born and raised in the Philippines. Which not only means that I have about a bajillion relatives (whom I adore), but that I grew up as Asian as it could get.

Translation? My family is close-knit. Which means they’ve only wanted the best for me growing up… which means I always strove to be the perfect daughter: good grades, great looks, and everything in between. I’ve always loved my family, so naturally, I wanted to make them proud.

Asian culture has an interesting dynamic. Unlike our Western counterparts, we’re a very collectivist society: we’re taught from an early age to focus on the group’s needs – even if it means that sometimes, you sacrifice your own. You and the group (or in this case, the family) were one and the same. Whatever you said or did wasn’t just a reflection of your character, but of your family’s too.

Mulan, Judy and Moana all struggled with this. As daughters who loved their families dearly, they were torn between following their parents’ wishes to make them proud, versus venturing out on their own to pursue their path.

Mulan never dreamed of fighting the Huns; she just never felt like she fit the mold of an honorable Chinese daughter: marriageable, tiny waisted, well-mannered…

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…so when she saw the opportunity to protect her dad and bring honor to her family in a different way, she took it.

Judy didn’t really hate being a carrot farmer like her parents; it’s just that she always dreamed of protecting people and making the world safer as a police officer.

And Moana understood that somebody had to stay on the island to continue their family’s legacy – but that water was just so darn tempting: what was out there? Could she explore it?

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So when the time came to find a better solution to save the village, she knew she had to go out and find some answers herself.

When you think about it, all three characters had a common struggle: their dreams for themselves were different from the family’s. But the thing is, the family had good reasons too:

  • Mulan’s parents just wanted to her to have security and love in an agreeable marriage
  • Judy’s parents found economical comfort in carrot farming (they could provide for their 275 kids?!) – not to mention crime fighting really was dangerous
  • And Moana’s dad wanted to protect her because his best friend drowned; plus he knew somebody had to lead and take care of the village when he was gone

And that’s why the struggle was real: the family had good intentions. So did the characters. It’s not that they didn’t love their family or wished to disobey them. It’s just that their dreams for themselves weren’t what the family wanted. They clashed.  

And when you’re used to making your family proud your whole life, you struggle.

So what’s a girl to do? As an Asian daughter, I struggled with this, too…

Until now.

WHEN WILL MY REFLECTION SHOW WHO I AM INSIDE?

If there’s one thing we’ve always striven for, it’s perfection. And while reaching for excellence is great, an obsession with perfection is not.

Essentially, perfectionists operate from a place of shame – that gnawing feeling in your gut that you, as a person, don’t have worth if you fail.

From the prevalence of high suicide rates in Korea, the “Cult of Face” in China or even crab mentality in the Philippines, shame has found good breeding ground in Asian culture.

And when you’re a perfectionist like I was, it’s hard to stop feeling this way.

Which is why I started this site in the first place.

In the past year, I’ve learned to slowly but surely shed my perfect Asian daughter ideal.

And yet, in the process, I was able to do the things that were so difficult before: being closer to my dream body; quitting my distributive, high-paying job for a creative oneand being closer to my family.

The journey has nothing to do with changing your environment: at the end of the day, you just have to accept that this is how our loved ones, well, show their love.

Instead, what I've learned is that it's better to focus your energy on the one thing you can control: yourself.

Everyday, you can choose shame: wanting perfection, and jumping through endless hoops of other people’s standards...

…or, you could make the harder, more uncomfortable choice: deciding who you want to become, being honest about your shortcomings, and working on them – one unsexy struggle at a time.

The answer is simple.

But it’s definitely not easy.

Which is why I’ll be here every step of the way to help you.

Every week, I’ll be posting some actionable advice to help people just like us (and which has worked for me): health (physical & mental), career, relationships (family, friendships, etc.) and everything else we care about.

And once you really commit to the process of becoming better… I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll learn to truly accept yourself, imperfections and all.

And not only that, but I’m pretty sure your family will start to root for you too, on your own terms.

After all, if there’s one thing that Disney has taught me… it’s that happy endings can happen for anyone – as long as they’re brave enough to write their own story.

Question is: are you ready to write yours?