A review and personal testimony regarding the new movie, Disney’s Moana and my recent trip to Hawaii with Walt Disney Animation Studios, Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
“We basically have the same job, but you’re… a … normal person.” I was sitting across from a 2X Olympian and the youngest American to go to every country in the world. We joked in an Upper East Side dive bar very different from the peaks we’ve climbed in Patagonia.
These two guys were older than I am, stronger than I am, and pretty freakin’ cool. While we bantered about my “normal-ness,” I clearly was “cool” enough to be their friend and colleague.
That being said, he was right. I’m not a professional athlete. I can’t sing, my parents aren’t billionaires, I don’t look like a runway model and while a nerd above all else, I’m not a rocket-scientist either.
I’m pretty normal. Yet, I’ve done some extraordinary things.
For the last two years, I’ve been traveling around the world and my business has exploded. I’ve played laser tag in private jet planes, volunteered in the Dominican Republic, spoken at conferences and universities. Throughout this process, I have not only experienced incredible places, but also the most interesting people — from villages in Vietnam to some of the most empowered global corporations — people not just places define my experiences. Because of people, I have built so much agency, and gained so such much momentum… in this last year in particular.
And until recently moving to my Manhattan apartment, I had accidentally — altogether stopped dating. I was so caught up in my “work hard, play hard” lifestyle that I forgot to date. I didn’t consciously choose to focus on my personal and professional self without romantic distractions, it just happened.
I was just a normal girl, doing extraordinary things. Period.
Maybe that’s why a week later, I found myself on the island of Oahu amongst celebrity youth at the movie premier of the Disney movie Moana.
I’m 26, and Disney finally gave us a female heroine without a love interest.
That’s right, Moana is adventurous, born to be a chief — diligent, a learner, leader and unconventionally normal. She didn’t have super powers, she wasn’t particularly strong or creatively talented. However, for being pretty ordinary, she did something extraordinary.
Moana is about a young woman who becomes a heroine and everyone lives happily ever after. The end.
There’s no catch to the story. She saves her people.
She teaches us lessons in perseverance, courage, and challenging our comfort zone.
So why is Moana’s independent hero-hood so historical?
There’s a reason why so many of us chose to team up and share this story.
A few reasons actually, check them out!
1. Any young woman can be a heroine.
“With the internet today, there are so many people to follow, you get to choose who you look up to.” – Sai de Silva, Scout the City.
Moana isn’t the only “normal” young woman playing heroine… being a heroine. More women are traveling. More women are saving lives in hospitals. More women are starting businesses. More women are fighting for human rights in courts and political systems. More women are farming, fishing, and feeding people. More women are telling stories that need to be heard. More women are raising strong families. More women are taking care of our sea, sky, and earth. More women are becoming leaders every day.
And men too.
You don’t have to have a superpower, a boyfriend (or girlfriend), a lot of money or be famous to make a difference in the world.
Like Moana, you just need will power. It starts with will power, leads with a hunger to learn, treads with the power to identify the right people (or in Moana’s case: demigod) to team up with, and then the strength to prevail the storm.
Moana couldn’t cross the reef in a canoe; she almost drowned! I very much know that feeling of almost drowning.
However, with the right ship, instruction from the expert (Disney’s character Maui), and AUDACITY, Moana can do more for her people by leaving her island.
Hi, I’m Steph!
2. You can be a heroine with or without a Prince Charming.
Look… does Moana eventually end up marrying a Prince Charming and re-populating the islands with fierce, coconut-loving Polynesian babies?
Perhaps in the sequel, there’s a mini Moana.. or six.
But in this movie, Moana’s literal and figurative journey was about something that had nothing to do with finding or resisting love.
That’s pretty powerful.
Relationships are important and when we’re in them, we absolutely have to make our partners a priority. However, there is so much we can do and so much of who we are that is not defined by our Prince Charming — or rejecting him all together.
Notice how in Moana, our mighty warrior princess wasn’t about being feeling-less or hating men. Dating just wasn’t a part of that picture all together.
In other words…
“Moana gave me what I wanted from Brave.”
– Jessica Shyba, Momma’s Gone City.
We all thought Brave was going to be our first big feminist Disney movie — but somehow, our first heroine was still stuck in a world obsessed with getting her married.
Our world is so much more than accepting or rejecting relationships — and Moana celebrated that world.
As someone who has been single for two years now, I accidentally bypassed dating this last year as I adventured around the world and built the lifestyle I’d envisioned. Dating is always there, so I’d fall back into it when I was ready to make time for it. Men do it all the time — they focus on themselves and date when they’re ready. I’ve done just that — organically, not consciously. Like Moana, my personal journey was completely independent of romance for reasons having nothing to do with love.
As my readership and social media audience continues to grow, I’ve noticed thirteen and sixteen year old young women tear themselves a part — looking for the right boyfriend or drowning in poor self-esteem. I’ve seen friends in their mid twenties and thirties panic over their muses — something I have experienced myself in the past. American society has often told women (of all ages) that our worth is incomplete or invalid until we’ve secured a romantic partner.
It’s ongoing: the fourteen-year-old freaks out because she’s never been kissed; the college bachelorette fears falling behind without a boyfriend; in her twenties, her friends start asking when her four-year long boyfriend will put a ring on it; next, they’re married and their own parents want to know when they’ll have grand-children. It’s like you can’t win until you have kids! But all of this other winning has been going on the whole time.
Sometimes, women are just doing cool things and that chapter in their lives is like this movie in the theater — at that time period, it has everything to do with her — cue the credits.
Just hanging out in a lava tube in Volcano. Hilo, Hawaii.
3. By creating a movie that totally abstains from romantic interests, Disney has promoted the power of independence for both males and females.
I really appreciate them for that.
We can do extraordinary things as young women (or men), independent of imperfections, challenges and the people in our life.
Like Moana, I’m my own heroine. When I meet my Prince Charming, he will not be saving me; nor will he feel threatened by my success. He will see that just like him, a young human being did great things all on his or her own — that human being just happens to be me.
That’s why this movie is for males and females alike.
In a world where we have Batman, Spiderman, X-Man, Superman and one Wonder Woman; in a world where Prince Charming recuses Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty —
So far, we have one Moana movie.
We’ll get more. Let’s be honest, we all need saving and we all have the power to save too.
I encourage you to bring your daughters, your nieces, your toddler cousins to check out Moana. You can also enjoy it for a girls’ day after Sunday brunch. But…
It’s not just young women that need to see a strong heroine — bring your boys too.
The more our boys see female heroines, the more our men will see, accept and value us too.
It takes a tribe to bring our heroines to life.
Disney does not mess around! Check out the decked out Moana planes for Hawaiian Airlines.
Thanks to Walt Disney Animation Studios, Hawaiian Airlines and Hawaii’s Tourism Authority for coming together to so actively promote this storyline. You can actually take a Hawaiian Airlines flight with Moana decals in and outside of an airbus. You can head to Hawaii to learn about Polynesian culture. Both Hawaiian Airlines and Hawaii’s Tourism Authroity pride themselves as pioneers in hospitality, but more importantly, in our global society.
May your next trip to Hawaii be with the voyager spirit. Aloha and Mahalo.