What Mulan Teaches Us About Blooming


Broken mirrors are one of my favorite found objects to use in mixed media projects. One of my favorite creations is covered with broken mirrors. Intact or in pieces, mirrors catch reflections, forcing us to face ourselves.

Last week I got together with some awesome girlfriends to watch one of my favorite movies, Mulan. If you haven’t watched it recently, do so. It’s a great film. Beautiful composition, compelling characters, a powerful message (without being obnoxious) and great fun.

There is a lot of imagery in Mulan, perhaps more so than in other Disney movies. Two repeated images throughout the movie are that of Magnolia Blossoms and Reflections. While we were watching it, I kept thinking about how this movie has a lot of wisdom to offer about blooming.

Questioning Oneself is the First Step

Mulan is an unconventional woman for her community. This doesn’t seem to bother her until she fails to bring her parents honor the way she is expected to. The fear that she is a disappointment to her family forces her to question herself.

As unsettling as the process is for Mulan, I think it is her first step in growth. The song “Reflections”, which she sings after her disaster of a meeting with the matchmaker (who is worse than the undertaker), is when she realizes that she doesn’t know who she is and whether it is possible to be both what people expect of her and be true to herself.

This question resonated with me powerfully as a young girl (and still does) who didn’t fit with the ideal model of what a woman was supposed to be (I still don’t). Because of our insatiable desire to gain the approval of others, we can get so caught up in others expectations that we never develop our own unique gifts and perspectives.

If nothing happens in our life to expose how our core does not line up with what others want us to be, we will never ask the question “Who is this girl I see, staring straight back at me?”

In order for us to bloom as individuals, we have to be willing to face that question and the nerve-wracking experience of facing a reflection of “someone I don’t know”.

Encouragement Goes a Long Way

“My, my, what beautiful blossoms we have this year. But look, this one’s late! I bet when it blooms, it will be most beautiful of all” – The honoroable Fa Zhou from Disney’s Mulan

The honorable Fa Zhou may be one of the best Disney Dad’s to date. When Mulan shames her family in front of her whole village her father doesn’t berate her. He swallows her dishonor and the temptation to feel dishonored himself by encouraging her, by reminder her that she is full of potential and is not defined by how others think of her.

I think this is what gives her the courage she needs to explore just who it is that this Mulan is by standing up for her father, standing up to her father, and standing up to the Huns to save her father.

Encouragement is so important, especially when we’re struggling and questioning. When I was a youngster, struggling with reading and arithmetic, my Mom stuck with me. I never got berated for failures. I got rewarded for perseverance and victories.

(My Mom also did her best to help me make connections by creating amazing visuals for phonetic families. I still remember a tree with shiny apple stickers that helped me memorize my ‘a’ sounds.)

If it hadn’t been for her encouragement and working with me to grow, the struggle would have been so much worse.

Writing this reminds me that I need to work being more encouraging. My form of encouragement tends to be harsh. Think Drill Seargent. I push because I believe in a person’s potential, but since I usually forget to mention that I see potential in them, it can come across as critical and overbearing.

A good prod can be a great form of encouragement, but I’m realizing that if it isn’t balanced out with the gentle reminders of the value and potential one has, it can backfire. An area for growth!

Pushing Past Imperfections

When I rewatched the movie last week the moment that struck me the most was after Mulan had been discovered to be a woman. She held up her helmet to look at her reflection and questioned her motivations in the choices she made.

“Maybe I didn’t go for my father. Maybe what I really wanted was to prove I could do things right.” – Mulan from Disney’s Mulan

Most of the good that I do is mixed with questionable motivation, ranging from moderately selfish to terribly destructive. What I loved about that scene was her ability to handle the exposure. Mulan recognized that part of what had driven her was her desire to prove herself. But instead of letting herself go into a cycle of self-condemnation because of her imperfection, she accepts it and moves on.

Can you imagine what had happened if she wallowed in guilt? When she saw the Huns pop “out of the snow-like daisies” would she have gone home because she hadn’t had the perfect motives?

It’s sounds ridiculous, I know, but I find myself doing holding myself back because of previous screw ups all the time (much less drastic circumstances perhaps, but still). This relates to my blog last week about resolutions for each moment. Having mixed motivations one moment doesn’t mean we shouldn’t press on in a good fight.

So away Mulan goes to warn her friends that a remnant of the Huns have survived and are going to attack the Emperor. As you probably know, she helps to save the day and the Emperor’s life. The result? She gets offered a very powerful job.

None of that would have happened if Mulan hadn’t pushed through the embarrassment of realizing she wasn’t perfect.

Re-examination is Vital

The other thing that I loved about that helmet scene is how the pain of re-examination helped her to find herself.

The full line of the quote above is:

Maybe I didn’t go for my father. Maybe what I really wanted was to prove I could do things right. So when I looked in the mirror I would see someone worthwhile… But I was wrong… I see nothing!” – Mulan from Disney’s Mulan

If she hadn’t realized that she was on a quest not only to save her father but to prove herself, she may have been stuck in the need to earn other’s approval instead of being comfortable and confident with who she was.

As mentioned, at the end of her saving of the Emperor, he offers her a job. She refuses. Why? Because it isn’t right for her, and she knows that. On her journey, she becomes comfortable with who she is. Her desire to gain acceptance from others gets exposed and she wisely resists that temptation to use the Emperor as a means of proving herself.

The questioning girl is replaced with a confident woman, who doesn’t need the Emperor’s seal of approval (though she is happy to get it).

I’m continually on a quest to be comfortable with who I am and give up the fight of impressing others. In order to make any progress, I need to stop myself every once and a while and ask whether I am doing something to show the world that I am worth it.

Mulan may have overcome that need for approval with less struggle and faster than I think realistic, but it was still encouraging to see that is easier to resist when you are aware that that need is driving you.

There are many other things that Mulan teaches us about blooming (perseverance, tenacity, humility, not to mention adversity!) but the above four were the ones that have struck me the most over the last several days.

What are some of your favorite moments and lessons from Mulan? Let me know! If you haven’t seen it recently, give it a rewatch! It’s well worth it.





2 thoughts on “What Mulan Teaches Us About Blooming

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