Who knew singing cartoon ponies would teach me a major key to self-confidence?
The creators of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic didn’t expect it to have such passionate adult fans. Hearing about “bronies,” the men who watch it and who are sometimes made fun of, was actually my first exposure to the show. In protest of the idea grownups can’t be young-hearted anymore, I gave the show a go.
Within episodes, I fell head over heels for “the magical land of Equestria” and its charming inhabitants. Friendship is Magic tells the story of a studious, not-very-social young unicorn who is forced to make friends in order to save her world from a threat. Over 9 seasons, friendships expand and everypony learns and grows—from everyday misadventures like Applejack and Rainbow Dash fighting over who’s the better athlete, to global catastrophes, like when the prankish Discord makes the sky rain chocolate.
I know chocolate rain sounds exciting (and Pinkie Pie the party pony would agree), but trust me, it was a disaster, y’all!
But why did this children’s program about anthropomorphized horses end up turning me into a pegasister? (That’s the feminine version of a brony.) Here are some positive ways I let the show influence me.
Friendship would become a big theme of my life
My Little Pony helped me envision the friendship-filled, adventurous life I wished to live. Having been semi-friendless as a kid, I was still trying to master my communication skills and relationships 101. The aforementioned socially awkward unicorn named Twilight Sparkle became a model to which I could relate. From knowing next to nobody, Twilight blooms into an ambassador of friendship’s power—while her shy, sensitive pal Fluttershy slowly finds her own brand of gentle self-assurance.
Even characters who at first do serious harm find salvation in friendship. Starlight Glimmer is introduced as a cult-leading pony who makes others renounce their special talents and all be “equal” under her rule. Later on she learns humility, reckons with her past, and rebuilds her leadership skills in a healthy way. Discord, too, tempers his talent for chocolate stormclouds and other chaotic mischief. He learns to harness his powers and his uniqueness for the good of others.
Like the cast of MLP, I planned to grow from my past mistakes and humble beginnings. I’d develop friendships over time, with individuals whose paths aligned with mine. Rather than seeing life as just a personal growth journey, I now saw it as a friendship journey.
The ponies restored my positivity
From a young age, I felt determined to see each human (and animal) through empathetic eyes. I understood that everyone did their best and was a good person at heart. My Little Pony helped me reinforce my innate philosophy and take pride in being an “effusive Pollyanna.”
I discovered the show amid a long, long battle to wean myself off instant gratification. Though MLP served as yet another escape, it did get me un-hooked from the darker TV dramas I used to follow. Pretty Little Liars, for instance, was a very different show about friendship where half the relationships are toxic and nobody is sure who they can trust. Snarky and entertaining as it was, I was done giving myself nightmares. If a TV show I watched wasn’t educational, I wanted it to at least uplift me and make me happier and kinder. My cartoon pony fam had such a cheering effect, it raised my standards for the impact media should have upon my psyche.
My Little Pony invited me to radically accept my flaws
“I wanna be just like them!” I’d always think. I hadn’t outgrown this tendency when I started watching My Little Pony, and I quickly got obsessed with the character I longed to be like: Pinkie Pie. She’s the pink, peppy pony who expresses pleasure profusely and loves to make others laugh.
Quirky like Pinkie, I wished I could be friends with everyone, and I had a passion to be playful and joyful. But I was also the polar opposite of her because I was an extreme introvert. And I often felt defensive about the amount of alone time I required to stay relaxed. I felt inadequate for not being more talkative and group-oriented.
Fortunately, episode 7.14 offered a lesson in the form of its catchy song Flawless. Twilight and her closest friends sing about how their flaws are actually what bonded them. Each pony admits her weaknesses, while also affirming that flaws point to our strengths and that “nopony has to be perfect.” Pinkie Pie notes that her jolly personality is perceived as insincere, but it actually stems from her genuine enjoyment of others. Rainbow Dash’s “ego the size of a whale” can be offputting but it also “gives [her] the courage to fail.”
One day I got an idea. I’d make a list of all my own flaws! For each fault found, I explained on paper why it went hand-in-hand with something good about me. Let’s review… My social struggles made me more determined not to judge others, but accept them. I go blank in group settings, but that corresponds with how introspective I am, and my knack for long 1-on-1 talks. I’m no good at fitting in, but I excel at staying in touch with my true self and doing what makes me happy. The list goes on…
After creating the list, I felt an odd sense of invincibility. No matter what criticism I might fear, there is always a flip side. Even the harshest censure can be translated into an encouraging language that defends each person’s worth and redeeming qualities.
Recently, I even posted the list of my flaws publicly on my blog in case it inspired anyone else.
My Little Pony is about a group of friends who fail as often and as spectacularly as they triumph. Each pony is very talented, but they also exhibit common personal shortcomings like anxiety, vanity, and perfectionism. After enough reflection and life experience alongside my cartoon pony teachers, I less often wished I were “somepony” else. I could feel happy for others’ unique experiences, and do my job of enjoying mine!
Even my favorite show wasn’t perfect, and I learned from its pitfalls
The age and gender policing toward bronies was what launched my curiosity to watch My Little Pony. As my self-confidence grew, I accepted it didn’t matter that my tastes were in the minority, as my liking for the show reflected values I believed in. However, I also learned from the show’s “problem” aspects. Could they have shown a more egalitarian government, instead of a princess monarchy, while still being entertaining?
The main 6 ponies are voiced by white North American actresses. When the ponies meet other species, some of those seem to parallel human ethnic groups. The zebra’s accent sounds African or Caribbean. The yaks from “Yakyakistan” almost wage a war. Don’t forget “the settler ponies” and the buffaloes, whose chief wears a headdress. When you also consider that the villains and servants tend to be darker-colored, while the good Samaritans and the leaders are generally pale, I wish the MLP creative team had been more diverse. They could have made the show more unoffensive and validating to viewers of all colors, countries, and cultures.
In spite of it being no more flawless than I am, I will forever be thankful of My Little Pony; Friendships is Magic. This show emboldened my optimistic spirit and it egged me on towards a more socially fulfilled life. I fell in love with the characters, and then they helped me idolize myself—not to mention the real people around me. Many have acclaimed the series for its joy, female empowerment, and promotion of tolerance and harmony across our differences. After watching the final episode last year, this pegasister felt grateful as ever and ready to fly off to her next adventure.
Photo: My Little Pony via Facebook