August 25, 2009

The Problem with Disney Princesses

I've been wanting to write this post every since I started this blog, but have always held off for fear of hate mail or being called anti-Disney. I hope by now you've read enough of this site to realize that I'm not anti-Disney at all (the opposite, in fact) but that from time to time I think it's important to openly discuss things that are troubling in the Disney realm. And I have a serious moral dilemma when it comes to the Disney Princess brand.

Let me say upfront that I was raised on Disney Princesses, although they weren't marketed as such back then. The Princesses were to my elementary school years what WB prime-time programming would become to my teen years (Pacey Witter for LIFE). And back then, I enjoyed the Princesses because I loved their respective films, not because I hoped and dreamed that Prince Charming would show up and sweep me away to live happily ever after. And herein lies my problem with the Disney Princess brand - it's not selling the movies, it's selling a state of mind.

I think part of the problem is that the Princesses themselves are no longer characters in their respective stories, but a group of what Disney is telling little girls is the feminine ideal. Look at the pretty ladies! They get everything they want! Life magically works out okay for them! And now they are rich and adored by all! The Disney Princess website opens with: "where happily ever after happens every day." Maybe for a select few, but for the average Jane, happily ever after doesn't happen every day, and most of the time you have to work - hard - to acheive your happily ever after.

If we break down various Princess tales, some disturbing messages emerge:

Snow White:
The Problem: Is too pretty for her own good, must live in the woods with 7 strange coal miners.
The Solution: Cook, clean, and do everything for the coal miners, sing songs.
Gets Her Man By: Lying there.
Creepy Factor: Snow White is 14.
Role Model Status: Nonexistent.


The Problem: Dad died, is so pretty that she makes everyone jealous, forced to do manual labor.
The Solution: Befriend animals, wait for Fairy Godmother to appear.

Gets Her Man By: Being pretty, playing hard to get.
Creepy Factor: In the Brothers Grimm version of the story, the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet to make the slipper fit, then get their eyes pecked out by pigeons. This has nothing to do with the Disney version, but I felt the need to share. Fun fact!
Role Model Status: Good. Cinderella is nothing if not a hard worker, and she's punctual.

Sleeping Beauty:

The Problem: Dad forgot to invite sketchy fairy to the christening, daughter is cursed to touch sharp objects and sleep forever.
The Solution: Prince Phillip must, sigh, take care of everything.
Gets Her Man By: Lying there.
Creepy Factor: Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip had an arranged marraige.
Role Model Status: Difficult to say. Princess Aurora is only onscreen for 18 minutes.


The Problem: On land, they understand and they don't reprimand their daughters.
The Solution: Teenage angst-induced rebellion leads to mandatory kissing.
Gets Her Man By: Giving up her body, her voice, her family, then her body again.
Creepy Factor: Ariel is 16. Prince Eric is supposedly 18 (according to the film's novelization), but those pecs say otherwise.
Role Model Status: Not on land, under the sea, or anywhere else. Poor unfortunate souls, indeed.

The Problem: "Weird" girl (because, omg, she reads) sacrifices herself for her trespassing father and gets captured by hideous monster. Meanwhile, the village a-hole decides to ruin everyone's lives.
The Solution: Finding - and falling in love with - the nice guy on the inside.
Gets Her Man By: Having Stockholm Syndrome
Creepy Factor: Belle is objectified for most of the film - Gaston and the Beast are both obsessed with owning her in one form or another.
Role Model Status: Excellent. A brainy, strong-willed, kind-hearted leading lady.

The Problem: Rich girl rebels, hates men, ends up locked in an hourglass in a bikini top doomed to be a personal slave.
The Solution: Let the poor people handle this one.
Gets Her Man By: Stealing an apple. And that outfit doesn't hurt either.
Creepy Factor: Jasmine is 15. Aladdin is 18. Also, um, her figure. Her 15 year-old figure.
Role Model Status: Questionable. Truth be told, she's kind of a brat.

So there you have it - your Disney Princesses. I didn't include Pocahontas or Mulan, even though they are included in the Princess brand because they 1. are not actually princesses, and 2. belong in a seperate category - Disney Women Who Rock. But more on them later.
Related Links:

* The Princess and the Frog Trailer
* How Green is My Disney?


Zanna said...

Ok, I LOL'd at the Stockholm Syndrome line...LOVED this!!

You won't get any hate mail here, I think this is hysterical and true. Luckily, I *think* most girls are like us and don't necessarily want to BE the princess in question, just enjoy the films or like to dress up. Who doesn't want killer hair and the inevitable ball gown?!

Great post!

Cheryl Lawson said...

OMG! This is sooo hilariously on point. I remember sitting at Robert Mondavi's place at California Adventure raising a blasted glass to each princess as she paraded by. (All in great fun of course).

When I see nervously budget concious dads with their bridezilla baby girls. I just remind them that they are now paying for those DVDs they bought their little Princesses just 18-20 years. Ago. You should see the light bulbs.. lol

I too love Disney, but someone had to expose the Princesses.
Thank you!

WordVixen said...

*lol* Very, very good.

In Cinderella's defense, however, don't forget that despite the slavery, she never lost her good attitude or her sense of humor. Even if she did side with Lucifer against Rufus on one occasion.

Jessica @ Acting Adult said...

Wow, when you look at it like that, it's kind of sad that we place these women as role models for our children.

I agree with the other posters that mostly, we just like the movies!

Maybe we shouldn't look to them for ideals, though.

gcargill said...

Brava! Someone had to say it! You are so on target with this post, and very, very funny as well.

Sheryl said...

I have been grumpy about the Disney Princess brand and the selling of the Disney Princesses as a collective set of role models for a while, but could never have put my grievances quite as succinctly and humorously as you did. Wonderful work!

mogumogu said...

For a while I was thinking I was the only one rambling about the Disney Princess brand cheapening and limiting Disney's female image!

Sometimes I wonder if we're watching the same movies.

Lauren said...

Thanks for this article! I've written my own piece on why we don't allow Disney into our home.

NorwaySuzie said...

Hey there!
I just started reading your blog and it's very informative and fun.
I agree with some things you wrote but I feel so many women (mostly) are quick to jump on the 'princesses are bad role models' band wagon.
Just wanted to point out that yes some stories have less than noble intentions but most princess characters show that by being kind and patient and standing up for what you believe in you can gain something you desire. Cindy doesn't get her man by 'being pretty'. She did as her stepmother asked and worked hard, not able to make her dress to get to the ball. She was rewarded by her fairy godmother for her kindness and willingness to work for what she wanted by being able to go to the ball.
Belle is odd because she reads because in her time period, women didnt really read. Disney isn't saying this, it's history. People admire Belle because she sacrificed herself and learned to see the beauty in someone who didn't really deserve it.
I guess I don't have to go through each character and point out your sometimes-harsh descriptions and how they are not necessarily 100% accurate. I just spend LOTS of time with the princesses and know their stories VERY well and felt the need to set some of the record straight. Princesses CAN be good role models if you bother to read more into their stories other than just the 'I'm pretty and all that matters in life is a man'. And we must remember that when the original stories were written, yes marriage was placed more highly than today. That doesn't mean there aren't still things young girls can admire about classic heroines just because the times have changed.

The Glader Gang said...

This is HILARIOUS! Love it!

Alexandra Case Ferick said...

Thank you for your article - I think you'd definitely appreciate this!

A new twist on the old fairytale... because no one wears glass slippers anymore.