Cinderella bids you to save
There are several requirements one must fulfill in order to consider themselves fans of Disney. These may range from simply picking a favorite movie or song to creating a lake of tears whenever a commercial for Disneyworld comes on TV. But lately, in the past ten years, one more requirement has popped up: One must memorize and pick a favorite among the official line of princesses.
Ever since it began in the early 1990’s, the Disney Princess Lineup has been the most successful series of merchandise the Disney Company has produced. Walk into any Kroger or Wal-Mart and before you know it, you will see not only toys and clothes but Birthday Cards, School supplies, cups, books and many more products with the faces of either Cinderella, Ariel, or Rapunzel on it. This Cash Cow has and is continuing to milk out millions. And there is a reason. Disney has an understanding of what appeals to young girls and boys (yes, Princess Boys exist, and they have every right to be acknowledged as part of the fandom in this article) about Princesses. But, as you may have heard, there has also been a lot of backlash and criticism. People cry that the slender, big-eyed beauties of Disney are teaching their daughters in particular that the only important thing in the world is to be pretty, do nothing and have material goods-a man included in the package. (Yet no one questions if superheroes are teaching little boys and girls that violence solves all conflicts)
Well, it’s not that exactly.
Don’t get me wrong. There are problems in the lineup. Telling the stories with the focus being on artificial re-tellings of the “love stories” and the tendency to downplay the good qualities of the actual ladies of Disney where the focus is getting a man does not work. Yes, one of the good things about Adulthood that little kids see and can look forward to is romance, but boys media does not emphasize this as much as the ones for girls. The looks of some of the princesses in the product section comparing them to the original films (dare I mention Jasmine and Merida?) are horrible from overabundant lipstick on the lips to lightening of skin tone. It would be nice to see not only princesses of various colors, but also of various sizes and even disabled princesses! Sometimes the critics are right about some princesses being not as progressive or well written most likely because the movies they appear in were produced in times when women’s roles in society were very limited (cough, cough, Aurora).
And that’s it, those are all the problems I have with the Disney Princess Market.
I know some people complain because the lineup is full of pink, cute stuff, and sparkles. Grow up. The line is intended for little kids, of course there is going to be ickle cutesy stuff. Let them have all of the cutesy ickle stuff they want.
Some people who bring their daughters (and maybe sons) to Disneyland and allow them to experience the "princess makeover" at the Bippiti Bopptiti Boutique are offended at the end when each one, after being made up into a princess, must take a vow to always be kind- hearted and gentle. They take offense because when the kids grow up from Disneyworld and enter Adultworld, being kind-hearted and gentle will not help them with their future career. Because when I go to Disneyworld, do you know whats on my mind? The future career of me or my children, duh!
If the Princess Lineup is so horrible and evil, then how come every single girl (since this problem concerns young girls, mostly. But it could concern boys too) who watches it and enjoys it grows up to be the brainless, makeup buried housewife that some people claim the company is trying to transform young girls into?
Because the lineup is more than just pretty girls in pretty dresses getting the man. The princesses have evolved over time and Disney has been aware of the problems that its princess lineup brought up. Look at the Princess media from 2003 and compare it with the more recent “I am a Princess” video Disney released and you will see they are working to fix this. That being said, the girls may remember aesthetic beauty more than plainness. The human brain is wired to prefer and take pleasure in whatever our culture deems as beautiful. But those with fonder memories of princesses when they were little won’t recall that the center-they recall the characters, the films, the stories. That there was one or more than one they could relate to. Yes, some girls went away with the feeling that they were never as worthy (ie pretty) as they (the princesses).
But there are other things to take away from them. I guess you can look at the Disney Princesses and see a bunch of size .5, 14-21 year old ladies in poofy dresses who are all about finding princes and looking good while doing it. Perhaps we, the audience taking this in, can twist the medium to fit our own meaning and see something very good. Because if you are a size .5, 14-21 year old woman who likes poofy dresses and would like to have a man and would like to appear nice, does this mean you do not matter as a human being?
Watch the movies with your brain turned on and see the individual characters they are.
Each one teaches a different lesson. There is Snow White, who remains a good person despite all of the horrible things that happens to her and even takes on the role of a mother to the dwarves and teaches them about responsibility.
Cinderella has even worse things happening to her but still remains a good person and as far from bitter as possible and spends the entire movie doing stuff-the whole ball deal just being her reward.
Although arguably the least progressive of the princesses, Aurora has her good qualities to share. She has one of the best designs and voices out of all the princesses in my opinion. She has shows things that many teenagers and young adults can relate to: the want to rebel, a sense of loneliness, and a desire for romance and meaning relationships. She is kindhearted, playful, gently teasing, and a dreamer. She has an interesting story line of being raised in the woods with fairies kept ignorant of being a princess. I like the story line of falling in love with a dude she doesn’t know she is engaged to. Besides, for us women, if you have explored all of your options you have in this world and you decide that what brings you most satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness is being a stay-at-home wife and mom- then by all means, do so and feel no shame!
Ariel saves the princes life twice and was the first real proactive princess. She had an interest in the human world loooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong before she met Eric, he being the mere match thrown into the pile of wood setting afalme her desire for legs. She gets out of the house, she explores, she has adventures, and when she wants something, she will go out and get it herself instead of waiting for someone to give it to her.
Belle is a book nerd who is marches to the beat of her own drum, see’s people for who they are rather than their status, or looks, does NOT have Stockholm Syndrome or Bestiality issues (her relationship with the Beast was based on friendship and then love, not sex), leaves the castle whenever she can and wants to, manages to be kind without being a doormat and doesn't take a hint of crap from anyone and breaks the spell, resolving the movies main conflict.
Jasmine is the first princess of color. She is a sass machine who also doesn't take crap from anyone and is determined to begin a life of her own and make her own choices despite rigid traditions surrounding her.
I don’t think I need to describe the good points of Mulan (though she is definitely not the only “good” princess for little kids. And just because a girl or woman likes traditional feminine things like make-up, and clothes and is not a “Mulan” does not mean she is not intelligent, courageous, independent, proactive, or any other words that define women as “strong”).
Pocahontas is not only Native American and the most womanly of the princesses. She is also wise, mature while still being playful, heroic, true to herself and (guess what!) saves the guy.
The lovely Tiana is not only the first African American Princess, but is also ambitious and extremely hard working. She is determined to get a career doing what she loves even though she lives in a time where it was considered normal that African Americans, and women were treated with a lot of disrespect. And if that means working night and day to her bones, she will do it. Even when she is turned into a frog, that still does not stop her from attaining her goal. She also knocks sense into her prince, and defeats the bad guy.
Merida is very similar to Mulan, takes a proactive role but is still human and relateable. She is filled with faults instead of being a perfect “badass” female, learns to fix her mistakes and learns how to use peace and logic as a future ruler.
Rapunzel is an artist who has been taught all of her life she was weak and helpless. Her story arc is about gaining confidence in herself and learning to see herself as strong. She learns how to live her own life and gains independence in addition to being quirky, funny, and sweet.
Anna is a klutz who loves with all her heart, goes out and gets stuff done, while still being very much a real teenage girl. She is also funny and friendly.
Elsa is an introvert who we actually see get to be crowned queen (without marrying!). She felt that her powers were something to be ashamed of, but learns to love herself and use them as a force for good in the world.
This is what the intelligent area of the Disney Princess fan base sees. Or at least how I see them. But if you watch the movies and see any one of them who are not Mulan, Merida, Anna, or Elsa as wimpy Damsels and you cannot be convinced otherwise, that’s okay too.
When you talk to little girls (or boys) who love Disney Princesses about them, they might mention beauty or clothes, but they also will mention character and stories. They identify with one or more favorites. More often, their diverse messages overpower the subtext of “you need a man and a killer body with the perfect dress in order to feel whole.” So let the Disney line produce as many “Prince and Me on our Wedding Day” stickers and coloring books as it can. Let them look at the Princesses, but allow the people who they are targeting their products to acknowledge not only the outer beauty of the women shown, but the inner.
And if those kids think the only thing good about the princesses are that they are pretty and wish they were like them, thinking that physical aesthetics equals a person’s worth, then it’s time to have a talk.