We all love a good Disney princess story; a bit of trials and tribulations here, a few catchy songs and a happily ever after where prince charming comes to the rescue of a hopeless but dashing princess, what could be more inspiring? But there’s more to these fascinating and colourful characters, Disney princesses shape our culture way beyond entertainment. They send out a message to little girls, a message that might well govern their actions as they grow up.
Of course every little girl dreams of being a princess, at least most do and these screen heroines serve as inspiration to little girls. Perhaps an admirable thing considering the delightful appeal and popularity of these characters but it’s not all roses when you take a closer look at the main themes of these stories. In nearly all these tales, looks are valued over brains, the heroine is constantly helpless and in need of a male to protect or rescue her and the success of the plot solely balances on the romanced focused lead female falling in love with her knight.
As subliminal as this message may be, this image perpetuates a girl’s dependence of men and their approval. Girls are being told to pay more attention to how they look and what they wear even if they have nothing of value to say. That it’s okay to lose one’s self-worth as long as that will secure you love. The classic example is Ariel from the Little Mermaid who changes her appearance, loses her voice (the one thing she would use to reaffirm her identity) and is ready to abandon her family all for a shot at love with a stranger. Now explain that to a five year old girl.
All our favourite princesses save for Pocahontas and Mulan are somewhat weak and so ready to fall into the arms of a man. And they are saved from peril merely because of their beauty and in Jasmine’s (Aladdin) case sexuality. Don’t get me wrong beauty is a wonderful thing and I give credit where it’s due but the point here is that Disney has its own prescribed definition of beauty: pretty face, an ample bosom and slender waist – so stereotypical. All the little girls see on the screen is a princess and that’s who they wanna be. Now imagine their struggle when they find themselves unable to fit into this version of beauty (keep in mind that each different society judges beauty by a different scale). Yes Tiana (The Princess and the Frog 2009 remake) is African American, Mulan is Asian, Pocahontas is American Indian and Jasmine Middle Eastern but they basically have same frame as the other princesses and fall into the same formula of beauty. Here diversity is only used for wider appeal.
And once this dreamy stage is over, maybe these kids will crossover to “reality” TV. There they will perhaps identify some one time child star, better yet former Disney channel real life princesses like Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus who’ve now broken the mould and turned rogue, making them role models in some 11 year old girl’s mind. Imagine that right about the time puberty hits, when appearances mean everything and rebellion is rife our little girl upgrades to today’s reality TV’s crowned princesses Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. It’s nightmarish!!! Think about it, both these women found fame after their sex tapes were made public. Since then they’ve spent their days fussing about nothing and we glorify their actions by calling them stars and entertainment royalty (at least Britney and Miley got some talent). So tell me, what are we really teaching our little girls?
Now let’s say that little girl has been feeding on this staged reality till she’s in her late teens. The message has been constantly drummed into her head: as long as you got a cute face, as long as you’re 36-26-36, as long as you can imitate others, as long as you can dress fancy, as long as you don’t demonstrate or demand respect in your actions or speech around men, well, you don’t need to depend on yourself coz there’s a hunk right around the corner who will come sweep you of your feet and treat you like a princess. Sad I know