Disney Princesses

Look, you all know that I love the idea of being a Princess, they have the pretty dresses and the tiaras, the handsome princes, dashing white horses, some sort of involvement with dragons, etc.

But in my head the princess is a kind of kick-ass figure. One of my favourite books as a kid was The Paperbag Princess in which the dragon carries off the prince and the princess has to put on a paper bag (because everything else is burnt up) and rescue him through outwitting the dragon. Or Amy in The Practical Princess who learned how to do housework and farming, etc.

The Disney Princess marketing strategy and merchandise bothers me not because it is about princesses, but because it only shows said princesses doing passive things, prancing about in ball gowns, looking at themselves in mirrors, gazing winsomely at the viewer, head on folded, gloved hands. (Although it does crack me up that sometimes they’re all in their ballgowns except Ariel’s still in her seashell bra and fish tail.)
I’ve seen all the Disney movies, I know that Ariel is capable of so much more than wistful gazing. She worked hard to get her man, she was active, not passive. She spent maybe one evening in a ball gown. Sure, she may not have lead the charge against the villain at the end of the movie, but she did stand up to her in some way.

Belle is the one that really breaks my heart to see reduced to the Disney Princess duvet cover. Again, she only wore that yellow ballgown for one night. She proactively went searching for her father through the dark cold night, through the scary wolf infested forest and when she was confronted by the Beast she stood up to him and offered to take her father’s place in the prison tower. She was scared, but she acted anyway, which is a pretty good definition of bravery if you ask me.

She refused to marry the man she didn’t love, she was bookish and ‘odd’, she disobeyed the Beast and snuck into the forbidden wing and was totally going to touch his magical rose (not a euphemism). She was brave is what I’m trying to get at, and she had way better things to do with her time than pose for photos in her ball gown. She would have been reading for Heaven’s sake.

If the Disney Princess range would just show them doing what the movies had them doing I’d be a lot happier. What the hell is wrong with showing Aurora fetching mushrooms from the forest? Or Cinderella scrubbing the floor? How about Belle curled up in a chair reading a book?

One awesome thing about the movie Enchanted is that it showed Giselle moving away from (some of) the trappings of the Disney Princess and towards more suitable actions. Example: at the start of the movie she is happy to marry Edward even though they have never talked, just sung a song together. After talking to McDreamy about how things work in the Real World, she is not satisfied with that and wants a ‘date’ to get to know each other better and ensure that she really does love the man she chooses.

Another thing is they show her at the end of the movie running her own business. Andalasia Fashions is a huge store with heaps of workers (animal and human if I recall correctly) and is shown to be a success.
It also includes the fantastic scene when Giselle and Edward are reunited and he sings their song and she doesn’t.

Edward: You’re not singing!
Giselle: No, I was thinking.
Edward, bewildered: Why?

None of this even touches on the whole ethnic side of things. Sometimes Mulan and Pocahontas are included in the Disney Princess pictures but more often they aren’t, which leaves Jasmine as the only girl with any colour to her skin. Jasmine, Belle, Ariel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.
I don’t know. I don’t think it’s inherently damaging to little girls to like the princesses, I just think they need a more rounded princess experience.

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9 thoughts on “Disney Princesses

  1. Oddly I watched most of the Disney version of Swan Lake the other day while doing other things. Yet another passive Disney princess, though she did want the prince to love her for more than just her beauty.

  2. [purist]
    Swan Princess was produced by Fox I think, not Disney. [/purist]
    But they are emulating Disney so hard I don’t suppose it matters.

  3. ooh do you know what would be awesome? Designing a line of Action Princess gowns, that are beautiful dresses but have features like hidden side split for easy high kicking or loops on the bodice for your throwing stars, that combine easy access with decorative purpose (‘cos the throwing stars can be the bodice decoration). Or or being flame retardant and/or bulletproof! Or or having a built in back sheath for keeping your sword (could call it the sheath sheath dress:D). Okay now I’m just getting overexcited;p

  4. Awesome post, I agree whole heartedly. It’s really nauseating the vacant expressions and overly posed look on the picture – it’s like they are channeling Paris Hilton.
    Disney seems to have a one step forward, two steps back approach to feminism. They do have some cool female heroines (I agree that Belle is one of the best) but then they seem to market their merchandise at girls in a completely barf-inducing way.
    The pretty but rather useless princess stereotype is obviously one that grates with many people given the popularity of films parody or challenge it (Enchanted, Shrek etc) yet Disney still cling to their out-dated and boring Princess portrayals to peddle their brand. Sad.

  5. What you are saying is very true. There is so much merchandising out there directed at girls and young women showing perfect and passive princesses, it would be great to see something that didn’t follow this mould.
    One of those things that plays at the back of my mind now that I have a little girl, who is a princess.

  6. Yay for postiness. So agreeing with much of it.
    Luke, I don’t think Megara actually was a princess. Same as why they don’t have Esmerelda.

  7. I have faith in little girls. They might be presented with a vapid bland Disney image but there is no limit to how they’ll interpret that and the layers of their own imagination they’ll add to it. My little girl like to be a princess sometimes but the other day I overheard her organizing all her plastic dinosaurs off on a pirate adventure.

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