Disney Princesses

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Updated: Mar 14, 2023
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In the late nineteen thirties, Walt Disney, the creator of the Mickey Mouse cartoons, decided to stray away from his traditional Mickey cartoons and create a new type of film, different than any film ever done before. This film was based on an old fairytale centering a Princesses’ journey to her happily ever after.

This new type of film was so successful, it sparked a new line of Disney films that would revolutionize the movie making business forever. From the first Disney Princess film, Snow White, to the latest, young girls have been enchanted by the princess line, buying everything from toys, dresses, and other accessories to be like the very princess they adore. The films have been playing a significant role in children’s mainstream, influencing and shaping our society today.

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Disney films are well known for being a fun-loving adventure with a lot of laughs for the family. It’s because of this stereotype parents write off Disney films as safe for their children and will leave them to watch it unattended. While it’s easy to be swept away in the amusing plot lines and catchy songs, parents should be aware of the messages these movies are sending their children. While the modern Disney Princess films are slowly changing and becoming more androgynous, parents should be aware of the potential dangers in the influence of the Disney princess films in areas of racial identity, self-image and traditional gender roles for children, specifically young girls.

Racial Identity: Until recent years, the majority of the Disney Princesses are white or have been lightened in some way which impacts the children of negatively who are struggling to relate to any of the princesses. Around ten years ago, Disney announced their plans to make a new Disney Princess film, they introduced the first black princess Tiana. For Disney’s first African American film, there were mixed reviews amongst the audience. To others, the film might seem very good but to others, Disney had once again failed to succeed in creating the princesses.

In article Of Negation, Princesses, Beauty, and Work: Black Mothers Reflect on Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, the author Kimberly Moffit conducts a study to see if Tiana represents an accurate representation of the African American community. In this study, Moffit invites mothers and daughters to a free movie screening of the film and after the mothers stay to participate in one of the two focus groups in which they talk about their reactions towards the film. Many of the mothers were frustrated and angry with the film from the beginning to the end and were in other words embarrassed by it.

One of the main issues of the film Princesses of the Frog because of the animal like state in which Tiana was in for the majority of the film while the other princesses were able to stay human throughout the whole film. The film is called the Princess and the Frog so it is understandable for Tiana to be a frog but the amount of time she spends as a frog is if not all then most of the film, only being a human for a short part. Furthermore, in the article the author states” Therefore her black body is rendered invisible, further negating her presence as a Black woman but also as a full fledge princess,” ( Moffit 66 ) meaning the purpose of degrading action might have been to completely dehumanize and disregard Tiana as a princess altogether.

When thinking about the most popular Disney Princesses, the ones to always come up is Belle, Ariel, Cinderella but Tiana is never mentioned. In fact, Tiana is might possibly be one of the least favorite princesses and it’s because of Disney’s portrayal of her inferiority to the others. In the study, the audience was asked the question what it meant to be a princess, in which their answers matched to descriptions of the other princesses, to be fair skin, have long blonde hair with blue eyes, extravagant dresses and to be stunning.

In other words not only was Tiana not on par with the other princesses, she never had a chance because of the strong influence of the others. To not only the audience but for many others such as little girls, the ideal princess is closely connected with the idea that a true princess is white and beautiful. What kind of message does that send to the young girls of the African American community? The princess that is supposed to represent them and be relatable is and for the two seconds she is a human, she does not look like them and it’s insulting.

As a Latina, growing up I was like many other little girls, obsessed with the older princesses. At the time there was no and still is not a Latina princess and it affected me negatively. I looked up to princesses who were white, blonde haired and blue eyed while I had tan skin with light brown eyes. Sure, at the time there was not only white princesses but by what I learned, in my eyes, Pocahontas was not considered a true princess because she did not follow the traditional idea.

I knew by tradition that I was not socially inept to be or ever be considered a true princess which caused a barrier leaving me to adore princesses on the outside but never fully be a part of them. I am only one girl out of millions in the world, I am not only one to have felt this way. When Princess and the Frog was released there was hope that Disney would and show the true colors of Tiana but alas she was just like the others dancing across the line of the European beauty ideal.

Self-image: Disney films influence this idea of beauty as the European traditional ideal of beauty, thin, fair skinned, and graceful as a ballerina which impacts children who soak up this message of physical beauty and value it. (MAYBE FIX THIS TOPIC SENTENCE??) These Disney princesses share not only these traits but as well as having a small waist, with huge eyes, high cheekbones, little nose, clear skin complexion and amazing hair.

All of these characteristics are used to portray the princess ideal beauty in which children are influenced by. Young girls who adore these movies and the princess notice all of these characteristics and are able to interpret them as the female standard of beauty to follow. By noticing the thin figure of the princesses, children learn that to be thin is necessary to be accepted, to feel beautiful.

In an article studying the effects of the Disney princess films on children, the author Sarah Coyne notes “studies have shown that as early as preschool, children begin to express a preference for thin body types…girls as young as 5 years old express fears of getting fat.” (1911-12)In other words, these thin figure ideals have affected children into thinking a thin figure is good, fat is bad which is harming their self-esteem. At the young age of five kids are worrying about being overweight or having body fat on their bones when they should not.

Childhood is supposed to be fun and carefree, going on adventures outside and not coming back until the street lights come on or their parents call them in. When did this type of childhood change into diets, portion control and fear of having a little fat on their bones? Young girls are striving to fit into a princess thin figure when in reality the princess thin ideal is very unrealistic and cannot be achieved unless through costly surgery.

Furthermore, this thin ideal is not only promoted in the Disney princess films but in the majority of children’s entertainment as well. The Disney Princesses are thin, Barbie is thin, Bratz is thin and the children are not blind to this. This preference of the thin ideal is everywhere and it is sparking all these different ways to be slim. Teenagers look up to celebrities and actresses who also are a product of media’s thin princess ideal. In magazines, news article everywhere “Here’s how to lose ten pounds in one week!”

If they want to look like Kylie Jenner, then they’re told to buy lip plumpers, do squats and skip a few meals or better yet take meal replacement supplements. Youth are striving to look like their role models and are turning to dangerous ways to achieve the thin look by eating disorders and diets. In other cases, people decided to go above and beyond and pay for surgery to look exactly like a princess or barbie they idolized in their childhood. 

At the time, Disney princesses films were a reflection of society’s standards of feminine beauty but it also influences the future generations to continue the same standard. This is proven to be true, for our society still continues to value a slim figure along with the classic princess traits of huge eyes and small facial features. The cosmetics industry has prospered and continues to be successful, playing on the insecurities of women trying to achieve the princess beauty ideal. On the internet, there are multiple videos on “How to make my Lips bigger”, “How to make my eyes look bigger” to “How to make my cheekbones more defined”! Are these not the same characteristics that all the princesses share? Women buy hundreds of dollars worth of makeup every year to fulfill what society defines as beauty.

As stated further above, it is evident to many that beauty is very important to our society and in the Disney princess culture. Why is beauty so important to the world of princesses and princes? Simple, beauty is the main reason for almost every marriage in the Disney Princess line. In the film Snow White, it was her wonderful singing voice and beauty that enchanted the prince to save her from her the evil queen and marry her. The importance of beauty is again shown in the next films Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, with Cinderella marrying the prince who only approached because of her beauty. By watching these movies, young girls are receiving the message that if they’re beautiful then all their dreams will come true. (Sylvester 2)

In every one of these films, the princesses were chosen and approached by the princes’ primarily because of their beauty. In the book American Hookup, the same could be said about our society today. In the first chapter of the book, Wade quotes a student when getting ready for a party, “the goal is to look “fuckable.” (27)The girls have to spend hours to get ready, wearing the sluttiest yet classy clothes to ultimately receive the attention of the men. The girls’ slave to look their best while the guys do not even think about putting the same amount of effort into their appearance. The influence of the princesses movies is still in effect in college students because it continues with the theme of the women needing to catch the attention of the men to be happy, even its for a moment. (Maybe add more here?)

Traditional Gender Roles: The Disney films were created in an era when women were inferior to men and the films reinforce those traditional gender roles and stereotypes of the time period. Despite the princesses movie line evolving and adjusting to modern times, these gender roles and stereotypes are still prominent. In these films, the princesses are often portrayed as the traditional female, nurturing, helpful, weak, a damsel in distress and submissive.

All of the following traits of the princesses are largely feminine while there are some masculine qualities, it still overshadowed by the traditional gender role. In studies, all the Disney Princess films are separated into three categories, the first being the Classical Era which includes the early Disney Princesses, the Renaissance Era ( the princess films in the middle) and the Revival Princess or the latest films.

The Classical Era of the princesses includes Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty in which princesses are portrayed more as housewives, or maids, always performing domestics activities, such as sweeping, scrubbing and cleaning. In fact, in film Snow White, when she waltzes into the dwarves house, she assumes they do not have a mother because the cottage is filthy and unclean, reinforcing the link of the housework to women. (England 563)

During the time period in which the early Disney Princess films were released, women were not only trapped in a life of domesticity but also seen as fragile, physically weak, incapable of protecting themselves, meaning women were people to be protected. This much is true in the early Disney films when the princes and the dwarves are the ones to save and protect the princess from evil. In most of the films, an older woman, who was single and jealous of the princesses beauty was the great evil to be defeated. In the time where women were married at very young ages, these films send the message to children that women who are single are dangerous and vindictive, just like the villains in the classic Disney films.

In the Renaissance era of the Disney films, the traditional female role of domesticity was less prominent and the young women were able to be more independent, assertive and more adventurous. They were full of life, open to the new adventures the world had to offer and wanted something more. These princesses had cracked the traditional mold of the early princesses and were no longer seen as motherly, fragile and submissive but the messages of gender roles were still there. In each of the renaissance Disney movies, beauty was more prominent and used to catch the attention of men more so than the early princesses.

In the Little Mermaid, Ariel is in love with Prince Eric and exchanges her voice for human legs in which she resorts to body language to gain his attention. Also not to mention her little trinkets that she is so captivated by is are forks, The Beauty and the Beast, Belle, whose name literally means beauty, is an intelligent woman, who like Ariel wants more than her simple life and is seen as odd and unusual. She falls in love with a with the beast who held her as a prisoner in his castle. It’s only after she attempts to escape his castle that the romance between them is sparked and she gives up her dreams to be with him.

In the each of the renaissance princesses films this is a reoccurring theme, they yearn for adventures and exploration but are seen as odd and when meeting the prince they are prepared to drop everything and be with them. In article addressing the issue of the Renaissance princess, the author states, “The film ( Beauty and the Beast) essentially says that a 1900s woman may think she knows what she wants more, but a heterosexual relationship is what she needs, ” (Higgins 66) this reinforces the messages of the early princesses movies of marriage being a solution to princesses problems.

The more modern Disney Princess films, also known as the Revival Era introduce a new type of princess that is independent, a free thinker and like the renaissance princesses, longs for something more and to others is labeled as unusual. This princesses is not afraid to stand up for what she believes in and will do anything to achieve her dream, including putting aside the men. In Tangled, Rapunzel is determined to see the floating lanterns and is willing to travel with a known criminal to do it, even going as far to protect the man she loves by saving him from Mother Gothel.

Brave, one of the modern films centers on the life of Princess Merida who unlike her mother is not content with the life of a princess and want to liberate from the traditional princess ideal and stay single. Tiana, the first African American Princess dreams of owning her very own restaurant and is focused on earning the money from her two jobs to get, while avoiding any distractions preventing her from achieving her dream.

In all of these movies, the princess figure is an independent, assertive woman that is not afraid to attain her dream and is constantly fighting those who oppose and ridicule her. With the Revival Era of the Princess, Disney has taken a leap in the right direction but the problem with these films is that each of these princesses is written off as crazy, odd and are constantly questioned by the society around them. In the other Disney films, when the main character is a male, they are already in a position of power while the revival princess is constantly struggling.

Although these princesses are free thinkers and independent, the traditional gender roles messages are still evident in the latest films. Tiana is a waitress and is seen to be constantly cleaning while her best friend, Charlotte represents the early princess by sitting around putting on excessive makeup, wishing on the northern star and waiting for her prince to come. In Brave, Merida is constantly fighting with her mother who represents the early princesses physically, with her pale skin, high cheekbones and she is also teaching Merida the ways of the traditional princess with her list of rules. Despite the progressive nature of the revival princess, there is always the reminder of the traditional princess stereotype preventing any real progress.

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The Disney Princess films introduce young girls to the traditional gender roles and influence them to follow in the footsteps of the princesses they want to be like. Children are very intelligent and are able to differentiate and separate the characteristics pertaining to each gender. They observe the behavior and character traits of their favorite characters in media and discover what actions are socially and culturally acceptable to follow.

In article pertaining to the effects of entertainments influence of gender roles for kids, the author conducts a study in which a group of kids creates their own story about anything they choose. The girls in the group chose to write a book about Barbie in which Barbie meets a prince, fall in love and do every day things together. In both of the little girls’ stories, the princesses went to look for the prince and when asked what was for dinner, the princess already knew the answer preparing the meal for them. These stories of the little girls are the products of the influences of the traditional gender roles and stereotype in these Disney Princess and Barbie films.

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Disney Princesses. (2019, Jun 10). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/disney-princesses/