Here's some food for thought:
Why is Belle from Beauty and the Beast characterized as intelligent but pursues a relationship instead of an education? Why don’t Tiana’s friends encourage her impeccable work ethic? Why is Mulan not praised for her bravery until the end of the film?
Disney is intentional with their representation of women and this is particularly visible in their princess films. These films are often objects of nostalgia but I’m not sure the consumers are truly examining the messages within them.
The idea that women and girls are supposed to be submissive is ever-present in the films. The best example of this is found in Gaston’s proposal to Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Gaston thinks that Belle dreams of
“A rustic hunting lodge, my latest kill roasting on a fire, my little wife massaging my feet while, the little ones play on the floor with the dogs. We’ll have six or seven...strapping boys like me.”
Gaston is saying that he believes Belle dreams of being his wife and the mother of his children. This quote suggests that men are the providers and women are to tend to their husbands and children. This is not a dream that all women and girls share and it certainly was not Belle’s.
Unrealistic Body Image
The princess aesthetic provides insight on perceptions of feminine beauty. All of Disney’s princesses have similar body types: thin. Majority of them are white and very fair complexioned. The unfavorable beauty standards are illustrated by Disney’s villains. For example, Ursula--the villain in The Little Mermaid--is depicted as a large woman. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast is dark brown but when he transforms back into a prince he becomes fair. Dark is a symbol of evil and light is a symbol of good. These characters serve to reinforce light and thin as the definition of female beauty--an inaccurate representation of real women. Women are different shades and sizes should be reflected in these films targeted to young girls.
Marriage is a topic that is brought up in every Disney film. Being a wife is essential to the female identity. Mulan is taken to a matchmaker so that she can find a husband to marry. Pocahontas’ father wanted her to marry Kokum when she had different dreams for herself. Only the three most recent Disney Princesses have not stressed marriage.
Where are the POC?
Children are personally affected by the way race is represented in Disney princesses. There is a disparity. While there are thirteen princesses, only four are non-white. Two of them are Asian, but only one Black and one Native American. White children can identify with multiple princesses, but minorities are not afforded this same privilege.
I recognize that Disney princesses are becoming more diverse as time progresses. Elsa was only concerned with her relationship with her sister Anna. Merida fought for her own hand in marriage. Moana is a Pacific Islander princess.
These are only some of the flaws I noticed displayed in these films as of now. I decided to point them out due to the nostalgia that surrounds Disney films.
Disclaimer: the above ideas expressed are not exclusively my own
For more reading, view these sources:
England, Descartes, and Collier-Meek. 2011. “Gender Role Portrayal and the Disney Princesses.” Springer Science+Business Media, LLC: 555-567. http://people.stfx.ca/x2011/x2011bwz/Gender%20Portrayal.pdf
Hayes, Sharon. 2008.“Am I Too Fat to Be a Princess? Examining The Effects of Popular Children’s Media on Preschoolers’ Body Image” http://etd.fcla.edu/CF/CFE0002039/Hayes_Sharon_200805_MAST.pdf
Hill, Kiara M. 2010. “The Making of a Disney Princess.” McNair Scholars Journal 11: 83-96. http://www.csus.edu/Mcnair/_ALL-Scholars-Articles-Photos-Webpage/11_2009_2010/journal_2009-10/kiara_hill_csus_mcnair_2010-11.pdf
Hurley, Dorothy. 2005. “Seeing White: Children of Color and the Disney Fairy Tale Princess.” The Journal of Negro Education 74 (3): 221-232; https://www.jstor.org/stable/40027429?seq=2#page_scan_tab_contents
Moore, and Wright Almeda M. 2008. Children, Youth, and Spirituality in a Troubling World. St. Louis: Chalice Press.
Cover Image: Jirka Väätäinen