The World According to Disney Princesses

Haters love to bash Disney’s culture of beautifully drawn women.

They scorn at the idea of well-proportioned, sparkly feminine figures, saying, “Disney likes to think of the Princesses as role models, but what a sorry bunch of wusses they are. Typically, they spend much of their time in captivity or a coma, waking up only when a prince comes along and kisses them.”

They continue the character bashfest through cartoons like this.

Sheesh.

After reading up on the theories that Disney women are easily sexualized and terrible role models, I almost bought it.

But last time I checked, most of my very smart, successful, female friends and I weren’t brooding in a corner somewhere, hoping someone would come along and rescue us. (Well, on nights that end before 2 a.m.)

Some argue Disney is selling a negative concept of women. I say that the characters who slept in wait for the prince may fit under that umbrella, but we tend to forget about the less sparkly ladies.

Let’s not make playtime so intense.

After all, outsmarting armies, riding carpets and rocking a fin for feet can’t be too easy – but it sure must be fun. Unless you’re one stuck waiting for a prince, in which case, I’m sorry –it may be awhile.

Which is why the hippest princesses of the 90s didn’t, for example, sacrifice life for an apple or wait around for ages for the oh-so-Charming.

Maybe the problem isn’t that the Princesses exist – maybe the problem is that Disney’s truly leading ladies often get overlooked in marketing. Two of my favorites aren’t highlighted in that cartoon, because it’s simply harder to argue against them.

But they’re all here.

Disney may have produced some “wusses” early on, but they certainly changed their ways with the later heroines.

Follow their leads.

Mulan

What does a beautiful young woman from a traditional Chinese family to do when she just doesn’t “fit in?” Cut her hair off with a sword, decide to defend her family’s honor and ride across the tundra with her talking mini dragon, of course.

You get it, girl. She’s courageous, resourceful and can “hang with the guys,” if not outdo them all.

And in the end, she got the guy not for being hopelessly devoted, but for being hopelessly badass.

Lesson learned: If you do what you really want, you will get what you really want. Courage is often rewarded.

Plus, who wouldn’t want a clan of ancestors whispering wisdom into your ear and a mini dragon named Mushu?

Pocahontas

Continuing with the Disney theme of speaking to animals and nature in general, this Native American warrior of the old New World broke the rules to “befriend” an attractive English settler. With an exotic name like John Smith, who could blame her?

Throughout the story, Pocahontas, or “Little Mischief,” teaches John and his crew more about her land than they’d ever know alone.

Lesson learned: Never be afraid to lead. Be yourself, and in the end you’ll find that others are a lot more like you than they might seem.

Belle

She loves learning, hates pretty boys and wants to get out of a town below her ambitions. She also fiercely protects the one she cares about. She made a deal with Beast to save her father.

By getting to know her hairy captor, she shows us how to move beyond appearances. In the end, she falls in love. Sigh.

Lesson learned: Learning is really cool and strong women can always make the choice to have it all.

Honorable mention: Ariel, whose curiosity teaches us to never be afraid to explore beyond the limits. The whole giving her voice to Ursula thing bothers me, though.

These few Princesses stand out as teaching women to be strong, intelligent, graceful and, most importantly, fierce.

Maybe its because I used to wear my mom’s “Prom Queen” crown around the house and played Barbies as a kid, but the Disney heroines will always represent fun for me. And a time when we all took it a little less seriously.

Related posts:

Kristen McManus [TNGG Boston] A few things about me: I work out so I can eat, I love coffee and magazines, and I am currently a copywriter. After college, a semester abroad, and grad school, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should definitely live in Paris. Fitness, yoga, and general wellness are important to me. And I believe that if you find work that involves your passion, you’ll never have to work again. Twitter: @mcmanuskristen

View all posts by Kristen McManus

16 Responses to “The World According to Disney Princesses”

  1. Rolliene Mallari

    My absolute favorite is Mulan! “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” song where she gets climbs that post and gets the arrow? BAD-ASS.

    I used to really like Pocahontas. Then she left John Smith for John Rolfe and I didn’t know how to handle it.

    Reply
    • Kristen

      Also, “Reflection” in Mulan really tugs at the heartstrings.

      Not sure what was going on with homegirl Pocohontas…I seem to have mentally blocked out the bad parts of that film.

      Reply
  2. Allison Ubriaco

    Great post Kristen! I love how you’ve defended some of my favorite princesses. I’m so sick of these haters that claim Disney princesses ruin young impressionable girls.

    Belle was my favorite, because she loved books more than the popular boys and gave Beast a piece of her mind when he was a jerk. When I think of the 90s, I think Disney–great job!

    Reply
    • Allison Urbriaco

      Thanks! There’s so much on the interwebs about Disney ruining lives. I say, give the cartoons a much-deserved break.

      Reply
  3. Greg

    I watched Terminator when I was a kid and learned that women are of the utmost importance to protect if the world ever gets taken over by SkyNet.

    Nice post. Being a guy, I’ll never be able to fully understand how these things affect females growing up, or the standpoints you all take as you grow older, but I have nothing but respect for anybody who challenges the roles that women have portrayed in movies and entertainment for the past x00 years. Propz.

    Reply
  4. Jamie

    Great post. Really enjoyed it.

    I think something that contributes to the whole “let’s bash the princesses” concept is that people are too busy paying attention to the FAIRYTALE aspect of the films and not enough to the actual princesses’ personalities. They are trying too hard to put the princesses in our world. A world where there aren’t any such things as evil fairies who place a curse on a princess that dooms her to wait for her prince to come break the spell. These people are unable to see what makes each princess unique, special and yes even realistic in spite of her unrealistic circumstances.

    Snow White was gentle, caring, nonjudgmental, and a hard worker. Her biggest crime is that she was a little too naive because of her naturally accepting personality. A smart person would look at her flaws and learn from them, not judge her for them because she’s not perfect. The fact that she was so “domestic” is only because of the old world setting she lived in.

    Cinderella was strong, determined, and SMART. What woman in their right mind in that time setting would give up the roof over their head in exchange for living on the street? She realized that being a servant was still better than having nothing to eat. What was she supposed to do? Kill them? Would that have set a better example for young girls to follow?

    Aurora was not in her own film long enough to really get a good understanding of her personality, but from what we do see, she is every much the textbook definition of royalty. She is content with her small world and doesn’t need to run away looking for happiness. She only finally breaks down when she is offered the possibility of love (which is a natural phenomenon), but then denied love by being given everything a girl should want: her royal identity. That said, she is still dutiful because that is her royal responsibility. She’s not happy, but the sad fact is, she doesn’t really have a choice. Again, it’s the time setting.

    Jasmine was the epitome of the politics of arranged marriages which was quite common (especially amongst royalty) even up until the beginning of last century. I often see arguments that she was a spoiled brat with every privilege who runs away. Yet those same people criticize the likes of Aurora for being so dutiful. So which do they want? For the character to accept a loveless marriage to a man or for her to be strong enough to give up riches for a chance to be free? It seems to be people really don’t know what they want.

    You already hit on the others, so I’ll only add another defense to Ariel since you mentioned that she gave up her voice to Ursula. It’s easy to overlook, but Ariel’s natural vulnerability was manipulated by Ursula. True, she made the choice to go with Flotsam and Jetsam when she could have been strong enough in character to not act in haste. However, she does seem to have her doubts once the thought of becoming human starts to settle in. She considers the fact that she’ll never see her family again and Ursula immediately jumps in so as not to give her a chance to wise up. She even hesitates before signing the contract. She’s truly a flawed character, but the lesson in her movie is based on that. In modern terms, she gave into peer pressure and there were consequences for her actions. Why is that bad for children to learn?

    So, now that I’ve rambled way more than I intended to, I’ll finish by saying maybe the problem with the princesses are that their personalities are just TOO real (but if they were perfect then they would still be criticized a la Barbie). The world is full of girls who are pacifists like Aurora or headstrong like Ariel or confident like Belle so why can’t these personalities be represented in fiction? These characters weren’t created to help mold little girls. They were made to be admired or at the most identified with. They are there for little girls who already have their own inherent personality even at a young age to look at and say, “Hey she’s a lot like me.” or “She’s so awesome.” They’re not there for girls to sell their souls to imitate. Maybe it’s just me, but I never ever once watched Cinderella and thought, “Hmm, well I guess I’ll grow up to be a servant so that way I can meet prince charming.”

    Reply
  5. anglklsy

    All the people who complain about the Disney princesses needs to relies they did not actually right the story. All the Disney Princesses were based of a book written before hand.

    Reply
  6. ana

    well, I guess I’m coming late for the whole discussion but I wanted to add a few points in favor of Ariel: what she really wanted was to be human, that was her main goal, not only to be with Eric. she obsessed about it long before she met him and even though she never came in contact with another human like this before (I assume), what does she do when Flounder got her his statue? giggling and role playing, like any other teenager would do to a pop star poster on her wall. no “I’m gonna leave all my life behind right now and go after him”. purely platonic. what really sparked this idea of leaving all behind was Triton destroying her grotto, her safe place where she could keep and cultivate her interests. she already felt didn’t belong in her world, but at least she had a place for the things she liked. when this was taken from her, it wasn’t the desire for Eric that moved her to talk to Ursula. it was the idea of breaking free. and she bargained something that was only hers to give. she put in her pound of flesh. she didn’t know that the Seawitch had other plans, but as far as she could see in her 16 year old mind, she was being responsible for her own actions and willing to get up and go after the world she wanted to live in. in the end, Eric was just a way of getting there ;)

    Reply
  7. Marla

    The funniest thing to me about all of this is…these AREN’T Disney stories!! Disney did not marginalize women by making Ariel give her voice to the sea witch–let’s point the finger at Hans Christian Anderson! Or the Grimm brothers for just about all the rest of them. Come on. There is no conspiracy. I would MUCH RATHER my girls have these princesses for role models than, I don’t know–Lady Gaga? Britney Spears? Miley Cirus?

    Reply
  8. Irakoze Shaifa

    my name shaifa me my favorite is Jasmin i loveeeee her so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    i like to see her with me, and i love Mulan,to ok thanks i like tobe friends with you BYE

    Reply
  9. fujiko

    Personally I love all the Disney princesses. I don’t understand why we’re now saying it’s not okay for women to be how those ladies are. It’s okay for women to be whatever they want to be, whomever they want to be. I don’t know if I would say the princesses are role models, but they are representative women. Because you know what? It’s okay to want to marry a prince. It’s also okay to want to go on a grand adventure. Women are diverse, stop trying to box them in. Before it was ‘women are meek, passive, and always beautiful’, and now it’s ‘women are fierce, independent, and powerful’…it needs to stop.

    Reply
  10. Lady Avery

    Fairy tales are fairy fairy tales, I don’t understand why people have to mash those beautiful worlds with our filthy one. I like this post, and I agree, haters are pathetic.

    Reply
  11. Shannon

    thank you so much for writing this post! I am so sick and tired of people bashing the disney princesses for being female steretypes and bad role models for kids. I grew up watching these videos and I am not at all a girl who is ashamed of her body, willing to change for other people, etc etc. These movies and their songs and messages will always stay close to my heart, and it’s about time someone has brought up mulan and pocahontas for crying out loud!

    Reply
  12. Alex

    aw honey come on, spelling, its crucial in order to have your comment deemed as valid..maybe you should have spent less time watching Disney movies and more time reading thought provoking books *realize *write

    Reply

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