Rachel Paige is a writer for the feminist blog HelloGiggles, where she writes about entertainment. She used to work at Disney World. The article below enumerates the issues with Disney princesses and the messages each princess promotes through her film.
The Trouble with Some Disney Princesses
Even though the movie was released last year, most of us still don’t a spend a day without hearing “Let It Go“ at least once and Frozen is still everywhere—on our t-shirts, water bottles, our phone cases, our viral videos, our seat belts. When I first heard aboutFrozen and Anna and Elsa, I had no idea so many people would be into the idea of dual princesses and I don’t think Disney realized that either. But, even though the Frozen phenomenon has gone a little overboard, I can’t say anything bad about these girls—because they are wonderful. These two sisters speak their minds, aren’t afraid to take chances, and truly love one another. They are amazing Disney Princess role models for little girls (and big girls.), and we were seriously lacking in that department. More little (and big) girls should aspire to be like them, and not simply because they’re the princesses du jour. We need more strong, compassionate princesses.
But, you ask, what about all those other beloved Disney princesses? Weren’t they good role models, too? Answer: No. No they were not. There are some that are better than others, but some are just downright AWFUL role models who teach girls that it’s OK to be passive, to be rewarded only for your beauty, to change yourself just to please a man.
Let’s talk about the worst Princess offender:
There’s a lot to like about Ariel, such as her unyielding curiosity, her determination, and her killer fashion sense. But, there’s one thing that’s never really brought up, which also happens to be the ending of Ariel’s story: she changes everything about herself for a guy. A guy she just met! A guy she can’t even talk to, because she gave up her voice to get legs so she could be with this guy, who might not even like her! (Of course he likes her, this is a Disney movie after all.) It’s meeting someone for the first time, and having them tell you there’s no way they’ll ever like you unless you change everything about yourself.
In defense of Prince Eric, he at no point in the movie tells Ariel that he’ll only love her if she’s human. . . however, it’s heavily implied. The two of them never even try to figure out if their mermaid/human relationship will work, because Ariel goes ahead and changes for him. On the positive side, she is a very bold and brash sixteen-year-old. Meanwhile, I consult six different people before I get a haircut.
On top of that, her dad, King Triton, is completely cool with the fact that Ariel is willing to change everything about herself for Eric, and Daddy Triton is willing to help her. Yes, that shows the utmost love between a father and daughter, but if I told my dad that some guy would only love me if I put a Frankenstein bolt through my neck, I don’t think my dad would be like, “lemme Google plastic surgeons.” My dad would be like, “why doesn’t this punk love you for who you are?” Ariel, I hate to hit the nail on the head, but there are other fish in the sea.
Let me offer up an alternative princess who changed her appearance for a man, and managed to defend all of China in the process: Mulan. The guy she changes for is her father, because Mulan can’t stand to see him go off to war. Mulan cuts her hair, masquerades as a boy, manages to crush all female stereotypes, the usual stuff. She never once compromises who she is as a person to win the man of her dreams. And guess what? The man of her dreams, the dashing Shang, falls for her anyway! Now, that’s a happy ending.
Okay, I hate to slog on everyone’s favorite Disney ladies, but let’s face it, Sleeping Beauty, AKA Aurora, aka Briar Rose, is also far from the ideal role model. For one, she wanders into the forest, meets a strange man, and then invites him over for dinner. To borrow a page from Mindy Kaling: “If you come over to my house, I need to know your first and last name. I need to have your phone number and a person who we both know so you can’t disappear forever in case you murder me.” Aurora probably hasn’t read Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, but yes, everyone is hanging out without you.
Also, Aurora doesn’t really do anything. She picks berries, she sings, she falls asleep. Prince Philip is the real go-getter in this situation, defending the kingdom, killing Maleficent (at least in the original Disney version, not Angie Jolie’s badass, movie-of-the-summer re-telling), saving the princess, restoring balance to the force, etc. Aurora could easily have been clued in on the kingdom’s anti-spinning-wheel campaign, but everyone chooses to leave her blissfully oblivious. They don’t even let her take matters into her own hands. Maybe Aurora would have stepped up to the plate and challenged her destiny, but we don’t know that. We don’t even know the true color of her ballgown, which at one point appears to be the central conflict of the plot.
Now how about a princess who trusts a complete stranger, yet manages to hold onto her identity, and her dream, and get what she wants in the end? The original spunky princess is Rapunzel. Flynn Rider magically appears out of nowhere, and Rapunzel sees this as the perfect opportunity to change her situation. She takes a chance, and it pays off. Yes, it’s a huge risk, but in the process, Rapunzel gets everything she wants, including her very own happy ending! Rapunzel and Aurora have a lot in common, right down to the being-locked-away-in-a-tower-thing. But only one of those princesses is able to make decisions for herself.
The quintessential princess, Cinderella, has her share of flaws, too and honestly may be the worst of all the Disney role models. She’s another one of these princesses who willingly, passively accepts her situation. Sure, she’s bummed, but Cinderella lets everyone walk all over her! She doesn’t even complain to her friends the mice! Who are they going to tell? Another problem is Prince Charming isn’t trying to find her after the ball because of their witty rapport; he’s trying to find her because she’s beautiful. The movie Cinderella tells us that all we need to know about Cinderella is that she’s beautiful. And that this beauty must be enhanced and showcased so that a man may love her. What about her likes, dislikes, hopes and fears? Do those even matter to the Prince or to anyone? How could someone say they want to be like Cinderella when we don’t know anything about Cinderella? Girls don’t say they want to be like Beyoncé simply because she’s pretty. Sure, Cinderella’s voice is magical enough that it beckons woodland creatures into her bedroom every morning, but you can’t put that on a resumé, Cindy.
What about a hard-working princess, who has a clear goal in mind, knows her boundaries, and is determined to make her situation work? The answer to this question is Tiana. Tiana was the first princess to teach us that princesses don’t need a prince to save them, and I love her for that. She is such a strong independent woman, and Tiana has a killer career. She shows us that a little elbow grease pays off, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to achieve her goal.
In conclusion, even though I kinda cringe every time I hear “Let It Go,” I’m happy Anna and Elsa are around. We need more passionate, determined, feisty princesses added to the Magic Kingdom. Feel free to discuss Belle, Merida, and Jasmine amongst yourselves.
This article individually assesses the merits and downfalls of most of the princesses. Paige claims that Ariel is the worst offender of the Disney princesses, but I would argue that Sleeping Beauty is. Ariel is not afraid to go after her desire of being human, even before she sees Prince Eric. To say she gave up her voice just to meet Eric is therefore inaccurate. Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), however, meets Prince Phillip, who is a stranger to her, and dances with him before even getting to know him. She is also asleep for a large part of the film, and Phillip is tasked with saving her. He fights Maleficent and she sleeps. Paige also makes an argument that Cinderella is the worst princess of them all because she “passively accepts her situation,” but I would argue that her ability to put up with her abuse and still be kind is a virtue, and she deserves more credit than she gets.I agree with Paige that Mulan, Tiana, and Rapunzel are the strongest role models of all the princesses because they are courageous, hardworking, and able to make their own decisions. For them, finding love is not their main goal, but rather a happy coincidence. They aren’t amazing so that they can get a man, they are able to get a man because they are so amazing. The fact that Tiana is the first Disney princess to really have her own career (besides the title of princess, or course) is notable, not to mention that she owns her own business. Tiana shows a more realistic way of life to young girls who will probably have to work hard in life to earn money, because single princes aren’t as widespread as they used to be.
Paige, Rachel. “The Trouble with Some Disney Princesses.” HelloGiggles. N.p., 31 July 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2015.