As I was researching for this article, I decided to ask Google, “who is a princess?” While the definition came up as expected –– ‘daughter of a monarch’ or ‘spouse of a prince’, the image results really intrigued me. In the top 15 results, there was only one picture of a real-life princess who fit the definition (good for you, Kate Middleton!) among the numerous images of Disney Princesses.
There is no doubting the fact that Disney is an integral part of pop culture as we know it. Love it or hate it, we all have opinions about Disney movies, characters and merchandise. One of the biggest influences of Disney is princess movies on children everywhere. So the question is, should one truly want to be a Disney princess, or are they buying into a franchise supported by patriarchy and dubious ethics?
The answer is not that simple. If we see the ‘classic princesses’, be it Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, they appear to be beautiful but helpless women waiting for male figures to solve the problems of their lives. Perhaps in its own way, Disney has successfully created multiple movies with females at the forefront and the male characters as a casual afterthought. It is unfortunate that once the male characters are introduced, they overcome the obstacles and emerge as the hero of the narrative. This does not paint a favourable picture in today’s feminist world.
As the years passed, the princesses evolved. The first instance I noticed was Belle. Unlike the older princesses, she did not end up with the conventionally attractive Gaston. She was shown to be curious, intellectual and capable of seeing beyond superficial appearances. We saw Mulan, who took her father’s place in the army, Merida, a Scottish archer determined to break the mould, and Moana, an adventurous spirit and the first not to have a love interest. Elsa and Anna from Frozen seemed to mock Disney’s own movies that promoted love at first sight by being against Anna’s decision to marry someone she hadn’t even known for 24 hours. Sleeping Beauty’s illusion of a ‘true love’s kiss’ being only romantic was shattered when Frozen interpreted it as the love shared between two sisters. Mirabelle from Encanto has brought some truly needed representation in the Disney-verse and brought out lessons on individuality.
That said, there is still a long way for Disney to go to fashion a new-age princess. There is a call for diverse body types and more representation in terms of culture to take away from the unrealistic and unhealthy precedents set regarding gender, beauty and romance. Old-school princesses like Cindrella are still more popular, creating concern that girls are taught to be passive bystanders in their own life rather than taking charge of it. Tales like Beauty and the Beast and The Princess Frog propagate toxic expectations of ‘fixing’ your partner. The audience is eager for more representation in terms of culture, appearance and identity. With Disney stories being THE ideal for a happily ever after, it is responsible for including more communities and narrating better tales.
All in all, I believe there is much to learn from princesses. Values of compassion, kindness, bravery and determination take you a long way in life. But there is also much not to learn. We cannot wait for a Prince Charming to come to save us. There is no ideal body type, no ideal dress and no ideal face that makes you beautiful. One can be whatever they want, so why not a Disney Princess? As long as one remembers that a pretty dress and a prince do not a princess make.
Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo! Here is a survey to read https://time.com/6086875/disney-princess-culture-study/ if this topic interests you!
– Tanvi Jain, DPS Noida