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Breaking the Disney Princess Spell

“We all know Disney is a damaging and pervasive force, but we also still have the dolls in the back of our closets.”

June 10, 2015

Disney Cover 6_10_15-01
Photo-Illustration: Kevin Conway

I am bored of Disney princesses, and I’m even more bored of talking about them. Even really thoughtful and spot-on pieces are starting to rub me the wrong way. With each new princess, we collectively hold our breath: Is she the one? Is this the princess who will solve racism, sexism, heteronormativity, and all our other social ills? Well … no, she isn’t. Because when you get right down to it, we’ve been watching the same princess over and over again, and it’s getting old.

"But, like, no pressure."
“But, like, no pressure.”

Disclaimer time: I am not too cool for Disney. I grew up watching the movies, and as an adult, it doesn’t take much convincing to get me to rewatch my favorites. Yes, I have a favorite Disney princess (it’s Ariel, in case you were wondering). At one point I even owned a Lion King shaving kit (subverting gender norms since ‘94, motherbitches). The point is, I’m immersed, and that’s typical for an American my age. I wouldn’t call myself a Disney fanatic by any means, but I have a strong emotional connection with the stories and characters I grew up with. So this might explain why the Internet gets up in arms whenever we hear the words “Disney princess”: We all know Disney is a damaging and pervasive force, but we also still have the dolls in the back of our closets.

We all know why diverse media representation is important, right? We’ve figured out that it hurts our communities, including dominant ones, when we only tell one type of story. So why in Mufasa’s name do we have to keep talking about this? It seems like we’re held back by the question “Are we ready?” If we have to ask if we’re “ready” to see the same people we see in our communities on a big screen, we’re in trouble.

Let’s talk social change: I am all for 1. Taking things one step at a time, but also 2. Not stopping after Step 1. So where are we at right now? What are the rules we’ve set? To the list!

  1. Princesses of color OK, but only if “ancestors” are involved, and no references to current racial issues
  2. Princesses must be quasi-bold, alluring, and humble at the same time
  3. Body must fit to standard
  4. Giant blue eyes a plus
  5. No pants

I could go on. But as I’ve said, this shit is really boring.

A lot has been said about what Disney princesses shouldn’t be. The way I see it, that just puts another demand on female representation. When Buzzfeed put out images of Disney princesses with “realistic” waistlines, I rolled my eyes so hard I went blind for a week. I’m not going to go on a rant about the definition of realistic, or about the importance of positive body image. This issue is bigger than the size of Elsa’s eyes and waist, more important than how hard Mulan can fight, and more impactful than the color of Tiana’s skin. We need to move past the details. We cannot fight a system that objectifies women by picking their bodies apart. It’s just not going to work.

Courtesy: Buzzfeed
Courtesy: Buzzfeed
I’m only going to say this once: There is no singular “realistic” representation of women.
I’m only going to say this once: There is no singular “realistic” representation of women.

So let’s change the conversation: Who do we want to see? Who do we want to get to know, sing with, and root for? In the end, constructing good ideas makes more of a difference than parsing out bad ones. I personally can’t wait for a butch-ass lesbian princess who discovers an underground world, or a trans princess who rides pterodactyls. I’m ready for princesses with stories beyond “get the guy” or “Dad says no, so I’m gonna do it.” Let’s have a princess who battles the same adversity as her fans. We simply need better stories. There are so many choices out there, and we are using none of them. So I remain unconvinced that Disney is diverse until they embrace genuine diversity. Let’s treat our princesses the way they deserve to be treated — like goddamn royalty.

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Join the Discussion (1)

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  • Daniel Anix

    “I’m ready for princesses with stories beyond “get the guy” or “Dad says no, so I’m gonna do it.” ”

    I’d like to think Frozen is Disney’s freshman attempt at trying to fix those tired plots. SPOILER for the like two people who haven’t seen it, but Anna’s journey is a subversion of the first (she learns that the blind love is dangerous and love for family is just as important, if not more so, than chasing boys) and Elsa’s journey is a subversion of the second (Her daddy explicitly told her to conceal, don’t feel and her plot across the film is her involves her realizing her father was, at best, an absolute idiot and at worst emotionally abusive)

    Frozen is by no means a perfect progressive film (and even if it was, Disney still has a huge feminism deficit to make up for before they see black), so your article is right on target, but the last few films (with the exception of maybe Tangled) have been giving me hope they are at least TRYING to fix what they break.

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