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Disney princesses are famous everywhere around the globe. The motion picture studios have made a great job in redesigning folk fairy tales and stories to create attractive images of damsels in distress and heroines. Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel along with the rest of the princesses are extremely popular among little girls and in youth culture. The market of princess products is enormous and growing steadily with the appearance of new princesses. Nevertheless, parents and specialists hold heated discussions about the impact of Disney princesses on the development of children. The evolvement of the princess image in the films of the studio represents the developing position of strong independent women in the society, but the princess stereotypes can harm the mentality of children. The purpose of this paper is to analyze the gender stereotypes associated with the images of Disney princesses and discuss their negative and positive effects.
The Real Problem: Redesign of the Disney Princess Image
The recent redesign of the old and new Disney princesses shows an alarming tendency of standardization and sexualization of their images. The history of Disney princesses has begun in 1937 with the creation of the animated feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. From the 1930s till the present moment the image of Disney princesses has evolved showing the developing role of strong independent women in society (Johnson 4). Modern heroines like tomboy lass Merida or cool-headed Queen Elsa have little common with yielding Snow White serving seven dwarfs. The typical image of a housewife hiding behind the stone walls of her home from the outer world has changed gradually throughout the decades. The next princess, Cinderella, has supported Snow White fleeing from her house only to become the wife of a prince. Nevertheless, appearing in 1989, Ariel is first to break the rules of a traditional love theme film. She is eager to change her life and fights for her choice. Still, she sacrifices her voice for the love of a man what brings her closer to her older sisters than to the new generation of Disney princesses. The appearance of the red-headed Merida has been a groundbreaking event in the development of the princess image. In the animated feature film Brave, this Scottish lass openly resists all characteristics of a traditional Disney princess. She refuses to act reverently to the men around her, and she likes to travel around rather than wait in a tower for her prince. She tears a beautiful dress because it is inconvenient to shoot a bow in it.
Moreover, she refuses to marry, fighting for her freedom. In her article Girls on Film: The Real Problem with the Disney Princess Brand, Monika Bartyzel writes about the turnaround of this rebellious girl to the classical sexualized image of a princess. According to Bartyzel, “Disney’s redesign of the character tamed her unruly hair, expanded her breasts, shrank her waist, enlarged her eyes, plastered on makeup, pulled her (now-glittering) dress off her shoulders, and morphed her defiant posture into a come-hither pose” (3). The new-look of Merida contradicts not only her appearance in the animated film and the intentions of her creators at Pixar, but it turns around the decades-long development of the Disney princess image. This alarming change has also touched upon all other princesses. Along with the picture of Merida, Disney has presented the redesigned version of the Princess line. The images of all girls are sexualized and aligned to look alike. All princesses have plump lips, soft features, and unrealistic figures, while their dresses are excessively colorful and unsuitable for wearing in real-life conditions. The change is closely connected with the development of the princess products market. Disney makes big profits on the Princess line, selling toys, accessories, costume jewelry, and dresses to little girls fascinated by the glittering look of classical damsels in distress. According to Stover, “Disney princesses have often come under attack for promoting harmful, unrealistic body types and the narrow ideal of marriage as the happiest of endings for young women” (30). Pixar has shown the path to create strong and appealing women characters with realistic aspirations, but Disney is unwilling to follow the example.
Turning Feminist Disney Critique on its Head
Feminists often critique Disney films about princesses for their influence on the development of girls and young women all over the world. The development of the princess image is seen as a shift from one set of stereotypes to another. Stover claims that “Disney princess is repackaged and resold to its consumer decades after the film’s release, allowing endless readings by audiences” (39). Nevertheless, Disney has produced animated feature films that can have a positive impact on the development of girls and young women. Alice Adventures in Wonderland can serve a specific example of a motion picture that inspires girls to look for adventures, use their creativity, and act against the rules accepted by the majority. Appearing in 1951, even before The Sleeping Beauty, Alice contradicts the image of a classical Disney princess. According to Gordon, “Disney princesses are often over-sexualized, married at a young age and her entire existence is revolved around a prince”. Alice has none of these characteristics. The plot of Alice Adventures in Wonderland revolves around a curious girl who wants to see the world and to explore its mysteries. She finds her own path that leads into a rabbit hole. She overcomes different obstacles without waiting for a man to save her. The adventures of Alice is a good example of a film that shows a strong female character. Along with the Princess line, Disney has produced animated motion pictures introducing different views on women in society.
The recent turnover of Disney princesses to the classic sexualized image is alarming. Throughout the decade’s animated motion picture studios developed the appearance and characteristics of princesses to meet the role of women in society. Strong independent characters such as Mulan or Merida have shown the change in the representation of women. These girls have their own realistic aspirations and act on their own accord without waiting for men to rescue them. The recent redesign of the Princess line makes all the characters look the same according to the classical oversexualized image. Admittedly, Disney produces animated films that introduce different female characters. Alice Adventures in Wonderland is a prominent example of a plot that revolves around a girl and not around her search for a man. Nevertheless, Disney never advertises such films to such an extent as the Princess line. The princess products market continues to grow steadily, and the company seems not to be interested in changing its position about the princess image.
People often criticize Disney for turning little girls into princesses who think only about glittering dresses and princes on white horses. Throughout the decades, female characters have changed their appearance in the animated moving pictures. Modern heroines like Merida or Elsa show independent spirit and strength in the face of all obstacles. Nevertheless, Disney has redesigned the image of all princesses to look alike according to the classical sexualized image. This action supports the growth of the princess products market. Disney has films that represent different kinds of female characters like Alice in Wonderland. Nevertheless, the impact of the Princess line is significant as it is more advertised.
Bartyzel, Monika. “Girls on Film: The Real Problem with the Disney Princess Brand.” The Week, Web.
Gordon, Christine. “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum: Turning Feminist Disney Critique on its Head.” New Views on Gender, vol. 15, 2015, pp. 78-82.
Johnson, Rachael Michelle. “The Evolution of Disney Princesses and their Effect on Body Image, Gender Roles, and the Portrayal of Love.” Educational Specialist, Web.
Stover, Cassandra. “Damsels and Heroines: The Conundrum of the Post-Feminist Disney Princess.” LUX: A Journal of Transdisciplinary Writing and Research from Claremont Graduate University, vol. 2, no.1, 2013, pp. 29-40.