It’s impossible to escape the Disney juggernaut. The reach of the mouse house is overwhelming, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the global brainwashing of little girls into wanting to become princesses. In fact, it’s such a concern, there’s even an actual term coined: “Princess Syndrome”. Heard of this? It’s the idea that Belle, Ariel and company are perpetuating gender stereotypes and creating a generation of girls who focus only on the pretty things, put themselves at the center of the universe, and obsess about their looks.
But hold on. If you ask most dads, the princess thing is adorable. In fact, there’s probably not a father on the planet who hasn’t called his daughter “princess” at one point or another, or sung along in the car to the Frozen soundtrack like this guy right here.
The truth is, princesses get a raw deal. Yes, Disney shoves them down our throats and they are unavoidable. But don’t confuse capitalism with anti-feminism. There’s much to celebrate in the Disney Princesses. They are to girls what superheroes are to boys: bigger than life, virtuous and with goodhearted qualities worth living up to.
Here are 7 characters who prove your daughter’s crack-like obsession with the Disney Princesses is totally okay:
What parents wouldn’t want their daughter to turn out like Belle? She’s an avid reader, often devouring the same books twice: “But you just borrowed that one last week!/That’s okay, I’ll read it again!” She spurns the town jock/douchebag, stands by her father when the world calls him crazy and finds something to love in a beast of a man, seeing past his appearance to his heart. And that’s perhaps her best quality: to Belle, “looks” don’t matter. Not Gaston’s, and not the Beast’s.
This kickass Disney princess joins the army and proves to be the best warrior in all of China. She wears her feminism on her sleeve, it’s hardwired into her DNA. Sure, she has to pretend to be a boy. But that only drives the point home further. You’re obviously waiting the whole movie for her to reveal herself to her father and the general’s son so that their antiquated views of male dominance can come crashing down. And they do. She’s the Joan of Arc of the Disney princesses.
Call her what you want, a rebellious daughter who disobeys her father’s wishes, a love-sick teenager who throws her greatest gift away for Eric, the animated equivalent of Channing Tatum. But Ariel reminds us of something we land-dwellers too often forget: humanity is a gift. Her longing to be ‘part of that world’ is maybe, just maybe, the most poignant moment in all the princess movies, a sense of appreciation and envy for something we sometimes take for granted.
Sure, she’s got an arranged marriage and she winds up being a damsel in distress a few too many times. But she’s also a fiery free-thinker who sneaks out of the castle to see how the other half lives: a one-percenter who falls for a ninety-nine percenter. Hell, Aladdin is even less that that…he’s a street rat. Take all of that, plus hers is the first Disney character to break the mold of the Anglo-American Princess stereotype that came before, with curvier lines and darker skin.
A princess who is a business woman and wants to open her own restaurant? Fantastic. Deduct a few points because the first time Disney stepped up and had an African-American princess, they turned her into a frog after 15 minutes. But still, this princess knew what she wanted, set her sights on it and achieved her dream of small business ownership. Way to go, considering 9 out of 10 restaurants fail.
Elsa & Anna
A movie and soundtrack most of us parents could probably be okay going the rest of our lives without hearing and seeing again. I’m kidding! Play it again, kids, it never gets old. How did Disney subvert the stereotypical princess myth this time around? Because the love story wasn’t between the guy and the girl. It was about the love between sisters. Such an incredible theme for young girls that you have to ask yourself why anyone hadn’t done an animated movie about sisterhood before.
From the moment you saw the character design, you understood that Merida was cut from a different cloth — tough as nails, full of sass and the final death knell to the crumbling remains of the old “princess” stereotypes. This one is so physical and aggressive that most parents wouldn’t even let their daughters buy the plastic toy bow-and-arrow set Disney sold as her merchandise. Score one for Disney and Merida for being further along than a good part of the country. Merida is tough, cool… and well yeah, brave.
Sure, Disney’s corporate behemoth nature and worldwide dominance make them a little like Starbucks in the Austin Power films. But the writers and animators who craft these movies aren’t part of that corporate culture. They’re artists, many of them parents themselves, sensitive to the issues of the day and with as much vested in seeing positive female role models up on screen as you and I. They’re taking a hammer to the antiquated notion of a ‘princess’, and turning it into something completely different than the passive likes of Cinderella, Aurora and Snow White. And it’s our job as parents to make sure our little girls understand that. Don’t just throw on the movie and walk away. Stick around. Point out the positive attributes and strong choices the Princesses make and ensure your daughters understand the personalities under the gowns. And remember that beyond the imperial capitalist greed of Disney the company, tucked away in animation buildings all across California and Florida, there are some cool, hip filmmakers creating strong independent female characters worthy of your daughter’s respect… and yours.
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