I’m about to step on some sacred territory here. I just want you to know that I know that before I begin.
Like everyone else’s daughter, my daughter went through a Princess phase. She had to have on a tiara or crown, she had all the dress up dresses, and her favorite Wii game was this insipid Disney Princesses game in which you traipsed through the countryside wearing impractical dresses and high heeled shoes and visited Snow White, Cinderella, Jasmine, and Ariel. I didn’t discourage it, nor did I encourage it. I just let it run its course and it ended soon enough.
Since we all know that our daughters are going to go through this phase, I can’t believe that Disney hasn’t yet given us a Princess that doesn’t make us roll our eyes.
Ariel has always been my least favorite. (Pause while I get into the fetal position and await oncoming attacks.) She is intellectually curious, yes, but a brat, who doesn’t follow her father’s reasonable rules (like, show up on time for important events and don’t disappear). She sees a cute guy on a boat, and immediately decides without speaking to him that he is the love of her life, and runs away to throw herself at him. Along the way, she gives her ability to communicate to an evil witch. Prince Eric, seeing how hot she is, falls madly in love with her, even though she can’t speak or effectively use sign language to communicate, and he is so dense that he doesn’t even notice when she is replaced with her evil doppelganger. Because, after all, it isn’t about who she is, it is about how hot she is. Parents: if your daughter got involved in a story like that, would you be proud?
Snow White? Well, we all know that she is kind and loving and giving, but it isn’t like the Prince knows that when he sees her looking all pretty and dead and what not. And it isn’t like she knows he is not a serial killer when she hops on the back of his horse. Think about it -- he just kissed a pretty dead chick he'd never seen before. Eeew! Isn't that a mighty large red flag waving high right there? Anyway, she immediately rides off, leaving the funny looking but devoted dwarves in the dust who hid her from her evil stepmother. Talk about gratitude and good thinking. Ha!
Cinderella? Well, she is kind and hardworking, and in theory won the prince’s heart after talking to him all night. (But would he have danced with her in the first place if she weren’t strikingly attractive? After all – the Stepsisters are called the Ugly Stepsisters, not the Mean Ole Stepsisters, sending the message that if you are worthwhile you are pretty, and if you are not you are ugly.) But then he doesn’t even recognize her, and he has to send someone around with a shoe, because he couldn’t pick her out of a lineup. Yeah. He was paying attention. Oh, and no one else recognizes her, including her stepsisters and stepmother, because we all know that putting on a nice dress, an updo, and a tasteful faceful of makeup makes you unrecognizable even to your family.
I could go on. And I will grant you that Disney does provide us with a few that at least superficially are good role models. But that fails as well. Jasmine is not immediately taken by Aladdin’s charms, and does get to know him before deciding he’s all that and a bag of chips. He, on the other hand, wants her before he’s even met her. Does she have to wear that filmy outfit with three quarters of her torso sticking out? I would not let my daughter wear that to school. Same goes for Pocohantas. The real Pocohantas was smart and brave and wily, and some of the cartoon Pocohantas is like that. But I’m guessing that there was not a single Native American in those days that wore a one sleeved, off the shoulder, micro-mini deerskin, and who just happened to have large, perky breasts underneath. I’m fairly certain there were no Wonderbras in pre-colonial America.
Belle is the worst offender of the superficially good role models. She’s the worst because her problems are subtle and sneaky and not at all easy to pick up on. She starts out great. She loves reading and learning, she is loyal to her father, she is brave, and rejects the handsome dude all the other girls are falling over because he is a pompous jerk. So far so good. And in theory, the rest is good, too – she falls in love with the Beast because he is, at heart, a good person who has just been misunderstood, despite his outer appearance and gruff demeanor. But let’s deconstruct, shall we? He isn’t just gruff. He actually kidnaps her father. And, in a prisoner exchange deal, takes a young woman in his stead. He’s domineering and abusive and, quite frankly, a felon. But as we all know, if you love an abuser enough he will overcome his demons and magically transform into a (good looking) kind and gentle person. Seriously? If your daughter got involved with him, would you not try to stop if? How many clients have I had in my office trying to convince me that “he’s changed!” MmmmHmmmm. They always come back, usually within 6 months.
I will, however, hand the Disney Corporation credit for the virtues of Mulan, who is not marketed at all. Most of you probably haven’t even heard of her. Mulan is brave, she will risk her life to protect her family and its honor, and wore clothing that covered all the critical bits. The fact that she gets the guy in the end is an afterthought, a pleasant byproduct of her (and his) proving their worth as individuals. Clearly, this is why no one ever has dressed up as Mulan for Halloween. Her dress isn’t sparkly.
I’m not saying that Princesses can’t be feminine, glamorous, and good role models at the same time. Take Princess Leia, who could simultaneously outthink Han Solo, knock off a few Stormtroopers, and provoke the lust of pretty much every guy who has ever seen her in her (plot appropriate) gold bikini.
I know I think too much about these things. Most three year olds are not analyzing the interpersonal dynamics of these movies, and they certainly aren’t interested in bagging a Prince of their own any time soon. Boys have cooties. They like the sparkly dresses and the catchy tunes. I get that. I like sparkly dresses and catchy tunes myself. Pair it with some gorgeous shoes, and I’m sold. I just have to wonder what subliminal message they are getting from all this about their role in the world and how to prove their worth. I am certain it is related to why I can’t seem to get most of our interns to dress properly for a professional setting and why my 8 year old thinks she has to wear lip gloss to be pretty.
In conclusion, Disney Princess fans, please don’t egg my house.