Someday my prince will come? Why we need to reevaluate our obsession with Disney princesses

By Erin Moyer, Opinion & Editorial Editor ||

I don’t want to have to be a certain kind of pretty, a certain kind of thin…I don’t want these constraints on myself, on my peers, or on little girls trying to figure out who their role models should be.

I would never call myself “a princess.” I would never call myself a “betch.” I would never really even call other people a “betch,” unless I thought I could pull it off ironically. And spoiler alert, I probably could not. But a few weeks ago, all of these titles came together as I perused a website I happen to dearly love called — don’t judge me, guys — betcheslovethis.com. I really only go on for the hilariously sour reviews they do of one of my favorite shows — you guys, I mean it, do not judge me — The Bachelor. But last time, this article caught my eye: “A Strongly Worded Letter to Girls Who Are Still Obsessed with Disney Princesses. Read it yourself here .

As someone who rocked the Disney princess costume scene as a kid, as someone who may or may not have a Lion King stuffed animal to her left as she writes this, and as someone who will occasionally veg out to a fun, fluffy marathon on ABC Family, I did not take umbrage at this article. I did not get offended. What I did was think: good lord, someone is finally talking about this.

Before you belt “Let it Go” in my general direction, let me explain what I’m talking about: I’m not saying I agree with this article 100 percent. I’m not saying Disney princesses are only worthwhile because they’re an easy Halloween costume or, to quote the article, “[have made] contributions to the art of betchiness,” among them “lying to bros” or “dressing like a slut.” I probably would not use those terms. But here’s the thing: while I’m not saying this tart little piece is completely right, I’m also not saying it’s completely wrong.

Like the anonymous betches who authored the piece, I, too, do not think your love for a fictional character should be so deep that you allow an unreal person to stand in for your identity. I, too, feel myself squirm when I walk into a person’s room and discover it is actually a Hey Arnold-esque shrine to Tangled, whose forethought and extensiveness even Helga Pataki and her unibrow would admire. I, too, worry when young women identify themselves as fictitious princesses you really should not aspire to be remotely similar to at all.

So in this column, I want to expand on what the article cuts off. I want to talk about some of the reasons I think so many girls our age and older are still a bit harmfully into Disney princesses. I don’t want to pathologize that interest, as the article (for reasons of humor and general betchiness of tone) veers toward doing. I want to meditate on it. I want to understand it, I want you to understand it, and I want to explain why it is so unhealthy.

Why do I think we hold onto Disney princesses with a weird amount of slightly creepy love? For one thing, describing yourself as, for instance, “totally Pocahontas” gives you a really easy way to self-identify. You don’t have to bother with being one’s own self or being different, which can get into the moderately sticky, demanding territory of trying to understand yourself and understand others. Rather, you have a cut-and-dry way to be known and get to know. If a girl tells you, “I am so Ariel,” to borrow one of the article’s examples, you can infer that a) she is so definitely a redhead, and b) she has daddy issues so serious they make her throw herself at the first human male she ever sees. Wow. You have already gotten to know this girl quite intimately, and you have saved a lot of time and therapy. Win-win. What a valuable shortcut.

But I think there’s something deeper to the enduring Disney princess fascination that goes deeper than a lazy, superficial way to be known or know others. A lot of us grew up with these characters. They were our first impressions of what beauty should look like, what courtship should look like, what happiness should look like. Of course we cling to them as we grow up: they’re our constructs. In a way, they’re the women who taught us to be women. And frankly, these are not the best examples.

Because here’s the thing: I do not think Disney Princesses are really all that worth aspiring toward. Honestly, think about it. Excluding the plucky heroines of Frozen, who actually come to be more focused on familial love in the end, and, to some extent, Rapunzel of Tangled, who at least strikes out with some independence and intrinsic motivation, the women of Disney films do not have an excellent track record of female empowerment. When the grand Disney Princess tradition began, random, nameless princes would literally save women by kissing or somehow “choosing” them. And since he was a prince, the women were generally pretty content to be swept off their feet. Look at Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Do you honestly want your daughter to grow up in a world where she’s subconsciously told she needs a man in order to become the best version of herself? It worries me when someone identifies as “so Belle,” when Belle, though smart, independent, and originally focused on her father’s welfare, falls in “love” with an animal man after he holds her captive and removes all of her self-agency and freedom. People don’t really talk about that whole Stockholm Syndrome-y part of being “so Belle.”

And moreover, why restrict who you or others can be to a few bug-eyed, scarily-slim women? Speaking for myself, I don’t want to live in a world where I only have a few, generally narrow characters to identify with. I don’t want to have to be a certain kind of pretty, a certain kind of thin, or a certain kind of independent that still allows the right guy to fall in love with me in the right main stream way at the very end. I don’t want these constraints on myself, on my peers, or on little girls trying to figure out who their role models should be. Maybe I want to be rude. Maybe I want to be brash and cynical and loud. Maybe I just want to be myself. Maybe I don’t want a bona fide Disney happily ever after. Maybe I can save myself without being a stereotype.

So, my readers who have stuck with me for the past thousand words: I encourage you to think about what it means to be “so Cinderella,” what it means to be “so into Disney,” and what it truly means to wear the crown of a Disney princess.

And on a related note, let go of “Let it Go” already. You are no Adelle Dazeem. I banish that song. Like the gals from Frozen, strike out and find your empowerment elsewhere.

Erin Moyer, a sophomore American Studies major, is Opinion and Editorials Editor. Email her at emoyer1@fandm.edu.

 

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