How These Disney Princesses Made Me the Woman I Am

By Sabrina Mongiello

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The age-old debate–are Disney princesses oppressed damsels in distress? Or are they kickass, gender stereotype-breaking role models? The original princesses may have followed more of the former model, though they had their moments. But in recent years, since the Disney “renaissance” of the 1980s, Disney princesses and leading ladies have been following the latter model. They don’t take no for an answer. They fight for what they want. They bridge gaps between groups of people in ways that are considered “taboo” in the context of their films. Most of all, they’re the women who made me the woman I am today. Here’s the breakdown of some of the newer princesses and their inspiring moments:

Pocahontas

My ultimate fave. Every breath she takes is basically inspiring, but let’s break this down. First, she isn’t down to marry Kocoum just because he’s the best warrior and her father told her to do it. She’s got her standards, and he doesn’t meet them. He’s a little close-minded, he’s not very fun, and as she says, his smile isn't exactly his best feature.

Whatever her reasons are, she knows she won’t be happy with him, and she holds her ground. Sorry, dad.

Instead, she meets John Smith, and stays open-minded even when her whole community judged him and his people.

I mean, fair enough. Let’s be real; this quote basically sums up all of world history. But there is something to be said for an open mind, which Pocahontas definitely has, and which prompts "Colors of the Wind." That song is Pocahontas basically telling John Smith, “you don’t know as much as you think you do, dude.”

She then stops her dad from straight-up murdering him and convinces all her people and John Smith’s people to talk it out and, you know, NOT kill each other. (If only history had really gone this way, right? Sigh.)

Mulan

Mulan is the literal definition of “I’m a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man.” Yeah, she gets one as a bonus, but she prioritizes saving China, which, like, yeah, good choice girl.

The movie starts as she tries to do what her parents expect of her. She wants to be a good daughter, and the pressure she feels to be perfect leads to this tragic moment:

Man is she gonna be embarrassed when she realizes how wrong she is.

Mulan knows at this moment that she’s not meant to be a docile homemaker. She has a whole song where she perfectly removes makeup with one swipe of a sleeve, and asks when she’ll look and act on the outside like she feels on the inside? In all seriousness, for a little girl, being told that it’s okay to not know who you are is incredible. She doesn’t magically have an answer at the end of the song, she still doesn’t know exactly how she’ll find herself. As a little girl watching that, I was amazed to see a real struggle being depicted without a quick and easy solution being offered right after.

Following this moment of self-reflection, Mulan proceeds to cut her hair (which in ancient Asian culture symbolized being banished or rejected from the home), pretends to be a boy to spare her father from having to fight in a war he will most likely die in, gets discovered, gets abandoned in the snow, proves herself as a hero despite gender barriers, then literally saves the entirety of China from the Huns.

Then Shang hits her with this winner:

To which the emperor reminds him:

Seriously. She just saved all of China. Step up your game, Shang.

Moana

The newest of our Disney ladies, she makes it clear that she’s the daughter of a chief, NOT a princess. She lives on an island full of people afraid of the sea–yet that’s what she’s drawn to most. Like Mulan, she tries to be the person her family tells her she should be. She tries to settle and learn to be a leader for her people and forget about her desire to explore the sea.

Only when her people are endangered by fish and crops suddenly dying does she “betray” her father and venture out into the unknown alone. She takes it upon herself–for the good of her people, not for her own desire to explore–to take the risk of leaving the safety of her island. She braves winds and waves and rain and storms–just to help her people.

She’s not leaving it to the men, or even her father, the current chief. She makes her own choice to save her people. Her bravery is the only thing that restores safety to her people and leads them to be bold and become voyagers like their ancestors.

Legend.

Other Iconic Disney Ladies

  • Megara, from Hercules, for this line:
  • Tiana, for stopping at nothing to reach her dream (even working non-stop and kissing a literal frog)
  • Merida, for the greatest clap-back to unwanted male attention in the world:
  • Jasmine, for using Jafar’s creepy lust for her to trick him:
  • Esmeralda, for standing up for the oppressed:
  • Belle, for knowing she wants more out of life and really never holding back her feelings about King of the misogynists, Gaston:

Anyone who says these ladies aren’t role models couldn’t be more wrong.

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