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An Ode to Disney Princesses Through a Feminist Lens

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Texas chapter.

Fairytales, folktales, and fables: A view on how they have raised me and put me down simultaneously.

My favorite Disney princess has always been Mulan. Does my liking of the character lend itself to the fact that I too have been inspired to chop 5 inches off of my hair the night before taking the SAT after listening to the heroic sequence when she decides to go to war? Perhaps, but I’d like to think that it’s a bit deeper than that.  

Growing up, like every other girl around me, I was completely immersed in the world of princesses, magical kingdoms, and the enchanting connection between the girl and her animal friends. Whether it be Gus and Jaq from Cinderella, Flounder, and Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, Rajah from Aladdin, or Pascal from Tangled, I always wanted my own character arc with a friend-like sidekick to top it off. Above all, I was mystified by the idea of a doe-eyed, naïve girl meeting her knight in shining armor as she escapes the big and bad character that’s after her. I absolutely devoured every moment of it. I loved the idea of getting to exchange a boring and bland life for a new realm of excitement and independence upon meeting “the one” who was predestined for me. 

As I entered my teenage years, I quickly realized that my sense of blissful ignorance came with its own set of consequences: the fact that these comforting stories of mine led me to find a sense of being within a significant other. However iconic these stories have grown to be over the years, Disney has unleashed an undercoated, problematic message to its most perceptive of audiences: children who are still in their blooming and receptive youth. 

The main issue that echoes through many princess-oriented Disney movies lies within the unrealistic ideals of how a young woman should be perceived along with her role in society. True, would I still be up for donning a beautiful marigold dress and being swept off my feet while dancing the night away in a ballroom? Yes, but not at the expense of who I believe myself to be. It is vital for us to understand that we can have both sides of the coin: the whirlwind romance while being true to who we are. Sometimes, we don’t even need romance – we just need ourselves, because what’s a truer form of love than self-love? Cliché? Yeah, I cringed too. But you have to admit it’s kind of true. Not only is the dependency on a man quite problematic, but the range of diversity within the classic princesses generally hit a certain quota of girls, while leaving the rest to not have a real role model to look up to. 

In recent years, as the live adaptations of princess movies have come into the limelight, so have the modern takes by the actresses who play them. For instance, Emma Watson who played Belle in the 2017 live-action movie refused to go ahead with certain wardrobe changes that misrepresented what it means to be a princess in current society. Watson made it a point to un-cinch her waist and ditched the corset look throughout the movie. Small changes as such made a difference to women of all ages out there in showcasing that the bracket of being a princess did not simply lie in rigid, century-old beauty standards. Instead, Watson aimed to present a new, fresh interpretation of Belle while keeping the character’s originality. Just look at how happy she looks as she twirls around on sets!

No matter what, Disney princesses will forever be a childhood staple of many young adolescents out there. Through its increase in popularity with live-action movies, theme parks like Disney World, and various literary adaptations, the idea of a princess is hard-wired into our society. While fairytales offer an escape from our day-to-day lives and present characters with very redeeming and attractive traits, it is still important to recognize the potential side effects of the stories and proceed with a grain of salt. In doing so, we can learn from the past while appreciating past characterizations of princesses.

Hey y'all! I am currently a sophomore double majoring in Plan II & Informatics at the University of Texas at Austin. I am a published author of two fictional books, an avid Spotify listener with over 300 playlists, and have an eerily accurate Elmo impression! Thank you for stopping by to check out my articles. <3