Does Ariel encourage young women to sing, or give up
their voices to get a man? Photo: Petr Kratochvil,

Women have long debated and discussed the fantasy ideal of icons like Barbie and the Disney Princesses. I’d say I’m a Disney princess fan, but I don’t think about them too often, or about how Disney characters have influenced my life. However, I had to think on it today when I noticed “Star Trek” icon George Takei’s recent post on Facebook–including the below image.

Takei is an openly-gay activist who frequently posts progressive material on Facebook. Most of the time I agree with what he posts, but I clicked the ‘share’ button on Facebook to see what my friends thought of this one. 

I agree and disagree with the image and Takei’s comment: “This may be where it starts for little girls. Parents, think about the messages your children receive.”

My friends (including my mom) pointed out a few things in defense/in criticism of the image:
  • Most of these Disney princesses were not ‘created’ as recently as the ones kids watch now (Tiana, Rapunzel, Mulan, Pocahontas); Snow White appeared in 1937
  • Disney continues to market most or all of the princesses, including the ones featured
  • Parents influence kids more by example than by what they allow them to watch
  • Disney princesses also exemplify positive behaviors: good singer, likes to read, has good manners
  • Disney princesses display an unrealistic standard of beauty and most of them are white
  • A discussion with kids post-movie can ensure that they understand the difference between fiction and reality
  • Some little kids easily grasp that being a princess is generally not a ‘real job’
  • People will always gravitate towards beautiful things and people, and anti-beauty isn’t a good message for kids, either
  • This message is reinforced in our culture in general and non-Disney movies as well
  • Make-believe, playing pretend (and essentially LARPing or live action role-playing) is healthy behavior, especially children, and Disney princesses do not have extremely negative behaviors such as drug use
And one last point from my Sociology 101 class back in undergrad:
  • Kids like movies in which the protagonist rebels, learns, and forms her (or his) own identity
I agree that some behaviors of some Disney princesses are not good for little kids to watch. Think about little boys, too. I mean, Prince Charming is SUCH a flat character devoid of personality that his name is actually just Prince Charming. What does that say about a man’s value if he is not a prince exemplified completely by one attribute?

I’m 30, and I dragged my husband to see “Tangled.” I’m so glad I did! Both Rapunzel and Flynn Rider (the love interest and male protagonist) learn to overcome their own issues, individually and together. I was delighted to find that Flynn had tons of screen time and learned just as much as Rapunzel. When I went to Disney World, I learned that some of the employees (the ones that were women and my age) also had major crushes on Flynn

Of the princesses in the picture, I most relate to Belle (from “Beauty and the Beast”). I was a pre-teen when I started watching “Beauty,” but what I really liked about it was that Belle was called “odd” and she was more than a bit of a book nerd–just like me! She wasn’t valued in her small village and she could have taken the easy road by marrying Gaston, but instead she pursued her own interests and chose not to be open to love until she found someone worth loving–who valued her for her own personality and her interests.

As much as I like Disney, I don’t think it’s a good idea to expose a child to only Disney material. For example, I was really into “Anne of Green Gables,” a book series (and film adaptation) about a red-headed and individualistic young woman in Canada in late Victorian/early Edwardian times. Like Belle, Anne is book smart and doesn’t settle for the first rich and handsome fellow who shows her some interest. She is career-oriented and supported by her family in her goals. Anne was a great role model for me. As a geek-in-training, I often felt like an outsider and usually had my nose in a book. Now I’m a full-time writer, partially as a result of the influence of that character.

On a related note, “Snow White” has been oft-criticized for creating some sort of ideal about how white skin is superior to other skin tones. As a fair-skinned individual, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to think ‘it’s okay, Snow White is pretty and she has skin like me.’ I’ve been teased for it a lot as a child and an adult–the way my skin burns easily (or how funny it is that I wear sunscreen–no win situation there, though yay to not having melanoma); how it’s ‘hilarious’ when I blush easily or it’s evident I’ve been drinking; how I ‘blend in with the snow,’ and how I’m ‘glow in the dark.’ 

Our society now really pushes the idea that all complexions are beautiful, and I agree with this message. It seems like there will eventually be a Disney film celebrating ladies of multiple complexions and cultural backgrounds–also awesome. Princesses were white only for decades, and that’s not how it should be. That said, it’s nice to be able to go back to the princess who looks like me in one way and relate to her. I hope young women of all races can have this experience in relating to characters.
Image posted by George Takei on Facebook.

Tags: geek, female, girl, disney, princess, teens, preteens, anne of green gables, tangled, snow white, belle, beauty and the beast, larp, larping, larpers, pocahontas, mulan, rapunzel, ariel, star trek, george takei

Get the full scoop! Visit daily and subscribe to updates!