I am a huge fan of everything Disney: Disney films, Disney World and most importantly, Disney Princesses. Ever since I was a tiny toddler, I was obsessed with Belle; her beautiful, golden gown, her radiant beauty and her selflessness captivated me from the start, to the point where I wouldn’t even take off my replica of the dress for two weeks straight at Disney Land, Paris! I’m sure that most ladies can agree with me and grew up wanting to be just like the Princesses they saw on screen too.
However, little did I know at the age of 4, and throughout my childhood, that these loved Disney movies were an inaccurate, degrading representation of women in society; Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and even Beauty and the Beast have been made to show how women are not strong and freethinking, but depend on muscular men that just so happen to be Princes. It just so happens to be pretty ironic how men are already above the women who — like Belle and Cinderella — are ordinary, but “strange” for following their own dreams and ambitions, living as quiet with no freedom or expression for own opinions, thoughts and feelings. As I grew older, I realized these issues within Disney films and how they haven’t done anything to change or develop this way of thinking.
Snow White is known as dainty, innocent and a motherly figure in the first Disney princess film ever released in 1938, which are all conventions of a vulnerable, young girl. Snow is meant to be just 13 in this film, which in modern society is pretty outrageous seeing as her stepmother wants to kill her, and she is living alone with seven strangers. The worst part, however, is the fact that in the end, the Prince has to save her. Not the dwarfs, not the singing songbirds and not even herself. I bet a few other Disney films come to mind, such as Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Cinderella that repeat this degrading thought of women needing the other gender in order to survive, literally.
The Little Mermaid, released a few years later in 1989, also presents the same message; but this time, instead of falling for the princess’ personality like in Snow White, Eric literally falls for only Ariel’s looks. She cannot even speak or express her views, thoughts and emotions as she has not been given that power, and the only person to give it back? Yes, you guessed it! The Prince! It seems that Disney shames the fact that women are powerful, have a voice and have more than just a pretty face. Moreover, slowly but surely Disney has gone from the main female being weak and naive to powerful and independent.
Mulan was released in 1998, and if you haven’t seen it, she literally saves the entirety of China. Not alone, but with her passion to defend her family’s honor and her sick father’s life, she disguises her gender by cutting her hair and wearing a full suit of body armor to fight in the war against the Huns. If that isn’t bad-ass, then I don’t know what is! She is strong — physically and emotionally — fighting in the war, while being independent enough to save and defend her country. There is a male protagonist, however, he gives full credit to Mulan and her self determination. This is the first Disney film that shows the true independence and decision of a woman and has emphasized her courage by doing this within a male dominated activity and cast. Mulan is the first Disney princess — and the one I wish I did grow up being inspired by — who is brave, strong and stands up for what is important to her.
Disney follows the dismissal of a damsel in distress in 2013 and 2016 with Frozen and Moana. Frozen focuses on sisterly love and is the first Disney film that doesn’t require a man in order to save the day. With everyone rooting for the conventional good guy, Kristoff, to kiss and save Anna, they are surprised to find out that Elsa is the cure. Anna and Elsa are sisters, and instead of having to fall in love, they are already in love. This fact saves the town from being frozen over and allows Disney to introduce a new way to have a happily ever after. It shows that a man is not needed, nor is a true love’s kiss, and this emphasizes the power and strength that women have within a Disney film.
Moana recognizes an unconventional princess look and objectives, specifically when she is given the chance to be called a princess, yet turns it down and says, “Okay, first, I am not a princess. I’m the daughter of the chief.” Not through her actions or feelings, but through her actual words, Moana proves that she is not labelled as pretty, emotionless and dependent but as someone with power and status. She is a daughter, a friend, a human being before she is a “princess” which shows how far Disney has come regarding the power of women within its films.
I’m sure I am not alone when saying this development of women within Disney films, showing off their power, strength and independence, is very important and crucial to a society of vulnerable, unheard women. Disney providing inspirations such as Mulan, Elsa and Moana means a lot to us females, and I hope they carry on the important, powerful role of a true princess.