Recently, I’ve become interested in the debate surrounding whether Disney is seriously impacting the self-esteem and self-image of young girls. (The Trouble with Disney’s Teeny Tiny Princesses, Merida from ‘Brave’ Gets an Unnecessary Makeover).
When I was little, all I ever wanted in life was to become a princess. I wanted to be beautiful and have beautiful dresses and live in an enormous castle and have everything I ever wanted.
Was this dream heavily inspired by Disney princesses?
Did I grow up into a perfectly normal human being with reasonable levels of self-esteem.
Now there’s nothing wrong with a little imagination, but is it ok to be telling millions of little girls around the world that they should want to be princesses?
Well I don’t think it’s fair to dump Disney with the sole perpetuation of gender stereotypes, particularly with their most recent releases of Frozen and Princess and the Frog, which both put a different twist on what it means to be a ‘princess’.
But even in the earlier, perhaps more ‘sexist’ Disney princess films, I would argue that many, whilst restricted to the gender norms of the times, promote bravery, courage and initiative as ‘princess’ qualities to aspire to.
But let’s take a look at some other strong female characters inspiring children these days.
Astrid (How to Train Your Dragon– aka my favourite movie ever)
Astrid is the ultimate viking: strong, brave and tiny bit bloodthirsty. She wears skulls on her belt and wields an axe which is easily heavier than anything I could lift. She’s also smart, regularly outwitting the boys. A role model? I think so.
She’s Scottish, rides a horse, is awesome with a bow and arrow and refuses to marry any of the hopeless fellows offered to her, instead ‘claiming her own hand in marriage’.
Not only does she chop off her traditional, princessy ‘long blonde hair’ at the end of the movie, she also proposes to her man, rather than the other way round. Gender stereotypes mashed up? I think so.
Now, I want to make it clear that I don’t think all the Disney films are perfect. There’s definitely still a loooonnnnggg way to go. The fact of the matter is, all the characters are still very disproportionate, with large eyes and tiny waists (see ‘if Disney Princesses had realistic waistlines).
But I don’t think anyone can reasonably blame Disney alone for poisoning young girls’ perceptions of what it means to be female. Disney, as we have seen, is trying very hard to keep up with the times by trying to empower young girls whilst still maintaining that ‘princess mystique’ that’s been capturing audiences for decades.
Let’s not forget that gender stereotypes come from all sorts of places.
There’s still plenty wrong with how media portrays women, but I think we have definitely come a long way from Snow White cleaning up after seven dwarves with the help of magical woodland creatures.