Saturday, February 22, 2014

In Defense of Disney Princesses

This post is in response to a recent article published on Huffington Post, as well as other articles that have cast poor light on Disney princesses.

We all know the buzz of the blogosphere right now is the new Disney movie Frozen. While most applaud the new progressive messages ("You can't marry a man you just met," and that there is more than one kind of true love), some are hating on Queen Elsa, for her mid-music makeover. The transition in question is right in the middle of the Oscar-nominated song, "Let It Go." We all know the moment, I believe, when she throws away the crown, takes her hair down, and transforms her skin-hiding outfit into a shimmery, sheer-sleeved gown. Then she strides through the ice castle she created, singing, what I believe has become the iconic words, "Let it go. Let it go. That 'perfect' girl is gone."

To me the moment is powerful. After a lifetime of trying to subdue herself, she finally decides to test her own potential and be proud of who she is. But some people in the blogosphere don't like that moment. Why? Because her dress has a slit in it, and her braid is down over her shoulder. And it's sexy. 

I don't want to debate here whether or not Elsa is sexier after her makeover. I don't think there is anything to debate. The new look is definitely sexy. But I don't think that is a problem. 

When I look back on my own childhood, I think of the Disney princesses that inspired me the most: Ariel and Belle. People hate on the old Disney princesses because of the subliminal messages they have about men. "Ariel drastically changes her body so a man will love her." "Belle has Stockholm syndrome." (No, she doesn't. I'll talk about that another time.) "Cinderella only gets out of her abused lifestyle because she's pretty." I'll not list them all. You get the picture. Disney princesses, according to popular opinion, are a bad influence on our children. They will teach our daughters that their worth is dependent on appearance and how well they can please men. 

Mine is not the popular opinion, but I don't think Disney princesses are as bad as some think they are. As an adult who grew up with these messages, I feel pretty well-adjusted. Granted, I do rely on a man for income, and I'm not always happy with my post-baby body. But I don't know that Ariel and Belle are to blame. When I look back to the games I played, the songs I sang, and the stories that I wrote that were inspired by these princesses, the theme was independence and exploration, not romance or beauty. 

I think that children are better equipped to sort good and bad messages than we think they are. When I was little, my favorite song to sing was "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. For me the song inspired a curiosity of unknown things. Another favorite of mine was the opening song in Beauty and the Beast, "Belle," where Belle more than once pronounces, "I want much more than this provincial life." These are the messages that have stuck with me throughout my life, and inspired a desire to travel. I'd say it's thanks to Disney that I left my Eastern Kentucky home after high school to attend college in Chicago, where I knew no one. And when my boyfriend told me that I wasn't capable enough to live in a big city, that I'd never survive, I started questioning our relationship and eventually dumped him. The idea of launching myself into the unknown, in defiance of what others say, came directly from princess movies. 

My feelings about many other princess movies are similar. Snow White taught me to "whistle while you work," and to have compassion for others even when your own situation sucks. Jasmine actively fought social norms in Aladdin, first by refusing to get married, and then my falling in love with someone at the bottom of the class system. Cinderella sang about the importance of having dreams and could @#$% talk to mice! But in the end they all got married. So apparently those other elements don't matter. 

Mulan, too, gets shoved aside in popular opinion because of a man. Besides the fact that the movie is a gross misrepresentation of Chinese culture, the movie is amazing! It's all about a woman who takes matters into her own hands and ends up saving her country. The story really aught to carry more weight because of the romantic aspect. When Li Shang falls in love with Mulan, he accepts that she is an independent woman. How progressive is that?

(The only princess I can't say anything nice about is Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Sorry, honey. Looks really are all you've got going for you.)

These are the things that I have taken from Disney princess movies from my childhood: That a woman can take control of her destiny. That a woman can be a pioneer. That a woman can be strong. And that's pretty far from the message people say these movies are sending. 

So back to Frozen. Let's be honest here. Frozen is the most empowering princess movie Disney has ever made. And if I, the little girl from no-where Eastern Kentucky, can glean messages of empowerment from it's lesser predecessors, just imagine what our little girls can do. One moment of sexiness could not possibly overthrow a full movie pulsing with messages of self acceptance and sisterly love. Our daughters are smarter than we give them credit for. Let Elsa be sexy. The girls can sort it out.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glowing with pride reading this! You said it better than I ever could.