I was looking online for some makeup inspiration to take my mind off of Brexit (I’m such a girl *sighs*) when I came across this image.
I understand that this is meant to be humorous, poking fun at Disney and whatever. And as a pretty hardcore feminist, you might think I agree with it! But what I take issue with is not the Princesses themselves, but the response to them.
Let’s start with Ariel (The Little Mermaid). OK, so if you look at it one way, this is a story about a 16 year old girl being infatuated with a Prince and running off to marry him. Trust me, I too have been annoyed by her: ‘but Daddy I love him!’ she says, after only having seen him from afar. And with all my wisdom as an 18 y/o I can safely be annoyed by ‘I’m sixteen years old. I’m not a child anymore’.
But her story is about more than that! Yeah, Eric’s a hottie, and she’d quite like to snuggle up to him (who wouldn’t?). But she was in love with the idea of visiting the human world long before he came along. She’s spent years collecting ‘gadgets and gizmos aplenty’, not to mention ‘whozits and whatsits galore’. And not for some man; just for her own pleasure, and so that she can learn more about a world she doesn’t understand. She’s basically a scientist! I think we should try and teach more little girls to be curious about the world around them, not brush it off as passing fancy.
Now onto Cinderella (Cinderella). Yes, she’s pretty. But when is that mentioned as her defining character trait in the film? Her sisters and stepmother are called ugly, true, but I firmly believe they mean in the sense of ugly spirit. Cinderella’s whole deal is not her beauty, but that she ‘remained ever gentle and kind’ despite the hardships of her life. Let’s not forget the motto of the recent reboot, Cinderella (2015): ‘have courage and be kind’. Could you remain that good, that pure, living in a household of people who have squandered your family’s money and been nothing but horrible to you? Because to be honest, I don’t think I could.
And the Prince doesn’t just fall in love with her because she’s pretty, or because of a foot fetish. He falls for her based on their cute little singsong at the ball, which is pretty legit within the canon of fairytales. She didn’t even know he was the Prince, so you can’t exactly say she’s a gold digger, which is another one of the foolish complaints made by Disney-bashers. The whole thing is just too lovely for words. (OK, so they might both be a bit simple, and she apparently has freakish feet unlike anyone else in the kingdom’s. No one’s perfect!)
Snow (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves) is definitely one of the riskier stories. The thing that stops the Huntsman is, in the fairytales, her beauty. But in the Disney film? The Huntsman doesn’t want to kill such an innocent child. The Prince is drawn to her by her singing. And while, okay, the message that kissing sleeping girls is a bit dodgy, it is typical fairytale fodder, and if Walt had changed that part of the story line people would most definitely have complained.
Speaking of kissing girls in their sleep: Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). I will admit, I too was drawn into the idea that Sleeping Beauty was not a good role model for young girls. After all, it’s right there in the name! She doesn’t do anything to attract the Prince’s attention but be beautiful! Except, fortunately, that’s not the case for this Disney version. Prince Phillip sees Aurora/Briar Rose in the woods. She’s singing, and dancing, and flirting with an owl dressed as a man (I promise it makes sense in the film). He fancies her because of the gifts of her fairy godmothers: beauty and song. She’s hot, he’s hot… All’s good. Later, it turns out she’s a princess, which she was not expecting, and apparently she can’t marry the boy she met in the woods. Luckily for everyone involved, surprise! Her Prince Charming is an actual Prince. Some people have all the luck. So you can’t use the excuse that Aurora is stupid, because she marries the first man she meets. Of course she marries him! She’s been promised to him since birth, to unite the kingdom. It’s actually a good story to initiate girls into politics, if you think about it like that: be beautiful, and kind, and talented, but also, power is good too. Get it if you can.
Princess Jasmine (Aladdin) of the fictional land of Agrabah is fantastic for a similar reason. The only thing the person who made this image could think to say about her doesn’t even focus on her! The political issues of the time this film is set make it so a woman’s political worth was tied up in her marriageability. Jasmine wants more control over her own life, and she gets it in the best way she can.
Beauty and the Beast, I have saved for last. Because it is my favourite story in the entire world. No one can convince me that the vaguely Stockholm-Syndrome-esque elements tarnish it in anyway. The point of this story is not that beauty matters with women: in the Disney adaptation, Belle is reviled throughout her ‘poor provincial town’. Yes, they think she’s beautiful, but they also think she’s a total weirdo, and she doesn’t have a single friend in the village. Naturally, this would make her more open to looking past the flaws of others, and to want to make friends outside of what people look like. God knows Gaston, the most attractive man in the village, shows her that beauty isn’t everything…
And the bestiality claims confuse me too. she’s not sexually attracted to the Beast (I don’t think Disney characters ever admit to feeling sexual desires, thanks to the average age of their audience). She falls in love with him for his spirit, and his kindness, and his protective instincts. People seem to overlook the montage during the song ‘Something There’. In it, we see the two bonding. She doesn’t fall for him because he’s an animal, she loves him because of who he is inside – which is the true message of the whole film.
As you can see, I have a lot of feelings about Disney Princesses. To me, they are symbols of strength, and not just the simpering beauties people want to make them. To undermine these characters just because they are beautiful means that you don’t thing women can be both physically attractive and mentally strong. And if we take nothing else from these films, we should learn this: if you want it all, you can have it. Beauty does not not negate strength, and vice versa. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that aren’t enough.