I get tired of hearing people complain about Disney princesses being too thin or similar or not independent enough, etc. That very well may be true at times but when I watch a Disney princess movie, I am not expecting to watch a movie that will change the way I look at society or affirm important cultural values. I go watch it because I want to see a fairy tale. I want to see a girl in pretty dresses meet a handsome prince/beast/scoundrel.
It's like peanuts. Sometimes I really want peanuts. Sometimes I want almonds. They are both good and both have value. But it wouldn't be fair of me to be disappointed that a jar of peanuts doesn't have almonds in it.
I have another bone to pick with people who complain about the princesses not rescuing themselves or being independent.
First I would assert that all the characters are a product of their time. Back in the 50s, people thought the way Snow White sang was enjoyable. But in 2010, we had a pop singer as the princess in Tangled. Times change and the princess change with the times.
Second, every single one of the Disney princesses has something in common other than being pretty. They are FIERCE. They are TOUGH AS NAILS.
Snow White's step mom tries to get her assassinated but Snow White doesn't let that get her down. She cries for a little while and gets over it and starts living her new. Sure later on Prince Charming saves her but in the beginning the very first Disney Princess saves herself and set a great example for all for her successors.
Ahh. Cinderella. Good ole Cinderella. She was the first I remember watching and I think she sets a great example that Snow White would be proud of. She takes care of herself and she gets things done. Cinderella wanted to go to the ball so Cinderella found a way, despite incredible adversity, to go to the ball. She wasn't afraid of hard work, and even though her Step Mom was a bully, Cinderella never saw herself as a victim.
Next came Aurora from The Sleeping Beauty. I've only seen the movie all the way through once so I can't really defend Aurora. Honestly, she's the only one I'd say was too passive because it seems like all she does is walk around all la di da. I do love the scene with the fairies fighting over whether or the the dress should be pink or blue though.
And then in 1989 came one of my favorites and, in my opinion, one of the best Disney movies, The Little Mermaid. Ariel is a much different princess than Snow White. Ariel actually has a living, loving parents. But the generation that grew up with Ariel no longer thought "father knows best" or that parents were infallible. This generation tested boundaries - as did Ariel. She made some poor choices fueled by passion and infatuation for a fantasy and not logic. But you know how she responds to the consequences of those bad choices? She goes on living her life. She realizes the depth of her father's love for her.
Three years later, came my favorite Disney Princess, Belle! To be fair, I should explain that my mom always extolled the virtues of Beauty and The Beast because Belle fell in love with who he was and not what he looked like. But that's not the only good thing about Belle. Belle has substance. She's ok with being different. She won't marry the most handsome man in town just because he deigned to look twice at her. Then when danger comes and her dad is missing, she doesn't go ask anyone for help. She goes out and saves him. She sacrifices herself for father. Then later she saves her father from being thrown into an asylum by greedy people. Belle is TENACIOUS.
But she is also tender, and I think that's so important. She shows this unloved, terrifying creature that he is lovable and he is worthy and through that he's able to show his more vulnerable side. I think it's important that little girls and little boys see that treating someone with kindness and respect is the right thing to do, no matter who the person is.
Next come the ones that are more recognizably fierce and tough.
Jasmine stands up to and for her father. She refuses to be bullied by Jafar. Plus she has a pet tiger. Anyone with a pet tiger is fierce.
If you're questioning whether or not Mulan is tough... Just go rewatch the movie. And if you're still unsure, then I don't know what to say to you because Mulan joined an army to save her father. And yes, I realize she isn't a princess and doesn't marry a prince BUT Disney calls her a princess so she's included. Plus I love her and "reflection" totally resonated with me with a teenager.
I have pretty much the same thing to say about Pocahontas as I did about Mulan. She's got a little bit of Ariel in her too. Overprotective father, curiousity, the need to be free. But more important than all that is her need for the world to be just. She doesn't try to save John Smith because he's handsome, though it doesn't hurt. She tries to save him because killing him would be wrong and she's not afraid to stand up for what she believes in.
Tiana, Merida, Rapunzel and Anna and Elsa are obviously fierce and strong. I think there are important lessons to be learned from all of them.
Tiana might be the most impressive of the princesses. She gets things done. She doesn't whine and she doesn't quit. She makes life the way she wants it to be #goals
Rapunzel teaches the lesson of having and going after your dreams. Frozen is all about family and the importance of that love.
I haven't seen Brave but from what I hear it's about independence.
I do have one qualm about the pervasiveness of the Disney Princess movies in the last 25 years. From 1937-1988 we got 3 princess movies. From 1989-2015, we've gotten eight new princesses and one queen. I think that says more about society than the way the princesses dress or the way they act. Part of the reason for the increase may be due to technology advances or an increase in animators.
Regardless of the reason why, let's quit criticizing the Disney princesses, even the ones from past who seemed passive. If you have a problem with the pervasiveness of princess memorabilia, encourage your child to watch Doc McStuffins or an educational show on PBS (that's totally what I grew up on and I think I turned out fine). Get your girls to read historical fiction like the American Girl doll series or the Girls of Many Lands books also by American girl. Laura Ingalls and her sisters make excellent role models in the Little House series. They are so many more options. Let them watch Cinderella and then follow it up with something more obviously empowering towards women.
Be on the lookout for a post about books all kids should read because I just got really excited revisiting my childhood!