Disney Princesses: Good or Evil?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Warning: Long and opinionated post!

Recently in my Socialization Across Childhood class, we had a big discussion on Disney Princesses. Our reading for that day was a great chapter from the book, "Cinderella Ate My Daughter" by Peggy Orenstein. For full disclosure, she is a raging feminist, so I did not agree with her for the most part. She basically is saying that Disney is creating a culture of materialism and extravagant dependance on our male counterparts. See what I mean by feminist? My first reaction was defense, because I grew up with Disney Princesses more than any other type of media. But, I read the chapter and tried to appreciate/understand her point of view.

I understand and agree that this is part of a grand marketing scheme on Disney's part. And for good reason, they pull in $4 BILLION a year with this stuff. But more than that, she is trying to paint Disney Princesses as this terrible thing that is corrupting our daughters into thinking they have to depend on a man and that being admired is THE characteristic to have.

The Stories.
But do they really do that? Well let's think about the stories. President Uchtdorf's talk "Your Happily Ever After" is a great resource for this conversation. He points out that they all have one thing "in common: they must overcome adversity." By watching Cinderella endure her wicked stepmother and evil stepsisters, perhaps you learned that humility, hard work and kindness will lead you to your happily ever after. Perhaps you learned from Beauty and the Beast that sacrifice, patience, and smarts will lead you to that golden sunset.

To be fair, not all Disney princesses are super-duper awesome. What did Snow White do? Sing? I guess she was nice to the dwarves. But that doesn't make her a great role model. And how about Aurora from The Sleeping Beauty? She was a good singer too. (And one of my favorites). But again, she didn't do much else. And to play a little on Orenstein's side, both of them had to be saved by their prince. Ariel could also fall into this category, but at least she saved the prince first! (But then there's the whole going to an evil witch and changing into another species thing, but we won't go into that). And have you noticed that none of the princesses look at each other in the logos? And that none of them have any close friends other than animals and tea cups? Orenstein argues that this teaches girls that having girlfriends is a negative thing.

Personal application.
How has Disney influenced me? Well first off, it gave me unrealistic expectations about hair. ;) More recently, I've had to deal with the idea that "happily ever after" is just getting married. What about the rest of life?

I have a wonderful marriage and I am an (overly) positive person, so living my "happily ever after" everyday has not been that difficult. But there are days that just do not belong in my happily ever after. But overall, I've had a good head on my shoulders that realizes these are just movies. Just good entertainment that allows us to escape reality and live under the sea, in a faraway kingdom, long long ago in a magical castle. And the story-lines are resolved at the end of each movie. Good overcomes evil. Tiana gets her restaurant career and her man.

Main Ideas.
Wow, I  was really starting to sound like Orenstein for a little bit up there. I wish I could back up some of this with research, but none has been done on the affect Disney princesses on behavior. My professor is starting some next semester, which is super exciting! Too bad I will be graduated. :(

Back to our discussion: we came to the conclusion that the best thing to do as parents and caregivers is to talk about the movies as we watch them with our children. And this takes real effort. Often we pop in a movie so we can get some housework done or just to calm them down. But taking the time to really talk to our kids about what is going on in any movie or media that they see is super important.

So, if you read that whole thing, I commend you! What do you think about all this? Did Disney mess you up? Did it teach you about living a good life? Who is your favorite? (Mine is Belle!)


  1. I thought you did a fabulous job! People tend to think that it's one extreme or another, It's both!!! I'm a proud Disney princess girl myself (Pocahontas)I can see a compromise of views! :)

  2. I for one believe that parents are hands-down biggest influence on their children's views. For example, if a mom pushes looks with her words or most importantly her actions, then her children will certainly grow to value outer beauty over all else. So Disney Princesses will influence children with whatever is being reinforced at home. We love Disney Princesses at our house, because their positive qualities are reinforced. Here is an example: Randi: "Mommy Rapunzel is sooo pretty!" Me: "Yes she is. Do you know what makes her so pretty, RJ? Because she is kind to everyone no matter what they look like and she always looks on the bright side. That's what makes someone really pretty."
    Another thought, what is wrong with teaching our daughters that they are princesses? I know that is the most important thing I can ever teach my daughter. We even had a whole family home evening where we watched clips from Rapunzel where her mother is trying to convince her that she is no one special (as the world will eventually try to convince my daughter). She is a daughter of a KING! What a wonderful message. Thanks DISNEY!
    I love Cinderella. Not because it really taught me anything (although if I think about it now, I could). I have some great memories watching it with my sister. As a mother, I couldn't wait till Randi was old enough to watch it with me. As a child, I just loved the story and the songs. Isn't that what it's all really about?
    Good topic Lace, I'm so proud that you are already thinking about this before you become a mommy. :)

  3. Thanks for your great comments! Piper, I agree that it is a little bit of both! You can totally find whatever you are looking for! And Mandi, thanks for that great example! You are such a good mommy. And you pointed out one thing that I overlooked, that Disney does teach us that we are princesses, daughters of the true King.

  4. I love this post! I actually taught a lesson once in Relief Society about Pres. Uchtdorf's talk, "Your Happily Ever After." I love that talk and I think that you can learn a lot from Disney Princesses and I think that most little girls aren't really reading into some of the points that the author makes about them! I don't think they are thinking about how they don't have any girlfriends or how they don't look at each other in the pictures. LIke Mandi said, if we reinforce the good things that come from the movies, they can be a great source of powerful life lessons! It is about finding the joy in the journey and knowing that we are of great worth because we are daughters of a Heavenly King! Remember our Disney Princess girl's camp?? :)

  5. I have learned a lot about this in my sociology classes! I can totally see what people say about Disney princesses (and other female characters) giving little girls unrealistic expectations and skewed ideas of beauty and happiness. But for me personally (as well as most of my girl friends), they were just movies. Fairytales. The main thing I feel gives girls skewed views is more realistic media (real people)--sexy women parading around in bikinis to advertise body lotions you HAVE to have to be beautiful and thin, etc.

  6. I liked your post! I think being involved and talking to your kids is important. I read a book called "packaging girlhood" and I think it's similar to the other book. Definitely feminist (and a lot of her points were just silly) but still good to realize you have to be involved and there are things maybe you should monitor/censor!

    for me, however, I don't think I took too much away from them except a cute love story or something. I don't think I was too messed up from watching them!

  7. Okay, I totally see you points. I'm going to stand-up for the singing Snow White and Aurora (because they are my favorites). They may not have overcome something or had a self defining moment, but these princesses were a means by which their princes became excellent men. Their Princes had to rise above and become men in order to be with the one they loved. We always are hearing that we have this unseeable power over men and that we should use it to help them rise up to be better men. Aurora and Snow White definitely did this. In essence, they contributed to society in a great way; they helped create great men.

  8. Haley-I totally agree! Often what little girls see in these movies have nothing to do with what this author is so afraid of. And yes, I loved our princesses girls camp!! good times!
    Lisa-I agree with you that the media's obsession with thinness is a much bigger problem than princesses!
    Amanda-Thanks! And yes, what we reinforce as parents is the most important thing.
    Kaylee-Wow! Thanks for pointing that out, I never thought of it like that!

  9. Great post Lacey! Glad this sparked some discussion! I just watched "Enchanted" tonight with my kids so have princesses on the brain....again! :)


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