It finally happened. My daughter watched her first Disney movie. Well, technically she just watched the opening to the Lion King, which equates to less than 5 minutes of a Disney movie, but it counts in my book.
You may be wondering what I have against Disney movies. Or if you stay up-to-date on the latest news, you probably already know what my beef is with the magical world of Disney. Two words: Disney princesses.
Even without Disney’s unnecessary makeover of Merida, the spirited star of Brave, the current line-up of doe-eyed, helpless, unrealistically figured ladies in the princess club are enough to stir anxiety in any parent to a little girl.
The Lion King slip was my husband’s idea. Harlow wasn’t feeling well, and the only thing to do on a sick day in our house is to turn on the best Disney movie every made (arguably one of the best animated films every made): The Lion King. That opening gives me chills, and honestly I cannot wait until Harlow can really understand the story. It’s a beautiful movie.
But where I start to hesitate is when Disney “princesses” come into the picture. Cinderella, who was only noticed after she changed up her wardrobe. Belle, who was technically a prisoner. Ariel, who sacrificed her voice for a guy she didn’t know. Jasmine, who could only make her father happy by getting married. Don’t even get me started on Snow White and Sleeping Beauty…
To be perfectly honest, this is not how I remember the princesses from my childhood, long before they were part of some marketing cult. What I remember about Cinderella was her positivity. Ariel was inquisitive and determined. Belle was smart and sincere. Jasmine was independent. Those were the impressions the Disney princesses left on me as a little girl. I had to become an adult, a woman to be more specific, in order to see how these characters were actually weak and shallow and victimized. Alas, the cynicism of adulthood has tarnished my childhood yet again.
It’s one thing for me to come to these realizations on my own and actually choose to make the distinction between my own memories and what a woman should really be like. It’s another thing entirely when it comes to my daughter.
And so I’m torn. As a mother, I want my daughter to have female role models who are strong, brave, intelligent, and confident. Sonia Sotomayor. Amelia Earhart. Helen Keller. Tina Fey (that’s right, I did just equate a comedian with a Supreme Court Justice…)
But on the other hand, I really love Disney movies. As much as someone might hate the company for their commercialization of imagination, the classic Disney movies are just that – classics. The music is fun and inspiring. The animation is captivating. The stories are exciting. When I was a little girl, I literally carried around a VHS copy of The Little Mermaid. It was my favorite movie. Not because I wanted to look like Ariel or learn how to get a man. No, I carried around that tape because the story was just so cool. A mermaid! Who grows legs! And defeats a Sea Witch! It’s was just fun!
Having Harlow get her first taste of Disney has made me realize that this dilemma is thoroughly upon us. She doesn’t watch TV very often but I feel pretty certain that exposure to Disney princesses is only a matter of time. We will certainly never have Disney-themed parties or let Harlow dress up as a Disney princess for Halloween (just not our thing) but I suppose I’ll have to learn to let a little bit of the magic into her life eventually. Even if it’s just so I can relive my own pre-disillusioned Disney princess experience.
What is your opinion on Disney princesses? Do think Belle, Jasmine, and the rest are good role models, or is the word “princess” a dirty word in your home?