The Disney Princess Dilemma

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.

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.

merida makeover

Notice Merida is slimmer, sparklier, has shinier hair, and has mysteriously lost her bow and arrows.

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…)

Some of the women who inspire me, and who will hopefully inspire my daughter.

Some of the women who inspire me, and who will hopefully inspire my daughter.


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?


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4 Responses to The Disney Princess Dilemma

  1. Nicole May 20, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    I think that, as a parent, if you encourage the features that you remembered (positivity, determination, selfless-ness), then there’s nothing wrong with Disney or their princesses. I was never into the whole “princess” thing as a kid, but my daughter, now 4, is in LOVE with them – how did that happen?! I think you nailed it on the head – it’s not until you’re an adult that you see the cynicism in the story. Kids look for good.

    • april russell May 20, 2013 at 11:18 am #

      “Kids look for good.” I love that, Nicole! You’re so right. =)

  2. Kelly May 20, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    All in moderation, right? I will never decorate my girls’ rooms in princess theme, and try to steer them away from clothing with characters. But wait till you have a 4-year-old BEGGING PLEADING to dress as Belle for Halloween. Why can’t your daughter watch the princess movies, but you talk with her about their more redeeming qualities? Then watch The Miracle Worker & Amelia the next day! You said yourself, that as a child, you enjoyed the princesses for their strength & interesting qualities.
    I also HATE the color pink, and guess who LOVES that color anyway?

    • April Russell May 20, 2013 at 11:18 am #

      Totally! Moderation is key! I am definitely anticipating the first time she begs me to let her be a little “princess” but you’re so right that it doesn’t have to mean she doesn’t learn about the positives as well! Such a great point, Kelly1

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