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Disney Princess

In: Film and Music

Submitted By jharnabharwani
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An investigation into the representation of conventional Disney Princesses
For many kids, Disney films have grown to nurture their escalation into developing as a child. Children have viewed different characters in different colours and patterns, whether idolizing them, favouring them or even despising them; those characters succeeded in impacting the mentality of those children, marking a point of interest that I would like to thoroughly investigate in this research assignment. Bearing that in mind, I have centered the aim of my research on the pink innuendos flaring from the very similar roles of the helpless princesses of Disney – the same innuendos that are now mostly looked as the societal norms of the Disney world. Some particular films that I have studied include ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Beauty and The Beast’, ‘Tangled’, and ‘Mulan’. Through the utilization of those films, I have carried my study in an order that would allow me to scrutinize the similarities assigned to the ‘pink’ customs fitted to Disney princesses, and any other differences that could break the code followed through years on the films – hence an investigation in the representation of conventional Disney princesses.
Disney films have allowed children to compose a preconceived idea of women or female roles in the films or even in life altogether, as helpless, and in need of an external party (usually male – or the Prince Charming) to come in and switch their lives into the better. These stereotypical roles assigned to the princesses are usually coloured with the hue of certain behaviours, physical appearances and characteristic traits, which I will be looking into radically through the essay. For example, one factor that is most recurrent in Disney films is the value of physical appearance over wit or intellect. Secondly, the defenselessness and vulnerability worn by the princesses devoid of their significant other. And, thirdly, the domestic backdrop usually painted for each princess, in addition to the traits of other women surrounding the show.
Disney – well-known for its legendary characters, the same characters that are simultaneously seen as models and idols for the children. The exemplary pink princesses of Disney – the quixotic and romantic princesses stooping over the windowsill, awaiting the arrival of the valiant and heroic, not to mention, ‘charming’ prince to rescue them for the dullness engulfing their lives. These princesses are rather defined by their need to get married and fall in love – their lives are pointless without tiptoeing their instincts into the waters of love at first sight and nuptials. Unlike the princes of the Disney world – the daring and handsome saviors of those helpless princesses, the Disney princesses are well-known for their habit to romanticize every situation, viewing their lives through a rose-tinted glass (literally, in Snow White). In many cases, such as Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, the prince is not only their savior of their pre-princess and dull contours of reality, but also a form of revival from death. Considering all of this, children watching such typical roles are subconsciously made to formulate identical ideas to where they stand as children in the real-life, unaware that the real world is nothing similar to the world of the singing, beautiful and crooning Disney Princesses. It is for that reason I would like to investigate this theory, and substantiate its effect on not only Disney, but other cartoons and TV Shows rerunning through the generations subsequent to Disney.
To begin with, I would like to discuss the main and primary formulation of the princesses – which is their physical appearance. In films such as ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Beauty and The Beast’, stories that are similar in the idea of women in need of a prince or women in love with just the sight of the prince. All the princesses cleave to similar bodily appearance – small waists and long legs, not to mention beautiful faces (Appendix 1 & 5). Despite the cultured look at princesses such as Mulan and Jasmine, both of the princesses are still seen to be almost transcendent in beauty and grandeur. Not only so, but moving on to the example of The Little Mermaid, wherein the protagonist, Ariel, is seen wearing nothing but a sea-shell bra, revealing a good amount of cleavage, beautiful and radiant red hair, in addition to a striking colour of red penciled in dazzlingly on her lips – such traits, when combined together or even looked on individually, are the very typical traits of a sex symbol (Appendix 3). Despite the princesses being aimed for the sight of children, Disney uses their physical appearance to build the exemplary of image of what a sex symbol, or what women as a whole should look like. Whether it is the cotton-white skin of Snow White, or the long russet hair of Belle in Beauty and The Beast (focus on the title of the film – the use of beauty very significant), or the embryonic hair of Jasmine, all those princesses have something in common – and that is their astounding physical features – the same features that may also be the main reason why the princes choose them to begin with (especially in The Little Mermaid, wherein she is turned dumb or mute for the sake of having normal feet). All the princes in the films mentioned above judge these princesses based on their appearance – the Beast when accepting the Beauty’s father offer of giving in his daughter, Cinderella’s prince when viewing her with her renowned and beaming sky-blue dress (Appendix 9), or the prince who kissed the Sleeping Beauty only based on the look she had while asleep (Appendix 11) – all those princes judged their love, or originated the root of love based on the appearance of their princes. Moreover, beauty is also seen to be a factor or envy and jealousy for every other female character surrounding the princesses. Snow White’s step-mother’s jealousy over her astounding beauty, hence plotting to kill her, or Cinderella’s step mother and sisters that abhor her for her beauty, the same beauty that they, as villains, lack, or even Ursula’s detestation towards Ariel’s beauty. While, on the other hand, the villains are always seen to be hideous, fat or just plain ugly (Appendix 2). Particularly in The Little Mermaid, wherein the octopus villain – Ursula, was only able to attract the attention of Eric the prince through disguising as another beautiful character (Appendix 4). The creators of Disney films made sure to create beauty in the eyes of the princesses – and that beauty was the only rationale behind their innocence and their good-will, in addition to being the main reason behind women-friction, portraying women as shallow and only concerned with beauty.
Moving on, another point of view I would like to investigate is the helplessness of the Disney princesses. Famous example of such conventional representation of the princesses are ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’, ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Aladdin’ – wherein all the princesses are all shown to be miserable in a manner, or helpless with the idea of moving on without the presence of their long-awaited prince – the damsel in distress. Each of these princesses, whether the rich but vacant Jasmine looking for someone to create some meaning in her life, or Ariel looking for love through the human world, or Snow White and Sleeping Beauty whom need the prince they never met to resurrect them, or even Cinderella, the stereotypical domestic servant at home (Appendix 8). Disney has drawn a line connecting the concept of a women to helpless or fragile. Even in Mulan, wherein it is seen that unlike all other princesses, she takes it upon herself to be the hero instead of waiting for a hero – she still has to disguise herself as a man to get through such a job (Appendix 17 & 18). Additionally, Rapunzel in Tangled, despite breaking some of the codes normally adopted by Disney filmmakers (Appendix 14, 15, 16), is portrayed to have never embodied enough courage to leave the house (do something she wants) until a man comes along and encourages her to do so. Those significant matters in the plot or storyline allow the audience to see how far-fetched the gender-roles of princesses and princes are in comparison to each other. The princess is always seen to be moping in patience for her love to appear, almost always enjoying the household chores of cleaning the floors and tidying the rooms (Appendix 6, 8, 12), while the prince carries the mission of a man – on his horse as heroic as ever despite not doing anything remotely heroic just yet. This is also discussed in many articles, such as What's Wrong With Cinderella?, written by Peggy Orenstein, a mother who is concerned with the norms of princesses that has impacted her own child (Appendix 20). She commences her article to negotiate an incident wherein her daughter was called a ‘princess’ by a waitress, who brought her ‘princess pancakes’ and did everything with the mention of her ‘princess’-like traits. With that in mind, the author questions the need for every girl to be a princess. Why is it imperative for little girls to be womanly, wearing pink, and playing with dolls? Why must young girls stick to such domestic stereotypes? Because they see such roles pasted on characters they idolize and love. If you wish to be a princess, you must be helpless without your man, and you must ensure to be beautiful, to love doing household chores and to understand your future role as a woman – a wife (Appendix 19). Especially in examples such The Little Mermaid, the role and the future assigned to a princess appears to stand above any other principle or ethic – hence, disobeying your parents if it comes to it – which is exactly what Ariel does to marry Eric. These conventional female roles see that the only escape of being helpless and miserable, is through loving someone and getting married to them.
As famous feminist Judith Butler has articulated, the female culture denounces the individuality of females by referring to the term gender identity, which implies that all gender encompass a single identity or a similar one. Despite the Disney princesses being of divergent and colorful personalities, they do carve up essential attributes that contribute to the generic outlook of gender identity. Such attributes are the need for some Disney princess to seek salvation in their prince, or their helplessness in the face of trouble, or even the weighty value of their physical beauty over their minds – characteristics of similar interests and mind-sets. However, on the other side, another point of view inhabited by Angela McRobbie believes that the cultural female expressions is actually in opposition of the constraints put up against the constraints that females are held to. The free will that the Disney princesses embrace, such as Mulan and Rapunzel (Tangled) are actually a representation of a perfectly fine female culture, wherein these characters are not tightened by any constraints, and that the message they spurt out is rather positive and empowering to others.
Conclusively, in spite of Disney slowly altering some of its customs regarding the conventional role of a princess, it is very difficult to completely eradicate or expunge the norms that have already settled neatly on society and the children’s minds. As discussed by Peggy Orenstein, people, or kids, to be exact still feel bumpy with a strong female character unless she exhibits some pretty traditional acquiescent behavior along with her strength. The concept and messages created by Disney, such as the need to acquire attractive physical appearance to be ‘good’ and non-evil over any internal matter, or the requirement of some form of submissiveness and fragility, are still, to this day, chief in Disney princess marketing and the pink princess encasing it. Examples such as Mulan, Pocahontas, The Princess and the Frog are all casted with female characters that are slightly modernized, slightly independent, with goals that may differ from marriage, but still have the pink culture that glistens in between (Mulan disguising herself as a man, Tiana willing to sacrifice herself into a frog for her prince, and Pocahontas violating her father’s orders to stay away from the settlers and John Smith – her love interest). The fuss over beauty – in particular (the evil step-mother in Snow White – and the well-known example of Mirror, Mirror) is seen to be the plot-driver through most of Disney’s films, in addition to the need to find the prince and fall in love. Such particular storylines exist not only in Disney now, but in many other films and cartoons (Pixar: Gnomeo and Juliet, A Bug’s Life, Shrek) wherein the princesses are all portrayed with at least a glitter of the pink culture (beauty, defenselessness). Therefore, I would like to conclude my essay with full support on the existence of the pink culture, and how it is almost impossible to fully remove it from the society of Disney films or otherwise. Regardless of how some of the content may seem somewhat inapt for children, it is the childhood that was created for generations before, and the childhood that will continue to survive.

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