Kim Tsuyuki
Arts & Entertainment Editor

“When you wish upon a star . . . anything your heart desires will come to you.” At least, that’s what the song teaches young children — and, oh boy, is that not true at all.

I’ve grown up surrounded by Disney culture. I watched Disney movies any chance I got; my favorite Disney princess changed regularly. I’d romanticize my Prince Charming. Now, being 21, my view on Disney has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Disney, but I’ve come to recognize the various lies Disney perpetuates, especially towards young girls.

When you think of classic Disney princesses, what are the attributes that come to mind? For me, it’s the fact that they’re White, young, and thin (which equals beautiful, according to Disney’s standards). Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora all have waists the size of their wrists, they’re all in their teenage years, and they’re all White. Being an Asian-American girl, I couldn’t personally identify with any of them. My favorite Disney princess for a while was Mulan, and that was because she was the only Asian princess.

On a Middlebury Blog, Isabel Wyer talks about the construction of race in Disney movies: “Self-esteem was tested as [people of color] rarely saw princesses of color; the absence of such princesses seemed to imply that, if Disney does not think they are important enough to be represented on film, then they must not be relevant.” Similarly, associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Christina Scott said, “The next wave of Disney princesses in the 1990s and early 2000s saw some minor improvement in diversity and female empowerment, but Disney never deviated from portraying young, stunningly beautiful heroines, with impossibly thin waists, tiny wrists, low flowing hair, and exaggerated eyes.”

Disney teaches young girls that their most valuable asset is their beauty. However, Disney’s idea of beauty is skewed and unrealistic. This can lead young girls to obsess over a physique that is physically unattainable.

Body image is a huge issue when it comes to Disney princesses. On the same Middlebury Blog, Emma Hatheway talks about how often physical beauty is mentioned: “94 percent of the fairy tale and princess movies mention physical appearance. Within each movie, this discussion occurs on average 13.6 times, with a range from 0 to 114 times for female physical appearance, and a range from 0 to 35 times for male physical appearance.” The difference between the number of times physical appearance is mentioned for men and women is staggering, and demonstrates how beauty is deemed an “essential” for being a princess.

As a consequence, young girls are taught to obsess over their appearance. You have to be impossibly thin, have nice hair, rosy cheeks, and doe-like eyes if you want to get a man! Beauty is also equated to goodness in Disney movies. Hatheway said, in her article, “Bestowing [ . . . ] positive personality attributes, such as intelligence and independence, onto the unattractive, antagonistic character leads young girls to want to associate with the personality attributes of the beautiful princess.”

No young girl wants to end up like the Evil Queen from Snow White. While the body image of Disney princesses has slightly improved over the years (and I mean ever-so-slightly), there has still yet to be a plus-size princess, or even just a princess who isn’t conventionally thin. This is extremely harmful to young girls, as they grow up with the image of Snow White being the pinnacle of beauty. Princesses like Snow White sustain the idea that young girls have to be thin, fair-skinned, and innocent in order to find their “happily ever after.”

“I’m a damsel, I’m in distress, I can handle this. Have a nice day!” said Megara from Hercules. Meg references the fact that Disney princesses are often damsels in distress who need a prince to come save them. Snow White gets kissed by the Prince; Cinderella receives her slipper from Prince Charming; Aurora is woken by Prince Phillip; Ariel’s enemy, Ursula, dies at Prince Eric’s hands; Belle’s pursuer, Gaston, is defeated by Prince Adam (aka the Beast). The list of princes saving the princesses goes on. Young girls are taught that their happiness and safety lie in the hands of a man.

However, Disney princesses are becoming more progressive. Elsa and Anna, Moana, and Merida have all moved away from just finding a husband. In an article by Cordelia Chan, she talks about how Frozen pulls away from conventional gender norms. “As the movie progresses, Elsa’s, but more so Anna’s, character transforms into something that resembles gender ambiguity. Kristoff, however, begins the film feminized and remains so until the conclusion,” Chan said. Anna makes the decision to follow her sister up the North Mountain, despite the fact that Hans was ready and willing to go find her. She also is the one who saves Elsa in the end, which subverts the traditional “prince saving the princess” narrative. The recent movies teach young girls that you don’t have to depend on a man to find your “happily ever after;” it’s something you can find within yourself. With this more modern message, young girls can learn that they can be their own heroes.

Dr. Scott talked about being unable to escape Disney culture and how she discusses this with her two six-year-old daughters. “Our focus has been on the strength, independence, and determination of Elsa, Anna, Merida, and Moana, the importance of being your own hero, and finding ‘happily ever after’ within yourself!” She teaches her daughters the importance of consent, agency, finding yourself before finding a partner, and that real bodies don’t look like those of Disney princesses.

It was nice reading what Dr. Scott had to say because, sometimes, I even need that reminder. Society, and especially companies like Disney, constantly tell you that you need a partner, and that you need to look a certain way to be considered beautiful. Sometimes, you have to throw that back into their face and say, “No, I am and always will be enough.”

Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus

Author

  • Kim Tsuyuki is a third-year English major with a minor in Film Studies. This is her first year working for the QC and is currently writing for the Arts & Entertainment section. When she isn’t working, she can be found playing video games, collecting stickers, and watching the same three movies (over and over, like chill out Kim). She’s kinda sad, but mostly hungry.

Kim Tsuyuki is a third-year English major with a minor in Film Studies. This is her first year working for the QC and is currently writing for the Arts & Entertainment section. When she isn’t working, she can be found playing video games, collecting stickers, and watching the same three movies (over and over, like chill out Kim). She’s kinda sad, but mostly hungry.

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