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Disney Princess Makeovers

May 14, 2013

We’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World for November, and I’m very excited about it. I love the parks — there is something about being there that is truly magical. The level of detail the Imagineers put into every little thing just blows my mind, and I think because I am a creative person, I love trying to find each and every one of those details. Plus things like, when you arrive to your hotel the cast members say, “Welcome home!”. I just love that. I could go one about what I love about WDW all day long.

As I’ve been doing my research for this trip, Disney has decided to include Merida, from “Brave” into their group of official Disney princesses. All of the princesses have recently gotten makeovers, so that the older and the newer princesses all look similar. Some, like Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora have been modernized. Others, like Rapunzel and Merida, have been turned from 3D renderings to the classic Disney 2D animation style.

Merida Before and After

© Disney/Pixar

People are losing their minds over this.

A lot of people feel Disney shouldn’t be messing with the classic designs of the original princesses. A lot of others feel that they are being sexed up and are too ultra-feminine. They worry about the message this is sending our daughters. A commenter on one of the many articles about Merida said, “I cannot get over the lack of clothing on her shoulders. Why do they want our little girls to ‘look up’ to this more skanky look? I am totally boycotting all new princess merchandise.”

Another said, “This was a ‘Princess’ that I previously considered worthy of my [daughter’s] time as a role model. Now I have to explain why Disney felt it necessary for her to be pretty, thin & glittery in order to qualify as an official princess.”

I hardly think an off-the-shoulder gown qualifies as skanky, especially considering Ariel’s and Jasmine’s original outfits. Additionally, was Merida fat and ugly before? No, she was still thin, and while definitely younger looking, attractive. And just because Disney made her rendering fit in with the others (which, from a graphic design and marketing standpoint, makes perfect sense), does that change who her character is? The movie hasn’t been re-written. Her character traits are the same, and if we are teaching our daughters that because she wears a sparkly dress now she can’t be considered a tomboy, what is that teaching them? That what’s on the outside dictates who you are on the inside, that’s what. And I take huge issue with that.

A screenshot from Disney's website, pre-Merida makeover. Her animation style clearly stands out from the others. © Disney/PixarSource:

A screenshot from Disney’s website, pre-Merida makeover. Her animation style clearly stands out from the others.
© Disney/Pixar

I’ve never been a princess person. Before this whole Disney Princess makeover kerfluffle, I was even one of those people who might have tried to get her [future, possible] daughter to avoid the princesses at all costs. Princesses aren’t about empowerment! I want a strong, independent little girl! But then I started reading the many, many, many articles about Merida and the other princess makeovers and I started to change my mind.

Shouldn’t we take away the core values of these princesses, instead of judging them on their appearance and their status as princesses?

Let’s take a look at them. Even the earlier, less developed personality-wise princesses have positive traits that we can highlight for our kids.

Snow White: Probably the princess with the most focus on her looks, as the entire plot  develops from her stepmother being so enraged and jealous that Snow White is “the fairest one of all” that she tries to have her murdered. That’s pretty serious! But does Snow White end up completely damaged after this incident, as most 14-year-old girls would be? Nope, she picks herself up, brushes herself off, and after another scary incident getting lost in the forest, she finds some dwarf friends and proceeds to help them clean up their house and cooks for them, and sings and dances and has a grand old time. She’s not the most developed princess, but she’s kind, gentle, patient, and has great internal strength. Surely those are traits anyone would be happy to find their child emulating.

Cinderella: A little sassier, and a little more developed than Snow White. She’s been put to work and is treated like servant by her stepmother and stepsisters (it seems if anyone should take issue with Disney, it’s step-families!), but does she throw a fit about it? Does she run away and refuse to work, even though she would be well justified in doing so? No, she does everything that is asked of her, and she manages to stay sweet, kind, and thoughtful. She triumphs over adversity.

Aurora: Probably the weakest of the princesses as far as character development. The worst that happens to her is she grows up away from her parents and not knowing her true identity. When she finally learns her identity, she falls under the curse and sleeps until Prince Philip rescues her. But hey, if you thought you were a completely different person than you are until you were 16, you’d probably be pretty messed up right? But Aurora takes it in stride and turns out just fine.

Ariel: Sure, she’s pretty silly, completely enamored with a world that’s not her own and falling in love at first sight with a person not even of her species, and giving up her family, friends and voice in order to be with him, but she’s adventurous, curious, has a thirst for learning, stays true to her opinions even when no one agrees with her, and in the end she gives up everything she wants in order to save her family from the evil Ursula.

Belle: She loves to read (that makes her one of the best princesses in my book, right off the bat), she longs for adventure, and she learns to look beyond the surface to see who the Beast truly is inside. She sacrifices her freedom in order to save her father — she has strong family values.

Jasmine: Independent, strong-willed, wants to marry for love, not a kingdom, and wants to learn about the outside world. She knows that being a princess isn’t all there is to life, and she wants to find out what else is out there. She is also the first princess of color. What a great message for the younger generation!

Pocahontas: Our next non-white princess, Pocahontas also wants more out of life than to be a princess. She wants to discover more of the world. She’s in tune with nature, and teaches John Smith that it’s just as valuable as gold and to look and learn before he acts.  “Colors of the Wind” is an amazing and beautiful song that teaches some great values.

Mulan: Definitely one of the best princesses. Mulan does not want to change who she is in order to be found suitable to marry and then pretends to be a man in order to save her elderly father from having to go to war. She wants to be recognized for her brain and always speaks her mind. She ends up saving the Emperor and all of China from the Huns. Quite a feat for a young girl!

Tiana: Another of the best princesses, in my opinion. Our first black princess, Tiana is motivated and hard working. She works two jobs and saves all her money to achieve her dream of opening her own restaurant. When given a chance to get her restaurant the easy way, by betraying her new friend, she refuses. Tiana represents loyalty, tenacity, conscientiousness and drive.

Rapunzel: She dreams of the outside world, and prior to getting to see it she betters herself with reading and activities and learning. When she finally escapes her tower, she brings out the best in Flynn Rider. They both change each other for the better, and they both make huge sacrifices to save the other. Rapunzel is imaginative, optimistic, and selfless.

Merida: Adventurous and fearless, Merida longs to be in control of her own destiny. She is also the first princess to not end up with a prince. She loves being a tomboy, and while she makes several mistakes in her story, she learns good lessons from those mistakes.

I firmly believe that what these princesses look like, and what they are wearing on their official merchandise (can we all remember for a moment that Disney is a huge corporation, and while they have truly made some wonderful and inspirational movies, their primary goal is to make a profit) makes no difference to who their characters are. If we, as adults, choose to focus on their outer appearance, that’s what our children will focus on as well. If we choose to highlight all of their wonderful personality traits, that’s what our kids will take away from their stories. This is not to say that there aren’t problems with the princess mentality or with what is presented to our children for their intellectual consumption, or with women still being marginalized and discriminated against in popular culture today, but it’s all about perspective, and I’m glad to say that if I have a little girl someday, I will be proud to watch these movies with her and teach her the lessons that I want her to learn from them.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Greensaber92 permalink
    May 30, 2013 11:26 am

    Thank you. Thank You. THANK YOU!

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