Growing up one of two boys in my family I must confess the Disney Princesses were not on my radar at all. Only recently did I learn the first name of “Sleeping Beauty” or that she even had a first name. I had never seen any of the films.
As you might imagine, however, with the birth of my little girl thirty-two months ago that has all changed. Now princesses are everywhere in our home… in books, DVDs, dolls and dress-up outfits. And while the commercialism bothers me some, there’s something that bothers me more.
What most bothers me are the messages the Disney Princess stories send (sell?) to little girls. I know, I know, I’m not the first to raise this alarm nor the last. It’s just that I’ve only now been exposed to these stories. The message: appearance and perfection are what matters… that and finding your prince.
But what happens when the prince leaves you at a less than perfect 30-something years of age, with three little baby prince & princesses to feed and an underwater mortgage on the castle? What do they teach or prepare our little girls for the real world? Yeah, I know you are saying “Geez, Michael, they are just fairy tales.”
Maybe, but let’s look at just one of them for a sec, okay? In Beauty and the Beast Daddy is taken hostage by the beast (our hero), the heroine ransoms herself to free her father, the beast threatens and screams abusively at her, but eventually frees her and in the end her love for the beast turns him into a prince.
So exactly what message does that send? If you are with an abusive guy, stick with him because he’s really a prince inside (it’s not his fault, he’s under a spell… say, bourbon?) and if you love him hard enough and long enough he’ll become the prince you mistakenly thought him to be? Yeah, right!
Take any of the other stories and put them in a real world context and see if you like many of the messages they send our daughters. Am I wrong? I’ve been accused of being an old fuddy duddy before; I can take it. But if I’m even a little bit right what do we do about it?
I have some thoughts, but I’d like to hear yours first. We can discuss this in the comments.
You may also enjoy “Frozen: Disney Changes its Tune on True Love!”
I have two girls so princesses are popular in my house but I try not to let my girls watch the movies too often. I brought up some of the things you mentioned to my mom one day because I didn’t like the messages these movies were sending. She told me not worry about it because these movies have been around forever. I didn’t really like that answer.
I don’t know if it’s because I have a little girl and so now I notice it, or if all this Disney Princess stuff has always been so huge? It seems to be everywhere. And as ubiquitous as it is it’s probably unavoidable, so as with most things it falls to us parents to [gasp] talk to our children about the stories and the messages and how they might learn from them… or what a better choice might have been for a given princess?
Love this topic Michael!! Its a really hard one because the stories are so beautifully written and portrayed by so many movies, plays, childrens books etc and its so popular among girls. My cousin for example was obsessed with princesses but has fortunately grown out of it. It upsets me that underneath the fun and community among girls that the princess stories carry with them, there are these weird outdated “lessons” for girls. I don’t agree that a girl should learn how to accept a man’s abusive nature in hope’s that he’ll change, or that a girl should in Cinderella’s case, have to deal with her horrible stepsisters and stepmother in hopes that the prince will fall in love with her and take her out of her horrible situation, instead of hiring a lawyer to look over her fathers will, or that a, well, I would give an example of Sleeping Beauty but I can’t think of one right now, maybe cause I kinda like that story! Speaking of fairytale stories that give underlying messages, have you heard about Alice in Wonderland?
Hi, Nikki!. Great points. I suppose the problem with Sleeping Beauty (an often overlooked princess) it teaches girls all they ever have to do to fix their life’s problems is wait for their prince to save them.
No, I don’t know much about the mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s (aka: Lewis Carroll) book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland though I did read them and also the Oz books as a child. As I recall Carroll made the story up while telling it aloud to a friend’s kids (one named Alice) during a boat trip on the Thames, and later refined and published it.
I guess the hookah smoking caterpillar has been said to be a drug reference, and other pop culture has made other such references to it, but don’t know that it was really the author’s intent? Or is it something else?
I’m the parent of three boys so it’s different for me. However, I am personally annoyed that there are hardly any strong women in movies of any kind! Maybe Ariel or Pocahontas are Disney examples, but most of them, even those that are somewhat strong, are a shadow of the strength of the men. When my sons and I watch movies we make fun of them sometimes letting them know that it isn’t real. I thought differently when I started, but you know, now that I’m five sentences into the comment, I don’t think you should let your daughters watch those shows. No value in exposing them constantly to a stereotype.
Winks club and Dora are some good alternatives I think.
Yeah, that’s the thing. The more you think about it the worse they seem. And I think that’s part of the problem. They are so ubiquitous we DON’T give them much of a thought. It’s Disney, how much more wholesome can it get, right? Wrong. It was a twitter conversation yesterday between some friends that got me thinking about this. We really do need better alternatives for role models for our girls.
p.s. On an unrelated note… I’ve got to go read your post “Five Steps to a Clean Bum”! 🙂
Yes, it’s called Stockholm Syndrome. That’s what happens with Belle in Beauty and the Beast.
How about the Little Mermaid? Where she leaves her father and alters her body to land her prince? Just sayin’.
Thanks, T. LOL… yep, Beauty and the Beast is classic Stockholm Syndrome. Per your other point… we have The Little Mermaid on DVD and I always fast forward past about half of it, and not just when the Sea Witch is on screen. The way Ariel’s dad treats her is just horrible.
Not only does Ariel leave her home and family and alter her body, but she loses her voice entirely. She sacrifices everything. Look the way your prince wants you to look and stay silent? Bad message for sure. The Disney Princesses are rife with lousy messages for girls (and they weren’t around when we were kids. Disney began marketing the group of characters as “The Disney Princesses” as a package deal more recently). We simply don’t have them in our collection (I have a 5 yr old girl and a 2 yr old boy). It’s very difficult to find good examples of positive female role models, but The Princess and the Frog is one I can think of with a strong female lead. Thank you for raising this discussion. It’s so important that we, as parents, are cognizant of the subtle (and overt) messages we send to our children.
Here’s an interesting interview with Peggy Orenstein about this topic: http://www.livescience.com/11625-destructive-culture-pretty-pink-princesses.html
Maybe you should change your way of thinking and instead of jumping on the bandwagon with everyone else you could look at it from a different perspective. Beast is a poor hurting victim and Belle sees beyond his anger and ugliness and looks inside to see the beauty within…she’s willing to stand up for him against EVERYONE including the “catch” of the town. She refuses to let him be bullied. Maybe you should hope that your daughter will be able to see beyond the exterior of people and situations that she runs into in life…and that she won’t be self centered and egotistical and only worried about what someone looks like or what they can do for her. You can raise her to care more about feelings than appearances…make sure that she knows that life is NOT all roses…life is what she makes it. Because in the end THAT is the lesson of Beauty and the Beast.
Hello, Andrea. Thank you for your comment and perspective on this.
To be clear I was not “jumping on a bandwagon”, though I’m sure one exists; I started an online conversation on Twitter last night and found that others shared the same concerns I did about these films.
I believe I understand your strongly held views on Beauty and the Beast, and while I can’t concur that I would want my daughter to fall in love with someone who abused her in the fashion he did…
I would certainly feel compassion for the beast and hope anyone that treated women that way sought and received the help needed to heal from whatever injury turned him into such a dangerous angry person.
No situation or person is black and white. My feeling is too many women put up with abusive relationships, and this story does little to discourage that victimization.
I just got done reading the rest of the comments and they truly annoy me. Because you know what…I left my family to go with my husband that’s what most women do…we work our butts off to make a life and then when we find the man of our dreams or the man of the hour…we pack up and follow them. In Sleeping Beauty Aurora didn’t wait for her prince to save her…she was harmed by someone and the man who loved her fought through everything to save her…which is what we should all HOPE for for our daughters…someone who loves them SO much they will fight against all odds to save them.
I completely understand, Andrea. Clearly you are taking this very personally. Allow me to be personal: For reasons I’ll never fully understand, but for which I will be eternally grateful, my wonderful wife left a career in NYC to move to Texas (of all places) and marry me.
Was that fair? I’d have to say, no. I’m certainly not putting down women who make sacrifices for love. I’m the very lucky beneficiary thereof. And I’m a big enough man to admit it was wrong that I didn’t give more serious thought to leaving my home, job and family to move to be with her.
But that’s not the point of my blog. It questions some of the messages sent by these stories. Not all messages they send are bad… some are. My suggestion is, we as parents, sit down and watch these shows WITH our children when they are old enough and discuss it as you would any TV show or book to which they are exposed.
I have two girls myself and we watch all the Disney princess movies because I’d rather they be exposed to these ideas, worldviews, and themes (when appropriate of course) while sitting in my lap where I can explain what’s going on. I view Disney movies (and all media really) as training grounds. I have to prepare my daughters for a world that would rather exploit them than cherish them and will constantly tell them they aren’t good enough unless they change. If I can instill in them a value of their femininity while laughing at some silly crustaceans along the way, I’m hard pressed to think of a better way to do it.
Thanks for the thoughtful post. You just earned another subscriber.
Well said. I think you’ve hit on the key… we need to be active parents who watch these programs with our kids and talk to them [shudder]… what a concept. But too often the TV becomes a babysitter and parents are not engaged. I have to work every day on being better at it myself. Just came from your blog. Well done!
I definitely agree that these movies seem to be instilling the incorrect values. I don’t have kids yet myself (male or female) but some of these movies I’ve recently watched again for the first time in 10+ years. I have to say that when I was young, I didn’t want to “be” a princess, but enjoyed the songs and characters. I think as long as you are teaching your children correctly, some exposure to these movies is fine.
And as a flashforward, what about adult movies teaching the exact same thing? Example: Grease. Once Sandy stops being a prude and dresses sexier, she is suddenly widely accepted and drives off into bliss.
OMG… don’t even get me started on stuff made for tweens and teens. I wrote a blog about Disney and Miley Cyrus a while back. You’re right, of course these stereotypes and negative role models continue right on into adulthood, though I’d argue some of their success is in the roots laid by these early romantic misconceptions sewn by Disney?
Sure Beast might have been ugly to Belle. But in a case like mine (call me Beast) where I drank way too much and had too many drugs in my system and often times started too much with the wife (call her Belle) she saw the Prince inside of me and stuck with me and fought off the odds and helped push me to be a better person. The end result Beast was a better person cause Belle stuck through all the bs to help him out.
Also what about the lesson that Belle was a smart woman and could see through the demons holding beast back and stayed to better him.
What about not letting a womanizer like Gaston treat her like a piece of meat.
This happens to be my all time favorite Disney movie and it is for the reason that Belle was a strong independant woman who didnt listen to the others and stayed with the Beast despite tough times. I think having Belle leave him, shows the problems that are occuring in America today in marriages. It gets bad, quit and run. Beast yelled at her sure, but he knew he had to change. Self change and love made him the better person.
Long live the Beast and Belle
Very well, said Scott. I had noticed you mention before that you don’t drink. Good for you. And good for your wife helping you through all of that. That’s huge.
You’re not the only one to call me on my viewpoint, and that’s what I want. What fun would there be if we posted our opinions and every one just said, “ditto”.
Between you and Andrea up above I’ll rethink mine. I think what it will likely do is shade my discussions with my daughter when she’s old enough. It’s not black and white, as you pointed out.
I’d still probably not be too excited if she wanted to date a guy that treated her badly, as you’d not for C3 (your “Princess”), but hopefully they’ll have learned from us how to make better choices.
Thank you. There is something to be said about the culture of Disney Princesses. My wife is a psych major, and I’m a SpEd teacher and a history major so we watch movies and discuss a lot of the context of the time that they were made. For instance, we recently sat and watched Snow White that was just re-released.
The famous actresses of the time that the character was named after, the demeanor, the formatting of the movie is much different than Tangled (which we also saw recently).
When my daughter says that she likes something, anything, we try to ask her why, and that begins a great opportunity to get to know and in touch with our 4-year-old princess. “I am a princess!” “Why are you a princess? and how will treat your subjects?” The things she says are priceless.
Everything that is hugely popular should be filtered through by parents, so I am so glad that you are making sure Disney is sending out the messages that you want your daughter to pick up. If you don’t keep out the wrong messages when you can control it, who will keep them out when you can’t control it?
I watched She-Ra: Princess of Power with my daughter as well, and she loves being a “fighting princess” that beats up bad guys. 😉
I need to wrap things up at work and head home to my princess, but I loved what you said. I suppose given your and your wife’s expertise in such matters I should expect such a balance well thought out response. I really appreciate you weighing in. I love your example of your conversation with your daughter:
I just came from your blog and have bookmarked it (and am following). I know I’m going to want to go back and troll back through your back posts. Loved the photo of you and the “heir apparent”, and the blog “Ramblings on The BroHood and ManHood” looks intriguing. Again, thanks for dropping by and for weighing in on this topic!
No my friend, it’s not just you. Fairy Tales do lead our little girls to believe in things that are not realistic. It is sad, but I believe one or both of us has in the past published a post about the subliminal messages that are loaded into Disney films.
The real thing is to teach our children ‘reality’ at home, that way, no matter what the fairy tale is; they know that it is just a fantasy and the real world doesn’t work that way. Hopefully we teach our children well.
Hi Mitzi. Thanks so much for dropping by and weighing in. It’s been an interesting conversation, which is what I love my comment section to be.
Personally I love the idea of a bit of fantasy and magic, but I never confuse that for reality. I do think many girls bury deep inside themselves these messages (from many, many sources, not just Disney) of what life and love should be like.
More than anything else we, as parents, must model real world positive relationships for them. A tall order at times, though. But still, that is how they learn from a very early age.
I know I’m a work in progress… and pray I’ve done a good enough job to have not messed my we princess up too much.
I know what you’re saying, but? wait until barbie starts. you’ll be wishing for your princess days! 🙂
I hear you, Liz. We recently gave away a “Bratz” doll S got at BlogHer. I don’t mind the princesses so much, but as a guy with no prior exposure to them I woke up to the messages they send, and I wanted to post something to start a dialog about what we do about it. And what we do about it, as eloquently put by so many here, is be an active parent. Watch what they watch together and discuss the shades of grey presented.
When you have little girls in the house, there is no way around avoiding all the Princess, Fairies and Barbies. I think the best way is to be active and present for explanations and questions. Afterall, little girls eventually do grow up and realize the prince may not exactly come charging in, sword drawn, eager to defend and woo. Hearts will eventually be broken, lessons will be learned. It’s all a part of the growing up process. I watched them all as a little girl….but when I became an adult, I left the childish world behind. If you raise your daugther to be strong and independent, so will she. What you feed, will grow!
And believe me, far more than her eyes being on Prince Charming (notice how we rarely know the Prince’s name?)……her eyes will be on YOU daddy. She will be watching how mommy and daddy interact and that will leave a far greater impression than any Disney movie. Her first views regarding men and women and relationships were forming long before she became enthralled with all things Disney. So really men, if you want your daughters to grow up and pick a fine man of integrity…….be one yourself. You want your daughter to end up with someone who treats her like a princess…..watch how you treat your queen. What you feed, will grow.
Really well put. One of my favorite quotes is, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” I believe it was Theodore Hesburgh who said that. Kids really do watch from a very, very early age how parents interact. So you are probably right, much more than the messages sent by Disney films we need to focus on OUR behavior. I blogged about that here: 6 Ways to be a Better Dad and here: Dads Just Want to Have Fun lest you think I just put the responsibility on Disney. 😉
As one of four girls and someone who was raised on Disney princesses, you’re completely right.
I stuck with someone who wasn’t exactly a spectacular human being for way. too. long. I thought that if I stuck with him, did everything right, changed into the person I thought he wanted me to be, etc. that everything would magically fall together and I’d get my fairy tale ending.
I looked and looked and looked and looked for Prince Charming. It wasn’t until I STOPPED looking for him that he fell in my lap.
You didn’t know of Aurora?!
Thank you for sharing that personal note. I’m glad you finally, when you stopped looking, found your Prince Charming. Of course your blog is subtitled (I assume with irony), “Where life is always sunshine and butterflies.” As for Aurora, no, I had no idea what her name was. I’d heard of Sleeping Beauty, but as a boy never saw the movie. It was only upon reading one of my daughters books to her that I found out her name. Daddies learn so much when they have a little girl. LOL.
I was so excited to have been told about this post by a coworker- I just recently had my anti-princess fervor come to a head (can you imagine how bad it is for me? My daughter’s name IS Aurora. She thinks she IS Sleeping Beauty.)
I am THRILLED to know someone else is on my team! If you’re interested in reading my rant about this, you can find it linked below. And GO YOU. ::high five::
I’m going to comment in a different way here. EVERYONE, click on the graphic below and go to its source on Ali’s blog on this subject. She said it much better than I ever could have. Why are you still here? Go read and comment on her blog:
I’m so honored! It’s a movement!
I couldn’t agree more. I think you are on the right track though with watching with your daughter and helping guide her with the right messages.
There are potentially positive messages or negative messages. The important thing is to guide our children toward the positive messages. Also of course screening ahead of time so that we can filter out the messages we really disagree with and assure age appropriateness.
I remember my mother hating the show Saved By the Bell when we were younger. I always thought she was way oversensitive. Of all the shows she could hate she picked about the tamest one on television. Now as a parent I have gone back and re-watched many of those episodes. I get it now. The kids are completely disrespectful both to the adults on the show, teachers/parents/principle and to each other. It’s a terrible message to send. Adults are idiots. Even if your friends treat you like total garbage you should just keep taking it because they are really your friends when it counts. Even though as a kid I learned some very positive messages from the same show I can understand my mother’s concern.
The teenage shows today are the same (iCarly) but it’s not just TV and movies. That is actually what bothers me in the Harry Potter books too. Adults and people in authority are idiots and won’t be there when it counts. (I do love the books. It just gives me something to consider when I think about what age I want my kids to be before they read them.)
I think that’s why parents get so upset about these shows. It’s not because we don’t want to be parents and teach our kids the appropriate messages. It’s because we are having to teach them that these are the correct messages despite what they are hearing and seeing all around them. Even if they are totally cut off from TV, movies, commercials, books, merchandise etc. it’s still all around. Their friends are being sent the same messages. How do I teach my children, for example, that money and possessions are not the most important things when they’re being bombarded with messages that they are, and on top of that being told that adults are stupid anyway and their mom doesn’t know what she is talking about. Because she can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a kid.
Sigh. It’s hard being a parent. 🙂
Wow… you could use this as an entire post of your own, in fact you should. Well said, Rachael. You are probably one of my only commentators who would understand my post a year or so ago suggesting “The Doctor” makes a pretty good role model. LOL. Back to your comment, I remember saved by the bell, and you’re right I didn’t notice at the time how inappropriate the kids on it were behaving. Bottom line we as parents need to screen what our kids watch and as much as possible watch it with them and ask them questions about it. I find questions work much better than lectures at prompting discussion… not that I’m very experienced at this parenting stuff. I’m a work in process to be sure. Thanks so much for dropping by. I just visited your blog and left you a comment there, as well. Have a lovely evening!
My Mom didn’t allow me to read Fairy Tales when I was little. She didn’t like a lot of things about them. Including the magic and witches and stuff. When I got old enough to understand, think about and discuss the stories, then I was allowed to read them. Maybe my Mom was a genius. I did have the Barbies. DUH my name is Barbara, how could she resist? I had the whole thing, Barbie, Ken, Midge, Alan and Skipper. And my Dad built a whole dollhouse for them. The important thing my Mom did? She explained to me that the dolls were unrealistic in their dimensions. She did her research and told me what the doll would look like if she were real. Yep. I think my Mom was a genius.
P.S. My favorite Disney movie is Beauty and the Beast. . .
Thanks for weighing in Barbie… er, I mean, Barbara. 😉 Genius or not, it sounds like you had a good mom. I guess it’s that conversation about reality versus fairytale that’s important. We can’t just let our kids watch these movies without watching with them and discussing them (good and bad). Hope your Easter was wonderful!
I love Princess stories, but I am one of these 30-something women who’s remaining single until my Prince comes along. Where is he? Something tells me he won’t so much appear on a white horse, as he will sporting white hair, the rate I’m going 🙁
Hang in there, Becky. I’ve got some white hair coming in myself. Call them my “platinum highlights”. As for “waiting”, definitely hold out for the right guy, but while I’m not advocating you head out and start kissing frogs, you might want to be a bit proactive in making yourself easy to find. Perhaps a tower?
i can’t help but laugh while reading this thread. ya’ll are a bunch of Princess Nazi’s. HAH. 😉
Tell us what you really think! 😉 It’s all about watching things with our kids and ensuring the right messages are taken away, whatever the program or film.
I bow down humbly in the presence of such gearnetss.
Um… thanks? 🙂
I have a 5 month (today) girl and I agree to an extent that fairy tales are ridiculous, but I believe that our example as parents is who she will most learn from.
I think that if you use movies/TV strictly as a entertainment piece, for example if you only watch Disney movies on Friday night for movie night, and have the rest of the TV time as learning videos or something educational, then perhaps you will teach her that it is just “fun” and not real. I think the over exposure is really where the problem comes in to play.
Also your example is what she will learn the most from. Isn’t it amazing how before children we could do what ever without much thought, and now even fighting in the car about directions takes on a whole new meaning in front of children. (And mine is just 5 months!!)
Yeah, it really changes the dynamic. I remember my brother and sister-in-law catching me saying something wrong in front of their kids before I had one. Now I totally have a new filter. LOL. Though I’m still working on perfecting it. So nice to meet you. Sorry for the delay in commenting back.
I have a 3 year old little girl. I also have a big issue with the princess thing. I work in the political arena as a professonal. I have issues with the concept that in princess movies they often portray princesses as helpless, incompetent, and they often are playing roles where they need to be saved. I want my daughter to be influenced by educational figures and role models, not helpless pretty girls in dresses waiting to be rescued. However, one movie that I will allow her to watch is “Princess and the Frog”. Tianna plays a hard working independent woman who is establishing a future for herself with the help of NOBODY. In the end, she ends up giving the prince a job, after they fall in love. Great movie!
I think you are right, Chrissy. They do seem to be getting better, starting with the Princess and the Frog. Also the new Rapunzel film “Tangled” isn’t so bad. I think Disney is catching on to the backlash?
Having a princess of my own, I only recently found myself thinking the same kind off thing. I will tell you this though: I was raised on these fairy tales, and my parents’ imput was of such a kind that I always knew it was not real life. Don’t try to hide real relationships from your kids. That’s how they see what real life is vs the story kind. We try to protect our kids and it teaches them nothing. Rather, show them when you pay the bills, when the salary comes, that electricity does not show up from the earth and that sometimes grown ups fight or are unhappy.
What bothers me more with the new found stories is that there is always some vicious bad guy. Life is not like that either. No one is truly 100% evil or good. We all have a bit of both, but this places judgement in the minds of our kids. Now if you take WInnie the Pooh for instance: There is never a bad guy, just misconceptions, assumptions and bad choices that can be fixed by saying sorry, we love you or just giving a hug. And that’s more like real life anyway.
Awww… makes me want to move to the Hundred Acre Wood. My little girl sleeps each night with a stuffed Pooh and Piglet. Finding this out, our family has supplied a stuffed Eeyore and Tigger, too. Soon she’ll have the whole menagerie. 🙂
YES!! I have banned the Little Mermaid from my house and I don’t care if that makes me a fanatic…I am raising FOUR beautiful daughters. Forget all that “Body language” CRAP!
First time here…great blog
Hi, April. It’s interesting the wide range of opinions this topic generates. I suppose in some it touches on fond childhood memories, and others (myself included) worry about the subtle and often not so subtle messages they send. I suppose the key in it all, most of us agree, is the parents’ involvement if these films are part of a child’s world. When I read to my daughter I stop often and ask what she thinks about the way Toad (in the Frog and Toad books) is acting, and discuss it even though she’s still only 2 and a half. Thanks for stopping by!
I totally see where you are coming from. I have an 8 year old daughter who has spent a lot of time watching Disney princesses and their antics. But as some of your other commenters have noted, it’s a great teaching opportunity. She’s very play-oriented so we’ll generally re-enact movies after watching them, which is a great way to reinforce the positive messages and challenge the negative ones.
Hi, Tom! That sounds perfect. As long as parents aren’t using TVs and films as baby sitters… and as long, as you say, they are very involved in discussing (very cool you act them out in the process) the various issues that come up in them… I don’t have a big objection. They do seem to be creating more strong, capable female role models. I really appreciate a fellow dad weighing in!
This is a really interesting topic! My opinion differs on it a bit however. Princess Play is normal for little girls, in the same way that Superhero Play is both normal and therapeutic for little boys (and I’m not trying to be gender stereotypical, it works both ways for both genders but for the sake of discussing “typical” behaviour I’m going with the gender norms). Its like any story you expose your children to, there’s good, there’s bad, there’s sterotypes… As a parent, I can totally understand why you would be concerned with obsessive fairytale play, as they are not realistic and do send some gender stereotypical messages and provide unrealistic definitions of what a woman should be. But they are not all bad! Many of them can be empowering, (Mulan for example) and often the intended theme of the story is not that “all women should act and behave a certain way). You specified Beauty and The Beast, so sticking to that storyline I would say that the message is not intended to be “…If you are with an abusive guy, stick with him because he’s really a prince inside (it’s not his fault, he’s under a spell… say, bourbon?) and if you love him hard enough and long enough he’ll become the prince you mistakenly thought him to be? ” But rather its more about not judging someone for what he/she looks like and looking for true inner beauty inside of a person. As I mentioned above, there’s the good and bad with everything. Look at Barbie dolls in comparison (totally unrealistic – have you ever seen a size 16 Barbie) … these are the sorts of toys/media we allow our children to be exposed to on a regular basis. Whats important here is communication with our children, explaining to them whats real and whats not, talking to them about the intended morals of the stories, as we can really only shelter them from today’s world so much. These kinds of conversations will turn your children into critical thinkers as adults. One thing I might do aside from discussing these types of stories with your child, particularly if he or she LOVES princesses, is get some books from the library talking about real life princesses from different countries, that discuss other things like culture, dress etc. It takes princess play a step further and provides them with a more realistic concept of Princess play. The last thing I wanted to add (I promise I’m almost done here!) is that TV/time should always be limited a bit for young children anyhow, so a better way to feed princess cravings might be to read princess stories instead, which might inspire imaginative princess play and eliminate some of the messages of how a woman should look that watching on TV can send. This a lovely topic, and I apologize for playing the devil’s advocate a bit 😛
What a wonderful perspective. I hope everyone reads what you wrote above, as ultimately it’s the point I wanted to make, but much better put! Thank you, Laura.
It’s not because we don’t want to be parents and teach our kids the appropriate messages. Just came from your blog. Everything that is hugely popular should be filtered through by parents, so I am so glad that you are making sure Disney is sending out the messages that you want your daughter to pick up.
Thanks, Ora. Agreed, as parents it’s very important we monitor, filter as needed, and discuss the messages our children receive either from media or other people.
The fact of the matter is that Beauty and the Beast really isn’t a bad fairy tale. If you actually watched the movie like I have you would notice that well she actually didn’t like the beast at all, she thought he was horrible. She stayed with him because she traded basically her life to save her fathers. It’s like if you have a child, wouldn’t you sacrifice your happiness and life for that child? Well her father was like technically her child in a way. Belle didn’t want to spend any time with the beast, and he wanted nothing to do with her. The Beast originally was selfish and just wanted her to at least like him for being “sweet” like when he decided to invite her to eat and give her a spacious room rather than that cell. Belle still didn’t like him and she didn’t know if she ever would. Beast decides to well act like a prince again, he started showing who he really was. Belle saw that he was acting like himself and the real him was the one she was developing feelings for. So please don’t try and say she thought that there was a prince inside because she didn’t. She wanted nothing to do with him. Not until he was kind and actually acted well true to who he was. Apparently the beast was hideous, so for her to even have a slight feeling for him just shows that she could learn to love someone even if she wasn’t physically attracted to them. I love this movie, always have. So please don’t try and say Beauty and the Beast is rotting your little girls minds, because it isn’t.
Hi, Ashley. Thank you for your thoughtful, well reasoned response. I was of course taking an extreme position in my analogy, in order hopefully to wake up and make parents more aware of the need to watch shows/movies with their children. Too many plop their little one’s in front of a TV, and even in the case of the best programming it must be monitored and discussions with the parent about the content is so very important. To be clear, I’m a huge Disney fan, and have found their more recent heroines to be much better role models than some of the oldest ones. Thanks again, Ashley!
Regards for all your efforts that you have put in this. very interesting information. A benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself, to keep his friends in countenance.
I with you on this. I was very hesitant to introduce my kids to Disney movies. If you look at all of them, they all have warped messages for both girls and boys. Should our boys grow up thinking that women will only love them if they are princes? All of these princes have very little substance or intelligence for that matter – check out Eric from Little Mermaid… how easily seduced he was. It was inevitable though, thanks to friends and family members, Disney creeped in. I am still trying to explain Tangled to my 4 yo. She cried the first time she watched it when Rapunzel’s “mother” fell from the tower and died. She doesn’t understand why she was taken from her parents and tricked by her “mommy”. Geez. We just can’t get away from it. Remote islands sound better every day…
Well said, Sandy. Thank you so much for your comment. As you say it’s unavoidable. All we can do is be sure to talk with them about everything they are exposed to.
Sounds great. Hope I win. Thanks a lot!
I’m a kindergarten teacher and one of my favorite units is teaching fairy tales. I love taking them and turning them on their heads and really making the children think. I especially love to teach Rumplestiltskin. Not only is it a bit on the obscure side, I tell my class that in my view, the traditional villain is actually the only honorable character in the story.
The drunken, lying, bragging father started the mess and then left his poor daughter to face the consequences. The prince is a greedy, heartless fellow. Even after he gets the promised three nights of work spinning gold, he isn’t too keen on actually going through with the marriage if she isn’t going to keep up the work. I shudder to think what that wedding night was like. And while the woman in the story was certainly a victim of her societal circumstances and had extremely limited choices,she was the one who agreed to that idiotic bargain for her firstborn. Considering that Rumplestiltskin was happy with her paltry jewelery the first two nights, a little bargaining, i.e. “Help me tonight, and after I’m Queen, you shall be richly rewarded”, seems like it might have worked. And when Rumplestiltskin does return the queen (for admittedly very good reasons) does her best to get out of fulfilling her word. And he gives the queen a sporting chance to get out of their bargain. Which she does, but by cheating with using others to do her dirty work. And then instead of simply calling his name, she torments Rumplestiltskin, drawing it out, playing with him, making him think he will get the baby and not be so alone anymore. And after the big reveal, in most versions, Rumplestiltskin either goes ‘poof’ or dies at the end.
Then we look at various picture books of this story and other fairy tales, and discuss the connections being made between ‘ugly’, ‘strange’, ‘deformed’, ‘other’ and how they are almost universally linked to ‘bad’, ‘worthless’, ‘evil.’ And the reverse. All the ‘heroes’ and ‘heroines’ are depicted as being lovely, beautiful, skinny, often blond.
Kids are so into what is fair/not fair, that you can just see the looks of revelation on their faces as they realize that the fairy tales/Disney movies they’ve been fed their whole short lives might be wrong! Great class discussions, although the adults aren’t always so happy.
Hi, Jodi! LOVE your comment. I’ve read to my now almost 4 year old daughter every night since she was tiny, and we often discuss other ways to look at some of these stories and the people in them. Not to the degree I do in this post, of course, but at least to get her thinking outside the box a bit. Do you blog, Jodi? As one might expect of a teacher, you write well. If you don’t have your own blog, I’d be happy to have you write a guest post or two under your own byline on mine. I’ve had guest posts only a few time, but they do add a breadth of perspective one writer cannot. Regardless, thanks for your comment!
I know I’m very late with this comment but I just happened upon it while looking up the actual stories that the Disney princesses were based off of, to both get more information about history and see how much I missed in the actual history of the princesses. I’m a 17 year old, 18 in December and I consider myself one of the “guinea pigs” for the Disney princess era in the beginning. I believe this because almost all of these movies came out either the year I was born or not too long before or after therefore, I literally grew up with these princesses. My favorite was always Ariel due to the fact that being who she was she got to live underwater, however I knew that it wasn’t physically possible (even at a young age). I was fascinated with the glamour of it though. I believe that out of all of them I’m most like Belle, she is actually a fairly good role model.
I believe that she is a good role model because she teaches strength to do what she believes in, her intelligence and book smart, being able to “read past a person’s cover” and see what’s on the inside of the “book, their plot” and such and care about people while helping her dad from a potentially deadly situation. She is one of them that encourages children (any that watch it even boys can learn from her) to read because it can take you to other worlds, places, times, reading takes you on an adventure and she even says it. Another good role model would be Mulan, her especially. She teaches girls that they can be just as strong as, maybe even stronger, than guys can be. She teaches children about perseverance, strength, bravery, and a love for her family that I believe should be instilled in every child no matter how bad their situation, you only have one family and no matter how much they annoy you, you have to love them. She did this to help keep her dad out of the war due to his age and frailty which proves she has a respect for elders and she doesn’t like being with the matchmaker and getting all “girly”, she would rather be who she believes she is and the whole movie (I believe) she ends up finding who she is as a person. For example in the song she sings ‘Reflections’ she says “Look at me. You may think you see. Who I really am. But you’ll never know me.” and also “Who is that girl I see, Staring straight back at me? When will my reflection show. Who I am inside? I am now. In a world where I. Have to hide my heart. And what I believe in.” which proves that it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter how you look, you should do what you believe in. A lot of girls think that their looks define them, if they listen to this song or think of Mulan they they will discover that’s not true, their actions define them. It doesn’t matter if they’re somebody that only their family loves or if they’re the epitome of beauty, as long as they’re nice, caring/loving, and do what they believe in they will always be beautiful. Inner beauty is and will always be more revered than idiocy and beauty coupled with complete ignorance and lack of sympathy or empathy. I apologize for the length but this is how I feel. Thank you for taking time to read this- Jennifer
I appreciate your well reasoned and tempered response. By weird coincidence I got into just this conversation with someone yesterday while I was with my 4 year old at the Disney Store. My daughter wasn’t in ear shot, to be clear. The person with whom I was speaking said almost the same thing as you, and I can certainly see your point. I may have gone a bit overboard in making mine, which was less about Belle and more about the need for parents to be engaged in previewing, sharing and discussing any media to which young children are exposed. I love that you took this much time explaining your point of view. Good for you, and I think you are largely right. I’m honored by your input to this discussion.
All the best,
When my daughter was 4 we went to a jewelry store to look at diamonds. The sales woman told my daughter that someday she will find a boy to buy her that diamond. My daughter promptly told her she was going to college going to get a good job and buy her own ring no boy necessary! She loved the princess movies but we watched them with her and discussed the beast and daddy’s should not blatantly control girls.
Hi Christine. What a smart girl you have there. We just got back from Walt Disney World, and my daughter got to hug just about every princess and storybook character imaginable. You’re right, the key is watching movies and TV together (in moderation) and talking about it. Thanks so much for stopping by!
It is really interesting to analyze it from this point of view, I think your interpretation is really interesting and unusual. But please forgive me, I cannot agree with you, I’ve got some really deep memories and experiences with these Disney princesses, they’ve just played an important role in my life when I was a child.
I understand. After spending a week at Walt Disney World recently with my wife and little girl, I have probably softened my view a bit as well. 🙂
Thats were your reasoning is flawed.You are thinking of these stories and putting them in real world context.Children have beutiful imaginations they deserve to be apart from the real world for just a little while.We all know that rhe real world is unforgiving and if wee start showing and teaching about how cruel it can be it can fairly diminish and hope or faith that maybe there is a chance.Also your are really only looking at theflaws of the movie like in beuty and the beast Bell teaches people that there can be good in everyone and that sometimes the bully has there problems of their own . And if you notice, bell certainly does not allow the beast to be cruel to her or any of the other charecters and calls her out.So I ask you to please rethink your plan .
Hi Daisy. I appreciate your well thought out and modulated response. Some can take any criticism of their beloved Disney memories quite hard. You make good points. I absolutely view Belle as a strong, positive role-model in most ways. She’s smart, well read, and sees beyond the surface, e.g. Gaston versus the Beast. I did take some liberties in trying to make my point, stretching the parallels to the real world more than a bit. That said, overall, I’m very much liking the shift I’m seeing in more recent Disney “princesses” like Merida in Brave and the whole, “You can’t marry a man you must met” exchange between Queen Elsa and Princess Anna in Frozen. 🙂
Oh and the beast doesent really abuse her ,and I am sure your daughter will not stand for abuse when most women that stand for abuse do that beacause their mother or any other gaurdian they had gave them that example.
Agreed. I certainly hope that the examples set by parents are more formative than any fairytale. That said, it’s incumbent upon us to ensure the example we set is one we’d want our kids to emulate. Thanks again for your comments, Daisy!
I think there’s been a lot of this lately. As you said, you’re not the first or last to bring this up. However, I do think some of the arguments are taken a bit out of context.
For example, a lot of people have used the stolkhome syndrome argument for beauty and the beast, though I think they are looking at it wrongly. The message of the story is that Belle takes the time to get to know the Beast and who he is despite his appearance while everyone else just looks at his outsides and sees evil. And because someone takes the time to see the good in him, he begins to see the good in himself.
I could make many similar arguments for other movies.
We also point out, often, the slightly mysoginist views in these movies, with the “damsel in distress” and a prince who saves her. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Mulan, Pocahontis, and the newer princess Merida who definitely do not need saving. However, I think the need to be saved is also a deep desire of some women. Whether our feministic outlook allows us to admit it or not, many women love the feeling of being safe and protected by a man who cares about us.
About the only problem I actually have with Disney princess movies is the “love at first sight”. I love in Frozen when Elsa is finally wiser than any other character and says ” You can’t marry someone you just met!”
I have yet to see a Disney movie that I felt was completely unfeminist. In some way, I feel like a lot of the princesses really saved their princes… In fact I kind of think all of them did. The fact is that women tend to save their men on an emotional level, while men tend to save on a physical level. Everyone needs saving sometimes, and it’s not a bad thing.
Frankly, I think there are a lot of GOOD lessons for little girls (and even boys) in Disney movies, but as a culture we’ve started looking for anything and everything to make sure our kids turn out OK. I grew up on the classic Disney movies, and I don’t feel unfeminist or slighted in the least.
Great points, Kate. I have a little girl and we own most of the Disney princess films. I think the key is watching them together and talking about the messages. I quite agree with your comment about Frozen, and wrote about it here https://adaddyblog.com/disney-frozen-true-love/. Thanks again for your great thoughts on this, Kate!
You all have strong points! But take it from someone who’s grown up with them. I’m 18 and I still sit down and watch the movies. Beauty and the Beast tells the story of finding the better person within the bad. The Beast doesn’t physically abuse Belle but if you notice, everyone around him helps him become a better person which is how Belle learned to love him. The Little Mermaid thought me to fight for what I love and sometimes there’s a consequence that we must face. Cinderella was forced to do work but she went to the ball to have fun and fell in love without knowing it. And if all u parents didn’t know, she left her man to attempt to reach her currfure. Sometimes you grown ups have to look between the lines (or at least watch it over a hundred times) to understand the message. There are Disney princess movies out there now where the princess is the heroine. Merida was more about saving her mother and wanted nothing to do with a prince. Anna fought for her sister’s safety! She fell in love with a guy but if she didn’t want to save her sister there wouldn’t be a movie! Rapunzel didn’t plan on falling in love, she just wanted to go see the lanterns because that was her goal! And Tiana in the Princess and the Frog worked two jobs. She even says it in the movie! I know what your thinking/saying “your still a kid yourself, you don’t understand what parenthood is like.” I don’t know what parenthood is like but I would happily let my kids watch these movies. I would sit her and point out the messages that I get but this is only a comment box not a blog. I do hope that this helps though and I’m sorry if I typed too much. Haha sorry
Thanks so much for the detailed response, Travis! You’ll note if you search “Disney” on my site, that I’m a HUGE fan. I like what you said about sitting down with a daughter and talk about the messages in their films, good and bad. I definitely feel they are improving their messages in the past few years. Wrote about that in several posts including here https://adaddyblog.com/disney-frozen-true-love. Thanks again, Travis!
Absolutely not at all a problem! Glad I could help, Sir!
Thanks, Travis! On a slightly related note, our now 6-year-old daughter is dressing as “Alice in Wonderland” this Halloween. I’ve read her the original books (a bit disturbing) as well as Disney versions, and of course she’s seen the movie. Not certain what the message is in that film? We met “Alice” in EPCOT a couple of times at Walt Disney World. The cast member did a super job both times. Thanks again for your comment.
Well done! I completely agree with your perspectives. I am glad that my daughter has moved on to American Girl stories that have more educational value (although ridiculously expensive). Disney princess stories are always reliant on beauty and the prince at the end of the story being a knight in shining armor. I have the opinion that women will continue to not be as visible in high profile leadership positions while Disney movies as they are exist. And also soap operas….
Hi Erin. Thanks for your comment, and support.
I will say that Disney has begun changing their tune quite a lot, e.g. in movies like Brave, Mulan, Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, and even Frozen… where Elsa flat out decries true love and declares Anna can’t marry a man she just met. Yes, I like the historical, learning aspect of American Girl, though as you say, beyond the books all of the merchandise can get a bit pricey.
Wishing you and yours a very safe and Merry Christmas!
I just had to chime in and say that growing up, my diet was chock full of all the Disney princess movies (along with all the others) and I really don’t think it had any impact on my body image or world view or expectations whatsoever This is largely because my world was full of a variety of messages and experiences that shaped my self-confidence and emotional intelligence. I was exposed to a lot of other feminist ideals and empowering experiences. Surely our greater society also reinforces a good deal of the ideas you mentioned (in beauty magazines, other entertainment, etc).
As far as the films go, I always thought all the art and images were lovely, and they were full of magic and whimsy, and I loved the songs. That’s what mattered when I was growing up, so much so that it fueled a lifelong love for the art form and the canon, and eventually led to several wonderful jobs with Disney. So I am passionate and protective, in a way.
You’re right though, that there are some questionable messages in some of the films and stories. I think it’s important to remember that the stories are products of their own times (people forget they existed before Disney!), and that fairy tales were really morality tales to teach children about the dangers of their world, what not to do, what to be afraid of, etc., and that those eras had MUCH different expectations of women. And the films are also products of their times, especially the early ones (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), when society and Hollywood had very different expectations of women. I think even Little Mermaid and Pocahontas would be very different films if they were made today. Maybe it’s just because young, impressionable girls watch them, but I never hear of other classic films being derided this way, even though they are full of all the same stereotypes.
I think the fact that little girls today respond just as enthusiastically to the older films should show us that there is more there than the broader, more unsavory ideas we see as adults. I think it’s a bit unfair to prevent them from enjoying something in an effort to try to protect them. When I watch other children’s entertainment, or look at the toys marketed to little girls, I am so disappointed in the limited prospects they offer. Like little girls can only dress up and and get married and have babies and play house and have hobbies; instead of explore, experiment, invent, build, doctor, lawyer, etc… I don’t think that Disney is the only, or even anywhere near the worst offender in this arena, but I do think they offer a quality of artistry and entertainment that isn’t matched by many. And that is not insignificant.
I personally use every opportunity to point out and start a conversation when I see things that don’t jive with the values I want my kids to have. I do this anywhere and everywhere, including Disney movies. Most characters in books or movies make at least one bad decision, or have a fatal flaw that provides an opportunity to talk about what they could do differently, or what you or your child could do instead if they were in that situation.
I think adults and parents assume that these things have way more power over their kids than they really do, when really, parents have more influence than any other single factor over their kids’ values, self-esteem, self-worth, emotional competence and well-being. For so many, Disney is a source of inspiration, or self-discovery, of escape, of magic, of meaning and importance and passion you can hardly begin to comprehend. Stories like Ron Suskind’s, in ‘Life Animated,’ come to mind.
I love some of the comments here (like Kate’s!), but I hate to see when people just completely write off Disney movies for these reasons, or the entire company for being too commercialized. Appreciate it for what it is, and let your kids do the same at their level, and have honest discussions with them about what doesn’t fit into your family values (i.e., spending $50 per princess dress for the entire collection!). It makes me so sad to see the parents who take their kids to Disney parks and then can’t appreciate the magic their children are seeing. Or who refuse to take them at all because they think Disney just wants their money. Don’t get me wrong, Disney wants your money, but they really, truly want you and your kids to have a magical experience, in the parks and in the theaters.
I know how hard people work on those films, and how much of their blood and sweat and tears and talent they pour into them. And they’re never going to make everyone happy (did you see Fox trashing Frozen this week? Because empowering women weakens men, as if the entirety of the media doesn’t weaken women??)
And I am exhausted and becoming unable to string together coherent thoughts, so I’m just going to wrap this up now. The end!!
Hi, Erin. I really appreciate your thoughtful response. Clearly I am not surprised, as I know your family’s love of all things Disney. You make some super points, and they weren’t at all incoherent. I suspect you know my love of Disney runs nearly as deep as yours, though I don’t have quite the extent of personal connection you do. As with most of my posts, I’m really just starting a conversation… which was one of your excellent points: