When it comes to discussing anything related to girls and self-esteem, Disney princesses are almost always at the top of the list.
Why? Because Disney is insanely mainstream with many growing up on it, and being influenced. The problem lies in the assumption that Disney princesses send the wrong message to young girls, and there seems to be an insistence that girls move away from the princess paradigm. But, when examined individually, it’s obvious that each princess is her own person, not mere caricatures. In a way, each princess gives a unique face to feminism and what it means to be a woman.
So I’ll comment on three of my favorite princesses:
1. Belle (19 yrs old): She’s an outcast because of her desire to read and be immersed in another world (ie: fantasy). Despite being very beautiful, she manages to cultivate lasting relationships with other male characters (except Gaston) because of her personality and interests. The Beast both behaves and appears monstrous but she’s always strong-willed, such as when he saves her from the wolves, and she’s tending to his wounds in the living room. All the servants fear his wrath, but she doesn’t back down from his temper and instead challenges him.
2. Mulan (16 yrs old): She has a strong sense of ethics, and knowing that her father is too old to partake in the draft, she went in his place. Out of all the princesses, she’s the least feminine, and seems more at place with masculinity than (especially considering how Chinese women were expected to behave). Mulan also possessed strong leadership skills (better than her male counterparts) and a bravery that no one else seemed to possess. She had a great deal of dedication to her comrades and her purpose.
3. Jasmine (15 yrs old – almost 16): Jasmine, like Belle, yearns for adventure, but also to get away from the confines and personal demands of royal life. She knows what she wants for herself and isn’t afraid to go after it – hence her running away. When Prince Ali comes to the palace, causing a ruckus, Jasmine declares that she’s “not a prize to be won” and is determined throughout the movie not to settle for what her father (or the law) wants for her.
Naturally, when you look at each Disney princess film as a whole, it looks like patriarchal insanity (especially in regards to princesses like Snow White and Aurora, who wait for their prince to magically appear). But as individuals, they each embody a different perspective on what it means to be a woman: on how to achieve your dreams, on how not to give up despite insane obstacles.
Pocahontas fought for her people, for herself, and managed to educate John about animism. Tiana worked tirelessly to make money for her restaurant, and was determined and devoted to her dream – love seemed to just join her for the ride. Cinderella is infinitely patient, loving and kind despite the insatiable hatred of her step family; and there’s a certain kind of power in that.
So while many women may look down at Disney princesses as being frivolous or shallow – I highly encourage them to take a second look, because they might be surprised by what they find.