How to Make a Princess
I’ve noticed that a lot of edits are being made on Tumblr that generate narratives surrounding “The Big Four”— Brave, Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon, and Rise of the Guardians.
While I love seeing this posts, there is one issue about them that I wanted to briefly address.
I don’t feel completely comfortable with the idea of “shipping” Merida with Hiccup or Jack Frost. And it has nothing to do with what I think of these characters individually, or even together. I absolutely love each one of them (especially Jack), but just the idea of putting Merida into a romantic relationship bothers me.
Brave was revolutionary for being the first Princess movie to not have a Prince. A major plot point was Merida’s desire to escape the fate of having to get married or have a husband chosen for her.
Isn’t the idea of “shipping” Merida with someone exactly what she was fighting against?
Not that she shouldn’t be allowed to enter romantic relationships, of course she can (I have a feeling that there will be a sequel where this happens).
But we’re pairing her with people she has no connection to, has not developed a relationship with, and doesn’t know.
This is exactly what she didn’t want to happen.
I’m sorry if this post seems negative, and I have to be honest, I personally really love those sets that include each of these characters. But it just seems to counter part of the feminist message in Brave, and I really don’t want this feminist aspect to get lost and become postfeminist instead.
(postfeminism is, for the record, the idea that feminism has “done its job” and is now irrelevant)
Web-based social media not only acculturate children to constant bombardment with advertising but give them the idea of total control while they are being manipulated. Researchers have found that while children as young as three years old recognize brand logos, not until they are around eight years old do they understand advertising’s intention to manipulate their desires.
— The Mouse that Roared, Henry Giroux and Grace Pollock
I ended up publishing my musings as an article called “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” …the piece immediately shot to the top of the site’s “Most E-mailed” list… Apparently, I had tapped into something larger than a few dime-store tiaras. Princesses are just a phase, after all. It’s not as though girls are still swanning about in their Sleeping Beauty gowns when they leave for college (at least most are not). But they did mark my daughter’s first foray into he mainstream culture, the first time the influences on her extended beyond the family. And what was the first thing that culture told her about being a girl? Not that she was competent, strong, creative, or smart but that every little girl wants— or should want— to be the Fairest of Them All.
— Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein. Definitely recommend. This is just a quote from the book, and I think she is pretty thorough and fair in her approach. Before you go and yell about how princesses also teach strength etc., in that quote she is addressing marketing and what aspect of the princesses the girls are first exposed to (the merchandise), rather than the movies themselves. (via feministdisney)
One of the first books I read when developing the plan for my thesis. Well worth the read.
How to Make a Princess: You never grow out of the Disney Princesses Franchise- the dream wedding for a "True Princess"
So, my brother recently got engaged to a lovely girl who I am also good friends with. And what’s the first thing a girl does after getting engaged? Looks at wedding dresses of course!
For Christmas, we gave her a little gift bag with some things she might need to help her plan her wedding- a…
I work in the bridal industry and I think your reading too much into it. Women have said for years how they want to look like a princess on their day even before disney did a bridal line and the disney princesses are some of the most well known characters in animation so ofcourse disney are going to want a piece of the action. As for the dresses, I think its funny how you would compare Jasmines wedding dress in the film to one of the actual bridal designs. Ofcourse they are not going to be the same, all of the dresses are INSPIRED by the princess with features of their stories incorparated into the dresses, like little blossoms on snow whites and crystals on cinderellas but the dresses cant look too much like the actual characters or they would look too costume like. They have to modernize the designs to keep up to date with bridal trends and other factors that influence a bride to buy a dress.
Just to clarify a few things, in response to what you’ve said:
I am well aware that the desire to look like a princess on your wedding day came before the Disney line of wedding dresses. However, bridal culture itself has still been closely linked with the Princess franchise for a very long time. The influence of the Disney Princesses has seeped into girls’ consciousness and is part of the reason why so many have such a strong desire to look the part of a princess on their wedding day. I point out the fact that Disney has come out with its own line of wedding dresses as a way to show how apparent this connection has become.
I’m not saying that getting a Disney dress or a fancy wedding dress in general is a bad thing. In fact, doing so can even become an emancipatory act in certain cases. However, it is important to recognize where these desires come from (commercialism) and to understand the potential implications of this.The fact that the desire to look like a princess is so clear demonstrates how influential marketing such as the Disney Princesses franchise is, and could mean that it is influencing young girls’ subjectivities in other ways as well. There’s more to being a princess than the dress. There’s a whole story. I’m a girl myself, I know how so many fantasize about Prince Charming. I’m just pointing out how this can be problematic.
As for your comment of the dress, of course I know that they aren’t going to look exactly like the dresses from the films. It’s interesting that you point out how the Snow White and Cinderella ones can be seen to be inspired by their character, but not how the Jasmine one relates to its character. What I’m pointing out is that there is little to connect many of the dresses to the characters aside from how they appear in advertising. Jasmine’s dresses in particular do not seem inspired by anything she wears or does. I honestly cannot see any connection between the dresses and her character once you take them out of the context in which they appear in the advertisements.
But the most glaring issue with the dresses is one that you didn’t mention- the lack of representation of Mulan and Pocahontas. They are a part of the Disney Princesses franchise as well, whether they “actually” are princesses or not. Their absence is all too frequent in Disney products meant to encompass the entire Princesses line.
Of course I’m reading a lot into it, but that’s kind of my job right now. I’m doing my thesis on the effects of the Disney Princesses franchise on the subjectivities of young girls.
You never grow out of the Disney Princesses Franchise- the dream wedding for a “True Princess”
So, my brother recently got engaged to a lovely girl who I am also good friends with. And what’s the first thing a girl does after getting engaged? Looks at wedding dresses of course!
For Christmas, we gave her a little gift bag with some things she might need to help her plan her wedding- a wedding planner and a bridal magazine, among other things. As I flipped through the magazine, imagine my surprise to find Disney splashed across several pages! It’s amazing how engrained into our everyday culture Disney is. This was not appealing to children, of course, and it certainly wasn’t featuring small toys. Disney has its own line of wedding dresses.
Now, bridal culture was something I was planning to talk about when examining the Disney Princesses franchise, since the dream of being a Princess on your wedding day relates so closely to the fantastical, ideal happily ever afters that every woman had seen as a wide-eyed child watching the Disney films. Apparently, at some point Disney caught on to this idea and decided that it needed to expand the Disney Princesses franchise to cater to these oversized children in search of the perfect wedding dress to fulfill their Princess fantasy.
“Today’s brides grew up believing in the dream… in the idea that, somewhere out there, her Prince charming awaits”
I took that quote from the Disney bridal website. There’s a few problems with this. The first line acknowledges that “today’s brides” have been heavily influenced by popular culture, and have grown up expecting the things that happen in Disney movies to happen to them in real life. The idea of expecting a “Prince Charming” to come find you is also incredibly problematic. It idealizes men to the point where they no longer have any flaws or even much personality at all- they are one dimensional characters. In Disney, Prince Charming was the name of Cinderella’s prince. But it doesn’t really matter which one it is. All of the original Disney Princes are basically the same character. I couldn’t tell you a single defining characteristic of any one of them. Shouldn’t women be looking for something more than a pretty face and a title when finding the person they are going to marry?
The fact that Disney is able to successfully sell these products to fully grown women using the exact same tactics they use for children absolutely proves how influential the Disney Princesses franchise truly is. By growing up playing with the dolls, having the costumes, and watching the movies, we have raised our children to believe that they should live the lifestyle of the Disney Princesses— that it is more than a fantasy, but something that they can and must fulfill in reality in order to successfully become a real woman, a Princess.
The line is designed by Alfed Angelo and features at least two styles for every princess (that is, except for Pocahontas and Mulan. What a surprise— not). Let’s take a look at some of them.
Here we have one of the designs for Snow White. I have no idea what makes this dress specific to Snow White aside from how it is branded in advertising, with the model sporting red lips and carrying an apple. I think the cape like fabric at the back is supposed to resemble Snow White’s cape, but that’s a real stretch. I don’t know how anyone would feel like Snow White wearing this.
The advertisements for these dresses use a lot of visual cues and motifs that serve to immediately bring to mind the Princess they represent. This must be Belle- look at all those roses surrounding her! Though I have to note that there actually is only one rose in the film— and this is incredibly significant as it represents the fragility of time and the Beast’s own vulnerabilities and fears.
Here we have one of the Jasmine dress designs, in an ad that looks like it is a screenshot taken from a Bollywood movie.
To show you how little the dresses themselves actually resemble their movie counterparts, let’s take a look at a picture of just the above dress, without all the extra special effects:
I have no idea what part of that is supposed to resemble something Jasmine wore, especially when her wedding dress looked like this:
Part of my point by showing the above image of Jasmine is to show that while this line of bridal gowns purports to be representative by having designs “based” on some of the more multicultural Princesses (Jasmine and Tiana), it actually is only using the Princess names and the nostalgia that comes along with it to market the same dresses you see in every single bridal salon and magazine. Also, as I mentioned earlier, the line has a dress for every single Princecss except for Mulan and Pocahontas. These poor girls always get left out of things because Disney seems to view them as less marketable. But honestly, how great would it be to actually have a wedding dress that incorporated traditional Chinese style, or Aboriginal patterns, and have it sold from a popular line, increasing people’s awareness of these different cultures?
I can take this even further than just the dress. There’s all kinds of products sold by the Disney Princesses line to make your wedding a “fairy tale”. They have bridesmaid and flower girl dresses, veils, jewelry, party favours, stationery, cosmetics, and even shoes. I bet you can guess what the shoe line is called. That’s right— “The Glass Slipper Collection”.
They also have suggestions for planning your engagement, wedding ceremony and honeymoon all at Disney parks and on their cruise ships!
You can truly become a Disney Princess— that is, if an expensive, plastic, commercialized theme park is your idea of a fairy tale castle.
I Am a Princess
I’ve been itching to discuss a very recent advertisement that Disney has promoted called “I Am a Princess”. The video itself seems to be a response to people critiquing their Princesses Franchise as I am!
One of the first things we see in this video is the above girl. And already I can see that the commercial is capitalizing on this year’s latest trends. I’m going to throw out a guess here and say that you thought of Katniss from the Hunger Games when you saw this picture. Maybe you even thought it was a screencap from the movie. It also recalls Disney’s most recent addition to the Princesses Franchise, Merida, from Brave. So within the first few seconds, this promotion is already making us think of products and commercial enterprise rather than about the Everyday Girl (who, according to the ad, also happens to be a Princess).
Now I’m not trying to say that it isn’t a beautiful promotion with some really great sentiments, but I do think we need to be aware of where it’s coming from. And how the commercial’s argument for what a Princess is fails to capture the definition that Disney’s films have given us.
This is the voiceover given throughout the promotion:
“I am a Princess. I am brave sometimes, I am scared sometimes. Sometimes I am brave even when I am scared. I believe in loyalty and trust. I believe loyalty is built on trust. I try to be kind, I try to be generous. I am kind even when others are not so generous. I am a Princess. I think standing up for myself is important. I think standing up for others is more important, but standing with others is most important. I am a Princess. I believe compassion makes me strong. Kindness is power. And family is the tightest bond of all. I have heard I am beautiful, I know I am strong. I am a Princess. Long may I reign.”
It’s interesting, first of all, to note that even with Disney trying to change the definition of Princess, we still get the sense that it is putting forward a certain construction of femininity. Kindness, compassion, beauty, generosity. All standard, traditional “feminine values”. In her discussion of feminism in fairy tales, Karen Rowe argues that traditional fairy tales exhibit “passivity, dependency, and self-sacrifice as a female’s cardinal virtues”. I think we’re still seeing a lot of that in this commercial, even though it is trying so hard to break away from that regressive view of Disney. While it does mention strength, a less “feminine” quality, it seems to be equating this with kindness. As if girls have a different definition of strength than boys.
I will say that the promotion does a good job of ensuring it is representitive. There are individuals from a great variety of ethnic backgrounds (though they are all Americanized— no one is represented in traditional cultural attire) and there are even two representations of girls with disabilities:
I was disappointed with how brief this image of a young girl with Downs Syndrome was, as it took me several times watching the commercial to even notice her presence. So while I am glad she was included, I have to wonder why Disney was so cautious about this representation? It is almost as if she is there for those who want to see her, but those that don’t can easily glaze over that quick second she is on screen.
This girl who uses ASL (so is probably deaf and/or mute) to sign “I am a Princess” has a much more prominent presence. There is no denying her existence in this promotion.
This got me thinking about the lack of representation of girls with disabilities in the Princesses Franchise (not to mention Disney in general being fairly lacking). There is a representation of a mute girl, a mute Princess, in fact: Ariel. She wasn’t born with it, but it serves the same function. Perhaps girls with disabilities can associate with Ariel, feeling unable to be properly understood by those around them. But there’s a problem with this representation: Ariel’s loss of her voice represents a loss of agency. And more than that, Ursula encourages her that without a voice she can still use her body language, her attractive curves and form, to communicate. What a message. Not exactly how I would want my daughter to look upon herself whether she has a disability or not.
I saw a comment on the Youtube page for this video stating that all of the individuals in the promotion are straight and cis-gendered, and so it is not fully representative. While it’s not easy to tell from such a short commercial whether the girls represented are cis-gendered are not, there aren’t any explicit examples of other possibilities either, so that is likely the interpretation we are meant to take. For instance, there could have been a representation of a transgender individual- someone who is physically a boy, but identifies as a girl. Would that person be a Princess too, according to Disney? Or there could be a representation of a same-sex couple acting as parents to one of the “Princesses”. Of course, I didn’t expect Disney to include such things. They’re taking a safe route, and that would not be safe at all. Still, it would be nice.
In the near future, I will do another post looking into the variety of comments made on this promotion in greater detail.
For now, though, I want to finish by discussing the incoherence between the definition of “Princess” given by this commercial and by Disney’s films.
“Family is the tightest bond of all” is something emphasized in this commercial. But is it, according to the Disney Princesses Franchise? Let’s look at our lineup:
Snow White has only the evil Queen as her stepmother, and no other parents.
Cinderella has a wicked stepmother and two wicked stepsisters.
Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) was sent away from her parents and instead raised by fairies, who didn’t tell her of her family until she was much older. When they did tell her, she returned to her “real family” without having any true relationship with them at all.
Ariel has a father and sisters, but doesn’t seem to have a good relationship with any of them. There’s a serious lack of communication until the very end of the film.
Belle has only a father, but she does have a close bond with him throughout the film, even when she is not with him physically.
Pocahontas has only a father, and there is again a lack of communication between them until the end of the film.
Jasmine has only a father, who cares for her deeply but despite that seems to fail to communicate properly with her.
Mulan has a full family and loves them very much. She defies them, however. (Of course, it’s only fair to mention that she defies them in order to protect her father)
Tiana’s father has passed away, leaving her with her mother only.
Rapunzel was raised by an evil witch who she later defies. She reunites with her family later, but like Aurora has no real connection with them aside from blood.
There’s no coherent representation of family in the Disney Princesses franchise. But unfortunately, in general, family doesn’t seem to be much of a tight bond at all. In fact, many of the princesses strive to break free from their “family”.
Which brings me to another issue: stepfamilies. Where is their fair representation? I think it’s about time that we get a good stepmother or father to throw in the mix. Young girls who identify with the princesses, and who might have stepparents and even stepsiblings might then try to associate their stepfamilies with those in the films. These stepparents and siblings could be incredibly nice to the child and still not be accepted because they are perceived by the girl to be inherently bad. Just something to think about. Stepfamilies are getting more and more common and conventional, and yet we’re still stuck with that old view of them as “wicked”.
The final incoherence I’d like to discuss is one already touched on briefly: disabilities. The only Princess with any sort of disability is Ariel, and that was somewhat by choice and was in the end reversible. I’ve already discussed with the issues of that, anyway. Though Disney strives to give the impression that girls of all abilities can be princesses in their promotion, the films clearly tell a different story.
I was talking about this with a close friend recently, who has a cousin with Downs Syndrome. I myself have a cousin who is developmentally delayed. And both of us feel strongly that there should be some more role models for children like our cousins. There are so few representations of people with disabilities, or even just different from the “norm”, in popular culture. Disney has such a great influence and wide audience. Surely, if Disney gave us the image of a Princess with Downs Syndrome or something similar, there would be even less stigma about such things, and these children could feel that they too can truly be a Princess. (as I had this conversation with my friend I immediately started having visions of a Disney film with sister Princess, one with Downs Syndrome, finding their way in the world together. I hope that one day I can say my dreams have become a reality!)
Anonymous asked: I'm sorry, I'm new to your blog, but what is pedagogical efficacy?
No need to apologize!
So, to break it down: “pedagogical” essentially means how something acts as a form of teaching, and “efficacy” is the capacity of something to produce an effect. In this case, together, they mean that I’m looking at the effects the Disney Princesses franchise has potential to have on girls, and specifically how it teaches them to act, how to be the ideal construction of femininity.
Hope that helps!
Becoming the Princess: Complications with Disney’s Dress-up App
A few weeks ago I received an email from Disney recommending that I “Download a Disney Book App for your Princess!” (yes, I am on Disney’s mailing list. I don’t exactly remember when I registered for it or why, since I usually avoid these things), and once I opened up the email, I knew immediately that I would have to write a blog post about this.
First of all, let me say that it amazes me that they market iPad apps to such a young audience— what would a five year old do with an iPad?
Now, on to discussing the App itself. It’s a Disney Princesses sticker book (to me, though, part of the fun of sticker books is lost when it’s in digital form). And you can dress up the different princesses in all sorts of outfits, mixing and matching and accessorizing to your heart’s content. But what really gets me is the feature that allows the child to become a princess. Disney’s website explains that using the interactive camera feature, ”your child’s face will appear as a favorite Disney Princess—Cinderella, Ariel, Aurora, Snow White, Jasmine, Belle, or Tiana.
With a swipe of a finger, you can change outfits and accessories, add tiaras, and then send your child’s royal portrait to friends, family, and fellow princesses”.
Is it just me or are those images terrifying? Here, we have more than little girls simply fantasizing by playing with dolls. They are becoming the Princess— the doll— themselves. Seeing this reminded me of something I have been thinking about and struggling with a lot in terms of this project: Lacan’s “mirror stage”.
Essentially, the mirror stage represents the moment in a small child’s life when they are able to look in a mirror and recognize themselves, thus realizing the separation of the self from society, the separation of the natural self and the social self. The child realizes that he or she is a separate entity from the mother, and from everything else in the world. This is especially important when discussing Disney because children are exposed to it at such a young age, in many cases before they even reach this “mirror stage”- dolls, blankets, clothes, even baby bottles all have Disney Princesses plastered across them. Little girls are immersed in the Disney Princess franchise from birth.
With the “mirror stage” comes a desire for a perfect completeness- the child sense that there is something missing. With subjectivity being formed, a void is felt. What the Disney Princesses do is provide an imaginary, a way to access the ideal feminine existence and fill the void. With this App, this has been taken to an entirely new level. This isn’t a little girl dressing up in the Disney branded Cinderella dress. This is a little girl placing her face onto the body of Cinderella. It’s a camera, not a mirror, but the effect is the same. They are looking at the image of themselves, not as they are, but as the ideal Princess figure. Part of what is unsettling about this image, perhaps, is the implication of maturation: the Princesses whose bodies these children’s faces are taking over are much older, they have a womanly body- the breasts are clearly visible. Looking at this image of herself could cause the little girl to feel even more distanced from her identity, and from who she should be. She doesn’t look like her image.
Which is the “right” image? The one she sees here— the one that she can accessorize freely, adding elements of fairy tales to her own existence— or the one she sees in a real mirror? How is a little girl who has been exposed to this all her life to know?
One more quick note: I couldn’t help but notice in the second image, the accessory on the girl is a necklace shaped like a shell. This is a necklace worn by Ursula in The Little Mermaid, and it contains Ariel’s voice. It represents a loss of autonomy, or, alternatively, a gaining of control over someone else. Of all the accessories from Disney films to include, and to show in the promotional images, why this?