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?