Real, Badass Women Turned Sparkly Princesses

Last fall, artist David Trumble came out with a series of art pieces called “World of Women” where he took real women and princessified them. His intent is pretty awesome. This statement is take from Women You Should Know. Great satire is my favorite form of comedy as well as feminism, and here it is to be shared with you all.

“This was a response to the furor kicked up over the glossy ‘princessification’ of Pixar’s Merida character, both in image and doll form. I drew this picture because I wanted to analyze how unnecessary it is to collapse a heroine into one specific mold, to give them all the same sparkly fashion, the same tiny figures, and the same homogenized plastic smile.

“My experience of female role models both in culture and in life has shown me that there is no mold for what makes someone a role model, and the whole point of Merida was that she was a step in the right direction, providing girls with an alternative kind of princess. Then they took two steps back, and painted her with the same glossy brush as the rest. So I decided to take 10 real-life female role models, from diverse experiences and backgrounds, and filter them through the Disney princess assembly line.

“The result was this cartoon, which earned equal parts praise and ire from readers. Some didn’t get the joke, some disagreed with it, others saw no harm in it at all and wanted to buy the doll versions of them… it was a polarizing image, but I suppose that’s the point. The statement I wanted to make was that it makes no sense to put these real-life women into one limited template, so why then are we doing it to our fictitious heroines?

“Fiction is the lens through which young children first perceive role models, so we have a responsibility to provide them with a diverse and eclectic selection of female archetypes. Now, I’m not even saying that girls shouldn’t have princesses in their lives, the archetype in and of itself is not innately wrong, but there should be more options to choose from. So that was my intent, to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to paint an entire gender of heroes with one superficial brush.

“But that’s just me.” – David Trumble

 

The Disney Villain and Representation

Disney villains are not friendly people. They’re villains, why would they be? But typically in a Disney story villains represent anti-white culture. Disney villains and Disney heroines/heroes have have some obvious discrepancies in physical appearance. While heroes and heroines are attractive to white culture, villains are anythingbut. Let’s take a look at a few villain/hero comparisons.

ariel ursila

Here we have Ursula and Ariel, side by side. Ariel is a conventionally attractive white girl (minus the giant fish fin) with a tiny waist and big blue eyes. Ursula is non-white colored, with heavy lidded eyes, and obese in size (therefore contributing to stereotypes and discrimination against fat women). The representation of evil in The Little Mermaid manifests itself in the form of anything different than mainstream white culture.

aladdin jafar

Next we have Jafar, the villain from Aladdin. Again, we have the heavy lidded eyes and dark skin. It appears that he is wearing eyeliner on his eye lids (ergo, Jafar is feminized; femme male = bad/evil), and his features are distinct and very non-white. His eyes are also elongated in comparison with Aladdin’s. Aladdin bears the conventional white boy features and charming smile. His skin is lighter, eyes are larger and rounder, and all around he has a more mainstream look (read: the white boy look). Even though Aladdin is a PoC, he is distorted to fit white morale.

maleficent aurora

For a third comparison on the strand of Disney villan vs. Disney hero/heroine, here we have Aurora and Maleficent. Maleficent’s distortion is less prominent than the two previously discussed villans, but she still possesses heavily lidded, elongated eyes and non-white skin. Aurora is drawn in the traditional princess sense, with large, round eyes and tiny waist.

The effect on children on perceptions of those with white skin and non-white skin must be profound. If they are constantly surrounded by images of people that are different being portrayed as evil and mean, then they will become socialized to view them as evil and mean. In contrast, if the child has similarities with the villians in regards to appearance, the effect on how the child will view themselves has to be negative.

I know that I was profoundly affected by the portrayal of Disney villians. I was socialized by Disney to believe that I could only find happiness in life if I looked like their protagonists. When I gained weight as I got older, I bought into stereotypes that are perpetuated by Disney villians like Ursula and even Ratcliffe, from Pocahontas. How could I possibly be a good person with all this fat when all the fat people I saw as a child were evil?

I will continue a discussion of Disney villian characteristics in a later post. Until then, compare and contrast villians/antagonists that you are surrounded by. How are they alike? How are the different from the protagonist? How does that affect you?

Dissatisfied Princesses

This is a cute video created by YouTube user AVByte that criticizes Disney’s princess stereotype. The princesses featured in the video (Jasmine, Ariel, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, Belle) are lectured by Queen Elsa on their refusal to critically think about their story lines. Princesses such as Pocahontas, Mulan, and Merida are omitted, perhaps because their story line does not revolve around finding love but on other factors and AVByte’s criticism might not have held up.

This video exposes many of the problems that are prevalent within the older princess films. While progress has been made with films such as Frozen and Brave, old princess tropes are still prevalent and surround our young girls. Even though Snow White and Cinderella are older films, I grew up watching them and even though I am now in my twenties I still see young girls enjoying them. The presence of criticism such as this cutesy YouTube clip is uplifting, however, because videos such as this can spur discussion among mothers and their daughters about what being a girl and a woman means. And even newer Disney princess films such Tangled fall under this trope, with Rapunzel being saved from Mother Gothel by Flynn Rider and never given the chance to grow outside of someone else.

Girls need to recognize that they need to develop as themselves first, then worry about falling in love. Love is an incredible human emotion and should be experienced by everyone one way or another, either between siblings such as in Frozen, family such as in Brave, between friends,  or between those in a consensual relationship. Dialogue such as this video needs to exist to bring light to the fact that men are not the be all and end all. While these older stories may center around the woman character, the real story is about finding and keeping a man. So are the stereotypical Disney princess movies really about women? ‘Cause it really seems to revolve around men.

The Purpose of this Blog

Image

The purpose of this blog is to examine the different roles women play in children’s media – primarily in Disney films. Many criticisms of Disney exist in regards to representation of race and women. While I plan on exploring both of those topics on my own, I will also reflect on my childhood and how growing up in the so-called “Disney Renaissance” affected my perceptions and expectations of the world. As a white girl, I had no shortage of princesses to identify with. Belle and Ariel were two favorites of mine until Rapunzel came along in 2010 (in all honesty, however, my ALL TIME favorite Disney movie growing up was the Lion King).

 I can’t help but wonder, however, who did little girls of other races have to identify with? Mulan, maybe Jasmine, maybe Esmeralda. But the pickings are slim and representations of their races are problematic for reasons I will get into later. We would be kidding ourselves to think that girls of color do not watch and subsequently are not influenced by Disney films.

So, how are women of color represented in Disney? How are they different from the white women? They act differently, dress differently, and almost seem to operate in a separate dimension than white women. For example, why is Mulan a soldier in full armor on screen, but only marketed to parents and girls in her kimono? Why is Jasmine dressed so scantily compared to the other princesses (not to mention how inappropriate her outfit is for an Arabic princess)? Why does Tiana spend the majority of The Princess and the Frog as a frog instead of as the black woman she is? In addition, I want to explore women of color’s erasure in Disney films. Why was there a charismatic chameleon but no women of color in Tangled? Why was there a talking snow man  in Frozen but not a single woman of color in that film, either?

I will be re-watching Disney movies and investigating such dilemmas. I will be working with a feminist lens with which I am going to employ my knowledge of intersectionality within feminism. I will also be stressing the importance of presenting images to children they can identify with.