The first Disney movie I remember having seen in theaters is The Little Mermaid. I thought Ariel was the most beautiful girl in the world, until I saw Beauty and the Beast and Belle took that spot, followed shortly thereafter by Jasmine of Aladdin fame.
I think you get the picture. I, like so many girls, grew up idolizing Disney princesses. Although unaware at the time, looking back I can admit that they shaped my ideas of physical beauty. Tiny waists, big eyes and diminutive hands and feet abound among these cartoon ladies, all characteristics to which women aspire well into adulthood.
But how much do these representations of femininity really affect little girls? Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate my Daughter, discussed the results of Disney princesses as role models in an interview withMother Jones: “What is insidious about the Disney Princess…[is] what it puts girls on the path for. And that it poses as something that protects girls, or staves off premature sexualization, when I think it primes them for it.” The path in question is a childhood and adolescence focused almost entirely on being not only good, but perfect. “On one hand there’s all this good news about girls in education, girls in sports, they’re doing great in college and all that, but at the same time the pressure hasn’t abated at all on them…[It] has grown much more intense to define themselves and gain all their self-worth from the way that they look, and the way that they look is supposed to be, increasingly and increasingly younger, sexy. And femininity becomes defined for them by sexiness (you know, at the age of four), narcissism, and consumerism.”
Orenstein’s book does not argue that Disney has no place in a little girl’s life but rather that it should not be the only place your children go for their definition of femininity. “I think one of the challenges is to create an equally positive, joyful, fun, satisfying sense of femininity and feminine identity in a different way so that there are things you’re saying yes to and satisfying that urge that your daughter has to be assert her girlness…the culture is very intentional in what it’s telling your daughter and what it’s telling you about the message of femininity. And if you’re not intentional and conscious back, you lose.”
It would seem that we are becoming more conscious of how Disney portrays women, the unbelievable tininess of the princesses’ waists led artist Loryn Brantz to wonder what would happen if they were givenmore realistic measurements. According to an email she sent to The Huffington Post regarding her project, Brantz was inspired after having seen Frozen, “While I loved the film, I was horrified that the main female character designs haven’t changed since the ’60s…their necks are almost always bigger than their waists!” Her project, aptly named “If Disney Princesses had Realistic Waistlines,” quickly went viral and inspired discussions about why the body style for these cartoon ladies still promotes an unattainable standard of beauty.
The waistline discussion even spilled over onto our new live-action princess. After the premier of the second trailer for Disney’s upcomingCinderella, several news outlets, including Buzzfeed (where Brantz works) questioned whether actress Lily James’ waist had been digitally slimmed for the film. When questioned by The Washington Post, both James and her director, Kenneth Branagh, deny anything other than a corset was used to shape her. Regardless of whether it was done through waist training or CGI, the result is the same – Disney princesses continue to uphold a standard of beauty that a real woman would have to alter herself to achieve.
I still love Disney Princess movies, and I certainly look forward to watching a whole new generation of them with my future daughters.Frozen, the first one in the canon which did not rely on a prince to save the princess, was a huge step forward. I hope Disney will perpetuate this constructive trend by taking a second look at the way they’re drawing their heroines.