Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Disney Princesses as a form of Identity

It's a phenomenon I've noticed over the years of babysitting in families that happened to be mostly female, but for many young girls, including myself, your "favorite Disney Princess" often becomes a part of your identity.

I've noticed this mostly in families with multiple sisters. For myself growing up, my favorite Princess was always Belle, and my sister's two favorites were Cinderella and Jasmine. It makes it easier for adults who bought us Christmas presents-they could buy us the same thing, like a hairbrush or toy, but make it unique for each of us by buying us each the version with the face of our favorite Princess plastered over the front.

I've mentioned these girls before, but in one family, in games of pretend we each assumed the roles of our token favorite Princesses-Cinderella, Ariel, and myself as Belle. But rather than waiting around to be rescued by our Princesses, most days we went on various adventures rescuing our Princes from our movie's villains.

For years now, my friend Christy has referred to my sister and her husband as Cinderella and Prince Charming, ever since seeing my sister in her wedding dress. Poor Tony now has the unfortunate title of "Beast" (I try to add that he's the transformed Prince, but the Beast is the enduring image of Belle's other half. Sorry, Tony :) ).

Children with siblings will often find other forms of differentiating themselves-favorite animal, superhero, etc., but with the availability of Disney products it's an easy way to distinguish ourselves. Although I'd rather be known now for my love of fairy tales in general, I can't say I mind too much when a sweet student gifts me with a Belle pen or sheet of stickers, just because they know I'm a fan.

Of course, many people think this phenomenon is potentially dangerous for young girls, and all I'll say in this post is that it's a complex issue.

Have you found, in your experience, that children do the same thing? How do you think it affects their play and sense of identity?


  1. Oooooh...I've been doing a LOT of thinking for this one. (By the way, is that a cucumber sandwich in that last pic? Oh well, back to topic)

    It seems that the Disney Princesses have become a "four humors" type phenomenon for girls, only with more personalities (and less bodily fluids...). Basically I'm just saying that girls look up to Disney princesses as a way to express themselves.

    What got me thinking, however, is when I saw this thing. It's a Disney Cruise service that lets girls dress up as princesses for a day.

    Marketing and self-image issues aside, I think that it's a cute way to get girls to have fun and relax (sort of like women at a spa). However, when I thought about it deeper, I realized that when girls dress up as princesses, they are doing it with the intent of pretending that they are princesses. In other words, the "princess" becomes their identity. And when you think about it, what does being a princess really mean?

    I think that our main worry about princesses stems from the fact that we treat it as a shallow title—as an excuse to just have parties and look pretty and do nothing else. But at its core, the Disney princesses aren't bad role models—in the movies, they (and I mean most of them) are quite brave, likable, and strong. As someone who grew up on Disney and know girls who have, I think that the actions of the girls (Belle’s sacrifice, Pocahontas’s courage, and Snow White’s kindness, just to name a few!) strike them just as much as the happily-ever-after aspects—and if these qualities helps them learn about growing up and how to be a good person, then I don’t think it’s a bad thing for girls to incorporate the “princess” into their personality.

    To me, saying that it’s wrong to like princess-y things is no better than saying that liking non-girly things is wrong. I would argue that it gets bad once you take that role to such an extreme that you expect it to actually “become” your life or forget the deeper meanings within it.

    I went off on an essay here again, but I think a lot about gender roles and how the things we like shape them and like writing about it. And I will also say that I was somewhat influenced, as I have heard similar arguments before I thought mine out. In case you’re interested, here’s a link to one of my favorite online entertainers who shares his own view of the idea I discussed (sorry for the language, if you're not into that!):

    1. Yes, yes, yes!! Mainly people seem to be worried about the passivity of the princesses, when really only a minority of Disney Princesses are that passive, because they've been really intentional since the 90s about giving us more modern, independent princesses.

      There's nothing wrong with liking dressing up-it's only wrong if we start judging people because they don't dress up (just like it's wrong to judge people just because they DO!). And you're right, the Princesses do show lots of admirable qualities too.

      In fact the video is really interesting and perfectly encapsulates some of the things I've been thinking about and writing about here! I'm going to use it for a future post!