Over the past few years, Disney has begun to introduce a group of new non-traditional princesses to its classic lineup. From The Princes and the Frog’s hard-working leading lady Tiana, to fearless voyager Moana, to Mulan who saved the entire country of China, Disney has offered young girls who may not be into the traditional style of princesses a set of courageous, independent role models to look up to.
Most of us, on the other hand, probably grew up on Disney’s classic princess movies like Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid that portrayed a very different type of princess than that of modern films. With the trend that newer princess movies are shifting toward, such classics are becoming frowned upon for supposedly teaching girls to be nothing but damsels in distress who need saving by a man. While these movies may have flaws, calling their leading ladies “damsels in distress” is quite frankly unfair.
March is Women’s History Month–a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women to society throughout history. What makes this month so great is that it doesn’t celebrate one type of woman. Rather, it celebrates women of all different talents, strengths and abilities who have used their own unique gifts to leave their mark on the world.
As we celebrate the achievements of such women, we have to be aware that the idea of empowering women is about helping women recognize their individual strengths in order to succeed. There is no mold that women are required to fit into in order to be considered strong.
Disney’s new style of princess is absolutely wonderful, and each one has shown young girls the importance of finding their strengths. If we’re going to examine Disney’s fictional women from a perspective of female empowerment, though, we can’t ignore the fact that its classic princesses are more than damsels in distress. They are role models in their own unique ways.
My favorite Disney movie of all time is easily The Little Mermaid, which is why it is extra disheartening to me when people describe Ariel as a whiny teenager who threw everything away for a man. The means by which she obtained her legs were certainly not the best, but Ariel is far more than a love-obsessed child. She teaches us perseverance.
Ariel knows exactly what she wants: to walk on land like humans do. Everyone around her belittles her dreams and tells her she belongs under the sea, but Ariel refuses to let that stop her from following her heart. She doesn’t wait around for happiness to find her; she chases after it when the opportunity arises. In the end, she gets her legs, she falls in love and she earns her happy ending.
Ariel shows us the importance of pursuing our dreams and ignoring the voices that try to discourage us from pursuing them.
Cinderella is often reduced to being nothing but a bland princess defined by the fact that she fell in love with a man she just met (and lost her shoe along the way). To view her this way ignores everything that makes her so special.
Cinderella is a victim of awful circumstances beyond her control–circumstances that could easily have turned her into a resentful, cynical individual. She becomes the opposite, though. Throughout the movie, Cinderella remains unwavering in kindness toward her step-mother and step-sisters and hopefulness that someday her dreams will come true. To see a light in such darkness and to never let go of that light shows remarkable strength.
In the 2015 live-action remake of Cinderella, Cinderella lives by a phrase spoken to her by her mother: have courage, and be kind. Those words define who she is. She teaches us resilience.
Of all of Disney’s princesses, the company’s first seems to be the least popular among people who see her as a poor role model for young girls. Like Cinderella, Snow White falls in love with an unknown prince, but that is hardly what defines her. Snow White has to escape from a step-mother who attempts to have her killed, and she subsequently finds herself in a frightening, unknown territory.
Despite all of this, Snow is a beacon of optimism. She makes the best of her situation and her seven new friends as she speaks of filling the world with sunshine. Snow does not seek vengeance on the woman who hurt her, but she embraces happiness in what she has found.
Snow White shows us the power of remaining optimistic in difficult times.
In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is seen as an outcast by the people of her town because her intelligence makes her different from them. Despite their remarks, she carries herself with dignity and holds her head high. Her journey ultimately leads her to a castle inhabited by a cursed prince-turned-beast. After courageously taking her father’s place in eternal imprisonment and standing up to the Beast, Belle begins to show us why she exemplifies compassion.
Instead of treating the Beast awfully as most people would have, Belle is both patient with him and kind to him. She knows what it feels like to be an outcast, so she is able to easily empathize with him. Belle discovers that there is more to the Beast than meets the eye. She does not see him for his outward appearance, but she loves him for who he is despite what makes him different. In the end, she changes the Beast’s life with her compassion.
Belle teaches us compassion and the profound impact that it can have on the world.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we are celebrating the fact that women are most empowered when they are given the opportunity to use their talents to the best of their ability–when they are able to be the most authentic version of themselves. There is no standard for what is considered “empowered.”
Despite popular belief, Disney has been empowering women through its princesses since the release of Snow White. Throughout the years, it has given girls a lineup of diverse, unique role models to look up to. There is a princess for everyone, from those who desire to be compassionate above all, to those who desire to be fearless. Though the classic princesses and newer princesses are strikingly different, they share one thing in common: they made their dreams come true. They teach us that we should all find our strengths and use those strengths to leave our mark on the world.