I grew up watching all of the classic princess movies — Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, Pocahontas, Aladdin… Thinking back, I probably dressed up as a princess most Halloweens. I’d eagerly tug on my mom’s sleeve whenever we walked near the Disney store at our local mall so that we could go in and join the numerous other squealing little girls in exploring the plethora of sparkling Disney merchandise surrounding us. And yet, my favorite color throughout the years has constantly been blue, I’ve always hated the color pink, and I even went through a “tom-boy” stage of wearing my baseball caps backwards. However, according to Peggy Orenstein, contributing writer for The New York Times, my exposure to such princess promotion should have molded me into a typical girlie-girl concerned with image and people-pleasing. In her article “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?”, Orenstein claims that films such as “The Little Mermaid” engrain a negative obsession over “body and beauty” that poses danger to young girls’ mental and physical health. She further proclaims that “Cinderella” is yet merely another one of Disney’s “symbol[s] of the patriarchal oppression of all women.”
Personally, I simply enjoyed watching the movies for their magical allure and entertaining story lines.
Yes, Orenstein was right in saying that “Cinderella doesn’t really do anything”, but is that something worth alarming over? While Cinderella wasn’t nearly as commanding a character as Disney’s modern leading ladies, she still exhibits virtuous characteristics. Though her wicked stepmother and stepsisters basically treat her as a slave in her own house, Cinderella remains hopeful that she will see better days and, most importantly, remains kind when it would be so much easier to give in to bitterness. While characters such as Cinderella were formulated based off of traditional 1950’s values and expectations, enjoying their movies doesn’t make a girl weak or dainty. Orenstein warns of the negative consequences of these princess films and merchandise that shape women with “conventionally feminine beliefs” who avoid using contraception. While it is improbable that every girl who watches princess movies will automatically turn into a pretty-in-pink wannabe, what’s wrong if a woman does hold such “conventionally feminine beliefs” or avoids using contraception? If those are individual decisions that were independently made by a woman, I don’t see a reason for worrying over them…
I DO, however, see a reason for concern over the “bad girl” stage that follows the princess era of a girl’s life. Orenstein describes how executives often incorporate more attitude and sass into their merchandise and promotions in order to appeal to the “big kids” and continue growing alongside the customer base. Club Libby Lu, for example, hosts makeover birthday parties for “tweens” at malls across the country. The store promotes rockstar and diva themes, dressing ten-year-olds in half-shirts and caking their faces with tacky make-up. While Club Libby Lu claims to foster a sense of “girl power”, they really are encouraging sexual appearance and behavior at an inappropriately young age. A concerned parent even said that her daughter’s friends where made to look like “little prostitutes.”
I say we should let little girls enjoy their childhood princess movies and focus more on cultivating positive behavior as they mature into young adults.