There’s been a lot of chatter about the article in Time, Are Disney Princesses Hurting Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem?
I have a lot of friends who cringe at the word “princess”, who smirk at the mention of “Prince Charming”, but me, I grew up wishing I was Cinderella. It’s not that I had a wicked stepmother. My mom is the most generous, loving, giving woman I’ve ever met. But the idea of scrawny, nerdy me with ribs poking out, giant glasses and a propensity to bump into and trip over everything in sight possibly having someone fall in love with me? Well that sounded too good to be true, but awfully nice to dream about.
Disney princesses are not evil. They’re fantasy. And, I find them quite inspiring. Some of the princesses in question were originally published in a book in 1812 by the brothers Grimm. Disney’s Snow White released back in 1937. If you’re concerned about how women are portrayed in these classic tales, take a moment to consider other media put out in those years and how women were depicted; consider the culture they were released in. But if there is anything in a Disney movie, or any movie for that matter, that goes against your beliefs or values, you have a choice. You get to choose if you or your family watches. And once you make that choice, you have a responsibility to act upon that choice. Parents, you can’t just pop in the DVD and disappear. You need to watch these movies with your kids and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, the lessons learned. There are some kick butt princesses out there—Merida from Brave, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, and Rapunzel from Tangled with her frying pan as a weapon and her decision to chop her locks and go brunette. These girls are way more recent than 1959’s Sleeping Beauty and much stronger and independent, as well. You might be sick of hearing “Let it Go,” but Elsa wanted nothing to do with a prince. She was fighting the battle of trying to please others, of her own self-doubts and insecurities. And her sister, Anna, learned that the real man of her dreams was not the apparently charming royalty, but the somewhat clumsy, singing-to-reindeer, ice merchant guy who loves her for who she is. Not bad lessons, these. Even older classics like Cinderella impress the value of good friends (Jacques and Gus), the idea we should never give up, and the concept of an amazing man rescuing us, which sounds a lot like Jesus to me. And that is someone to put my hope in.
The truth is, parents are responsible for guiding their children through all of their media choices, not just Belle and Ariel. And as we grow older, we are also responsible for our own media consumption. Fifteen minutes into The Wolf of Wallstreet as an adult and I had to turn it off. Maybe you loved it. Leo is an amazing actor and Scorsese one of the best filmmakers. But I couldn’t stomach the demoralization and objectification of women in the opening scenes. To me those fifteen minutes were capable of way more damage to a girl’s perception of what she’s supposed to look like and how she’s supposed to be treated than a lifetime of watching Beauty and the Beast. Ask yourself if you were more affected by reading a Disney picture book about Pocahontas every day after Kindergarten or 50 Shades of Gray as an adult? As a writer, I am a proponent of freedom of speech and of artistic expression. Artists should use their God-given gift of creativity to express themselves, to entertain, to make a statement. It is up to us to decide what media we feel is safe for our families and ourselves to consume. And that decision is personal and individual.
If Cinderella’s not your girl, you might like Mulan, the story of a young Chinese woman who becomes one of the greatest warriors in the Asian empire. Just like we have the right to freedom of speech in America, we also have the freedom to choose. So choose wisely for yourself and your family. If the media you’re consuming hardens your heart, goes against your core values, is something you turn off or shut down when someone else enters the room, reconsider. Choose music that inspires you and makes you dance. Choose shows that make you laugh, give you goosebumps, or teach you something new. Choose books that make you think and cry and hope and dream. Choose movies that do the same. And whether you’re selecting media for your children or for yourself be intentional about your choices.
I grew up longing for a Prince Charming, hoping one day The Perfect Guy would sweep me off my feet and change everything. After countless unhealthy relationships I was blessed to marry the man of my dreams, but my awesome husband can’t be perfect. He’s human after all. But there is a Perfect Guy for me, and for you, but that guy, is Jesus. That idea imprinted on me as a girl dreaming of being Cinderella, that someday, somehow, someone would rescue me, was real. Someone would. Someone did. I just didn’t understand my Prince was the Prince of Peace. I certainly don’t blame Disney for my misunderstanding. If anything it cemented my desire to be rescued, so when Jesus did rescue me, I craved it, I grabbed His hand and let Him take me away from my old life and into my new.
What are your thoughts on princesses old and new and how they shape our views? Do you have a favorite princess?
Laura L. Smith