The Princess Complex: Has Disney Changed Our Perceptions of Beauty?



By Danielle James


(A news analysis)


Big eyes and tiny waists; the Disney princess formula.


Disney is a titan of media. It owns or has at least some power in six different movie studios, nine television channels, including ABC and ESPN network, and control over two hundred radio stations. Then there are the theme parks, the cruise line, the merchandise, the stores, the vacation resorts, the hotels, and the Broadway productions. Disney’s influence on the world is intense and widespread.


Many college-aged students grew up watching Disney films, and Chapman students especially have a connection to Disneyland given the ten-mile distance from campus to the Happiest Place on Earth.  


Tracey Hartsock, a Chapman alumna and Disney employee, said, “Princesses are the collective type of person that young girls are first introduced to. Disney princesses have become the standard of beauty in our society. When young girls come to Disneyland, their families spend upwards of hundreds of dollars to pamper their daughters and make them feel as if they really are Princess So-and-So.”


There isn’t much diversity among the Disney princesses, teaching girls from a very young age that this singular form of a princess is the highest and most appreciated standard of beauty. Only four of the princesses are not Caucasian. Not a single princess looks bigger than a size two. And every single one of them gets a happy ending, usually with the prince of their dreams.


“Growing up watching Disney movies, I believed I was Disney princess for the majority of my childhood, and then that perfect world I created in my head came crashing down when I realized that life is not as perfect as the films make it seem,” said Taylor Dwyer, a junior history major.


One of the major concerns with the Disney princesses is their shared extremely thin physique. In Disney’s most recent blockbuster, Frozen, critics were in a fury over the fact that the film’s charming heroine, Princess Anna, had bigger eyes than she did wrists.


A recent Buzzfeed article written by Lauren Brant entitled “ If Disney Princesses Had Realistic Waistlines” garnered a lot of attention for its portrayal of the princesses as size 8-10 women instead of size 0-2 women. The sub-headline read “ Healthier waistlines for them and a healthier self-esteem for us growing up.”


Dwyer added, “The princesses’ waistlines definitely gave me some serious body dismorphia issues.”


In January 2014, a high school junior from Virginia named Jewel Moore launched a petition to get plus-sized princesses into Disney films. As of December 1, 2014, the petition had 37, 169 signatures. In her description of the petition, she said, “It would be revolutionary for Disney to show support to girls who are otherwise horrendously bullied by the media.”


Disney ranks number 34 out of the DiversityInc Top 50 companies. The company has an executive diversity council that meets quarterly and twelve employee resource groups that are used for diversity in their recruitment and marketing strategies. But when will these diversity initiatives apply to their films?


Disney has made more efforts to diversify the Disney princess line, with princesses of different ethnicities being introduced, such as Jasmine, Mulan, and Tiana, but is that enough?


Kristen Pedley, a senior integrated education studies major, said, “Even those with the darkest skin are portrayed with the lightest shade possible in their illustrations. Also, all the princesses are usually dressed very extravagantly. This teaches girls that they need to value their appearance and that this is the only way to look beautiful and desirable.”


How can a bunch of princesses created to entertain young girls still leave an impression on college students?


A study conducted at Florida Southern College analyzed college students’ reactions to Disney’s six most “highly marketed and recognized princesses”: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine. When asked their opinion on the appearances of the princesses, some of the responses included, “I like Ariel. She’s a redhead. She looks good in a bikini,” “They’re all thin,” “Very desirable,” and “They’re like Barbie dolls.”


These responses came from both male and female college students. This distorted ideal of beauty is introduced to young girls and boys early on in their lives, making girls believe they have to be thin and look good in a bikini to appeal to men and making men believe that the only women worthy of their love and affection have to be like Barbie dolls.  


Belle taught girls that being smart and independent is admirable. Tiana taught girls to keep pursuing your dreams no matter what life throws at you. Anna and Elsa taught young girls that sometimes the love you need in life doesn’t come from romantic engagements.

All of theses are admirable and necessary qualities to teach young women, but the question is, are these traits being overpowered by the lack of diversity displayed by the Disney princess line?

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