Disney Exploring Independence and Identity
Feminism isn’t new for Disney. It’s been thrown around since the Disney Renaissance (1989-1999). Beauty and the Beast‘s Belle turned down the advances of the hyper-masculine, Gaston. The Little Mermaid’s Ariel went against the path set for her by her father. Both Pocahontas and Mulan literally prevented wars from happening yet it seems to be post-2010 when feminism becomes a major concern for Disney. It’s no accident that Moana and Frozen‘s Elsa have no love interests. In fact, both films include jokes that humour Disney Princess stereotypes: the animal sidekick and love at first sight, respectively.
Disney Animation and their films are a huge part of the entertainment industry in America. They influence and reach children through many avenues, not just with movies, but through clothing, games, and toys. Disney has been around for over 80 years, and during that time, they have played a role in how society displays gender roles. As modern culture goes through changes, Disney can also be seen making changes in the way they represent their characters, especially females. While looking specifically at Disney princesses, the depiction of females and their gender roles can be described in at least one of three ways. One, the original portrayal of Disney princesses is the stereotypical damsel-in-distress, and very domestic. This can be seen through Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. A second portrayal arose and shifted the roles of female characters to be seen as rebellious and ambitious. This picture can be seen through the characters of Ariel, Mulan, and Rapunzel. Lastly, a final shift has taken place and the female characters are portrayed as independent and free spirited. This type of depiction can be seen through seen through Merida, Anna and Elsa. Through different researches and literature reviews, including the movies themselves, Disney can be seen slowly making strides along with the surrounding culture and changing times in America. Once upon a time, in a not so far off place, a man named Walt Disney changed the way of fairy tales in a fantastic and ground-breaking way. From fairy tales to love stories, Disney has been a part of the lives of millions for over 80 years. The company started by a man and a mouse, has become the leader in animated movies. With being a huge part of the entertainment industry, they are compared to the surrounding culture and ideals that it represents. Disney has for many years been at battle with the public and their audience for being accused of portraying their characters, specifically females, in stereotypical ways. Gender roles and their connotations are a huge part of society, and can impact viewers in the way they compare themselves to the others around them. Media already has a substantial influence, portraying what is expected from society and social norms. Disney was chosen because through its history, the roles of men and women pictured in their films have mirrored the cultural perspective and beliefs of social norms and expectations on gender roles and identity. Disney, therefore, becomes a great illustration and representation of following cultural trends and developments. Also with that, Disney is a great way to follow the influence of views and expectations of behavioral norms linked with males and females.
Through the physical representations of these new princesses, Disney has yet to alter typical beauty standards. They briefly tried to change them with Merida, but blurred the final message due to the alteration of her appearance in ads afterward. Many newspaper articles and bloggers discuss the concept of how all Disney princesses lack realistic bodily features. For example, an article in the Huffington Post scrutinizes how Disney princesses have extremely small waists (Sieczkowski, 2014). The journalist points out how many princesses have waists that are the same size as their necks. The article then examines princesses from all three eras and alters their waistlines to appear more realistic and send a healthier message (Sieczkowski, 2014). One online blogger gives her critique on what princesses from the first two eras would look like if they had realistic hair that is frizzy after waking up, wind-blown when standing outside, and/or wet after emerging from water. She shows stills from the films and then puts a more realistic image next to them representing what they should really look like (Brantz, 2015). Another blog discusses the extreme exaggeration of princesses’ eyes and juxtaposes them with more realistic and proportionate eye features. Only the first and second areas are examined, but the concept of them having unrealistic body features is a message present throughout all eras (Lewis, 2013). Clearly these issues are being discussed and journalists, bloggers, and viewers alike all are vying for a change in the way princesses are represented to fit a more realistic ideal.
Ultimately, the animals highlight the strength, determination, spunk, and perseverance of the women in these pieces by advocating for their respective protagonist. Society has evolved to the point that these figures are no longer necessary and I predict that strong figures will continue to appear in Disney productions. This research is important to consider when one considers the Disney princesses as positive role models for women. As I have evaluated, there is much evidence to indicate they are progressive images of women should be appreciated by modern audiences.
Lewis, Jen. (2013, October 31). If Disney princesses had normal size eyes.
Brantz, Loryn. (2015, January 26). If Disney princesses had realistic hair.
Saladino, Caitlin J. (2014). Long may she reign: A rhetorical analysis of gender expectations in Disney’s Tangled and Disney/Pixar’s Brave (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Sieczkowski, Cavan (2014, October 30). Disney princesses with realistic waistlines look utterly fabulous. The Huffington Post.