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Positive Mostly Princess Role Models for Girls and Tweens
Our 13 Favorite Female Character Role Models
Merida, the latest Disney Princess who is breaking molds about what it means to be a princess, got me thinking about which of the Princesses (if any) have been good role models for young girls.
So along with my daughters, a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old, we set out to take a look at our favorite princesses from the new movies we've seen, or the older movies I've shared with them.
The list is limited to mostly princesses, since many of the main female movie roles are princesses.
We also looked at the Disney Princess franchise that started with Snow White in 1937 and has grown to ten princesses over the years. Merida is supposed to join as the eleventh Disney Princess, but as some have pointed out she is more of an anti-princess than a true princess. Perhaps Merida, as did some of her predecessors on the list, is helping to redefine what is means to be a "princess."
Read through our list of positive princess role models and see if you agree or disagree with our favorite princesses and a few extras.
After you read through the list, be sure to vote for your favorite positive princess role model.
Image by Kirsti A. Dyer created using Alexiofx's Crown and Squidoo's Algae Theme. If you want to read why I selected a blue theme for this lens (and not princess pink), look at the bottom of the page.
Classic Disney Princesses
Growing up with Disney Princesses
I grew up with the original Disney Princesses: Snow White 1937, Cinderella 1950 and Aurora or Sleeping Beauty 1959. These were the only Disney Princesses until Ariel showed up in The Little Mermaid in 1989.
The message was pretty clear with all of the early princesses that you had to wait for a prince to come a rescue you and then you would live happily ever after. These Princesses spent a lot of time waiting for their prince to come and rescue them, two even fell asleep, only to be awakened by true love's kiss.
Over the years we've seen other Princesses added to the Disney line of Princesses with Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel and now Merida. Slowly what it means to be a princess has been changing and evolving, so today's princesses are doing more and being more independent than just waiting to be rescued by a prince.
Many are empowered women taking care of themselves and not waiting for the prince to do it. It is this new message from the new princess role models, that I want my daughters to emulate, not the older one.
Top Positive Role Model Princesses + One
The list is one that I came up with input my two daughters 12 and 10 based on the movies that we all have seen and the ones that have impressed them the most. They are by no means perfect characters and some still have character flaws, but most strong role models do.
The Princesses are listed in the order of the films that they were introduced were released. In two cases (Mia and Fiona) they are better role models in later films that the earlier ones.
- Belle - 1991
- Pocahontas - 1995
- Mulan - 1998
- Danielle - 1998
- Mia - 2001 (2004)
- Ella - 2004
- Fiona - 2001 (2007)
- Giselle - 2007
- Tiana - 2009
- Alice - 2010
- Rapunzel - 2010
- Snow White - 2012
- Merida - 2012
Disney Princesses (Missing Merida)
The official Disney Princess line up (Minus Merida)
Snow White, Pocahantas, Belle, Cinderella, Rapunzel,
Tiana, Aurora, Jasmin, Ariel, and Mulan
Only 1/2 of the Disney Princesses made our list of Role Models
Image from Disney
Debate Princesses as Role Models
What do you think about Princess Characters as Role Models?
Belle - 1991
Belle - Princess by Marriage
Belle does not start out as a Princess. She becomes one by falling in love with the Beast, who is actually an enchanted Prince.
For us, Belle is the start of a shift for Disney Princesses. She loves to read, goes against everyone else's wishes and rejects the advances of the local 'hunk,' saves her father by becoming a prisoner and ultimately fall in love with a Beast. She does end up with a prince at the end when her love 'saves' him from dying.
12-year-old - Belle is a positive female character because she was always reading books, plus she said no to Gaston when women didn't usually say no. She was also rarely afraid with the Beast, more just frustrated.
10-year-old - Belle is a great role model for girls, because she rejected the 'heart throb' of her town, she is a bookworm, and she looked past the Beast's ghastly looks and saw what was on the inside of him.
Beauty and the Beast - 1991
The story of how an enchanted prince who is changed into a Beast. In order to break the spell he must find a young woman to love him as a Beast.
Pocahontas - 1995
Pocahontas - Native American Princess
Pocahontas is a Native American Princess, or a princess by birth because her father is a Native American Chief. Pocahontas was another one of the princesses that topped my daughters' list of positive role models. She goes against the wishes of her father, who wants her to marry one of the brave warriors to forge her own path.
Ultimately she falls in love with the white settler John Smith and saves his life, but decides that her place is to remain in America with her people rather than returning with him to England. She is the first princess to not end up with a prince and for this reason ends up on many of the lists of top princess role models.
12-year-old - Pocahontas saved John Smith's life by throwing herself in front of him to prevent him from getting stabbed. She also spent most of her time jumping off of waterfalls, exploring, and being a free spirit.
10-year-old - Pocahontas is an amazing role model for girls, because she saves her Native American Village from British Men and she saves John Smith. Also, she is not afraid to be herself.
Pocahontas - 1995
The fictional Disney story of the historical person Pocahontas. This story tells of the free-spirited Pocahontas, her meeting with the European settlers and their adventures.
The musical scores and song "Colors of the Wind" won Oscars in 1995 (Best Original Musical Score, Best Original Song).
Mulan - 1998
Mulan - A Chinese Hero
Mulan does not start become a princess, she is the daughter of a warrior. After stumbling with the matchmaker in being suitable for a match, she spends most of the film a masquerading as a man and fighting to help save China from invasion. Ultimately marries a high-raking officer in the Chinese army, not a prince.
So for some reason that I don't understand even though she isn't a princess, she is considered one of the official Disney Princesses.
12-year-old - Mulan went into the army in place of her father. She also made the 'bad guy' Shan Yu into a firework at a Chinese festival. After defeating the Huns she got a medal from the emperor for saving the country's butt, proving that she was as good as the guys.
10-year-old - Mulan is a very courageous role model. Her father stepped into his place in the Chinese army, dressed as a male. She defeated the evil Hun and got a medal from the emperor for saving the country. She didn't marry a prince, she married a Chinese warrior.
Mulan was one of the first that my daughters' both mentioned when I asked them about positive princess role models. She also tops many of the lists of top role model and top feminist Disney princesses.
Mulan - 1998
A Disney version of the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan a young girl who masquerades as a man to take the place of her elderly father to join the Chinese army. The story focuses on her adventures in helping to save China from the Huns.
Danielle - 1998
Danielle - Princess by Marriage
Ever After: A Cinderella Story is one of my absolute favorite empowered Princess stories. Danielle is an empowered young woman who takes on her stepmother and the wealthy landowner, and rescues herself and the prince. My favorite scene is when Danielle rescues her prince by outwitting several bandits and carrying him away on her back.
Her one line when she enters the ballroom has become my mantra during challenging times. The simple reminder to "Breathe."
12-year-old - I was very young when seeing this, but I remember that Danielle saved the prince's butt and carried him off to safety on a horse. I also remember that she stabbed the landowner she was sold to as his bride.
10-year-old - Doesn't remember the movie.
It has been a while since we watched the film, so once we do I'll get updated reviews.
Ever After: A Cinderella Story - 1998
A retelling of the Cinderella story in Renaissance France with a more modern twist as Danielle stands up to her stepmother, beats the odds, saves the prince and ultimately marries him.
In this version of the Cinderella tale, Leonardo da Vinci is in the position of the fairy godmother and we discover that Danielle is his inspiration for the Female Head, La Scapigliata.
Mia - 2001 (2004)
Mia Thermopolis - Princess of Genovia
Mia Thermopolis starts off as an ordinary, pretty awkward and geeky girl, but discovers that she is a princess by birth. The first film centers around turning her into a believable Princess of Genovia.
She really comes unto her own during the second film, when she spends much of the movie looking for a suitable suitor to become queen fulfill a Genovian law that requires her to be married. Ultimately she proposes that the law on royal marriages be abolished and she is crowned queen of Genovia, without being married, but she does end up with Lord Nicholas Devereaux (played by Chris Pine in his debut role).
12-year-old - Mia didn't want to be a princess with the fancy crowns and such. She wanted to be an average teenager and stay under the radar instead of attracting paparazzi.
10-year-old - Mia is a great role model, because she started as a geeky teenager and turns into a Princess. She wants to be Queen, but she doesn't want to have to marry some one. She isn't always proper and isn't afraid to have a little fun.
Princess Diaries - 2001 & 2004
The Princess Diaries Royal Engagement is when Mia comes on her own by eventually calling to repeal the law that requires her to be married to serve as Queen. With the law repealed she is crowned Amelia Migonette Thermopolis Renaldi, Queen of Genovia.
Ella - 2004
Ella - Princess by Marriage
Ella is another twist on the Cinderella story, where the poor girl who has been given the 'gift' of obedience learns to contend with an 'evil' step mother and mean step sisters to become an independent young woman.
Not one of the fan of the Prince Charmont Fan Club, she ultimately triumphs to win the heart of the prince, but not after having several adventures with him along the way including outwitting his evil uncle Edgar (played by Princess Bride alum Cary Elwes).
12-year-old - Ella from Ella Enchanted saved a dwarf's butt. She also fought with the prince against an evil army.
10-year-old - Ella is an outstanding role model, because she saves the prince, believes in herself to get rid of a curse on her, and she battles evil people and creatures.
Loosely based on the book Ella Enchanted, this movie is another twist on the Cinderella tale. In this we follow Ella from the Kingdom of Frell, who as a baby is given the gift of obedience.
As with Shrek, Ella Enchanted includes many modern comic references, like casting Princess Bride's Cary Elwes as a bad guy.
Fiona - 2001 (2007)
Fiona - Princess of Far, Far Away
Fiona is first introduced in the Shrek film as the real princess who has been locked away and must be rescued.
My favorite Shrek film with Fiona is Shrek the Third, where Fiona and her band of princesses (with some help from the Queen) ultimately overcome their 'typical" princess roles to save Shrek and the day. I laughed at the scene when the princesses "assumed the position" waiting to be rescued.
12-year-old - Fiona was the butt-kicking ogre princess that saved the day many times in the Shrek movies 1-4.
Fiona and Princesses - They started off in a dungeon, waiting for their princes to come rescue them, then Fiona motivated them to bust out of the prison themselves. They also made their way from the prison to the castle all by themselves.
10-year-old - Fiona is a very good role model for girls, because she fights evil things to win back her lovely kingdom. Also, she is a great mother.
Fiona and the Princesses- Are good role models, because they fight evil things to win back their kingdom of Far Far Away.
Fairy Tale Princesses - Waiting to be Rescued
Snow White: Right! Ladies, assume the position!
[Sleeping Beauty then falls asleep
Snow White lies down in her coffin pose
Cinderella seats on the floor and gazes dreamily into space]
Princess Fiona: What are you doing?
Sleeping Beauty: [Snaps awake] Waiting to be rescued.
[Then falls back asleep]
Memorable Quotes from Shrek the Third
Fiona Leading the Princesses
Fiona with the Princesses
Cinderella, Snow White, Fiona, Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty
Image from Dreamworks, Shrek the Third
Snow White Leads the Attack in Shrek the Third
In this short clip from Shrek the Third uploaded by miroslavress you get an idea of just how empowered the Princesses have become.
Shrek the Third is the film where Fiona really comes on her own and leads a band of fairy tale princesses to save Shrek and the Kingdom.
Giselle - 2007
Giselle - Princess Want-to-Be
Giselle starts off as a typical princess want-to-be from Andalasia. She figures that she is going to marry her prince find true love and live happily ever after.
Instead by the end of the movie she does find love, but is it with an ordinary man, a divorce attorney who does not believe in love. By the end of the movie Giselle does not end up being a princess (someone else does), except she does get to play a princess the King's and Queen's Costume Ball in NYC.
What is interesting with Giselle is that she grows and matures during the movie. She starts being a true princess cartoon character looking for her happily ever after, but then turns into a 'real girl' or more appropriately a real woman who learns what it is like to feel angry, to know heartache and to find love with a regular guy.
12-year-old - When her "prince" was taken off with the dragon lady, instead of running away, Giselle grabbed a sword and started climbing up the empire state building where she ended up slaying the monster, along with the help of the chipmunk, Pip.
10-year-old -Giselle is an amazing role model, because she ditches the snooty prince for the nice man, slays the dragon, and becomes a Mother for the nice man's daughter.
I am really saddened that Giselle was not added as an official Disney Princess because she was a breath of fresh air at the time in 2007. Apparently the decision was made not to add Giselle, because they would have had difficulty getting life-long rights to the use image of Amy Adams as Giselle. (I didn't think the cartoon version looked much like her.)
Enchanted - 2007
A fun romantic comedy where we see what happens when cartoon fairy tale characters get turned into real live people in modern day New York City.
The film is an homage to past and future works of Disney, with thousands of references to Disney films, characters and actors.
This is one of my newer personal favorite films.
Tiana - 2009
Tiana - Princess by Marriage
Tiana became an instant role model because she was the first African American princess. Of course she didn't start out the film as a princess, she started as a regular working girl waitress with a dream to own her own restaurant in New Orleans. She gives girls the message that "The ONLY way to get what you want in this world is through hard work" as a contrast to the normal princess message.
Tiana is head-strong, practical, hardworking, goal oriented and independent. All good characteristics for young girls.
She discovers the hard way that sometimes when you kiss a frog, he doesn't turn into a prince and in this case, she ends up being turned into a frog herself. In the end, she falls in love with the frog and marries him, which turns her into a princess and breaks the spell.
12-year-old - Tiana is more of a hardworker instead of a butt kicker. She worked hard for every penny she needed to buy her resteraunt. But, in the end she smashed a necklace that had held the prince's blood and that somehow sent the bad guy to the underworld.
10-year-old - Tiana is one of the best role models, because she worked hard for her restaurant, made her prince less of a snooty prince, and she defeated the evil person.
Princess and the Frog - 2009
In the Princess and the Frog we meet Tiana, a waitress in New Orleans who dreams to open up a restaurant to bring people together. She is the first African-American Disney heroine who wishes, hopes and works to make her dreams come true.
The Princess and the Frog was Disney's return to traditional animation.
Alice - 2010
Alice Kingsleigh - A Champion
Alice Kingsleigh, from Alice in Wonderland, isn't a princess, but she becomes the White Queen's Champion, kills the Jabberwocky and saves Underland (the actual name of Wonderland) from the clutches of the Red Queen.
Alice starts off the movie as a young girl questioning whether to go through with an engagement to an English Lord. In Underland she becomes the knight that saves the kingdom and ultimately by the end of the film decides her own fate, does not marry the "prince" telling everyone "This is my life. I'll decide what to do with it."
In the film Alice grows into a strong, empowered woman who decided her own fate in Underland and also in her own above ground land becoming the apprentice of Lord Ascot instead of his daughter-in-law.
12-year-old - Alice did many heroic deeds. First, she confronted the Bandersnatch instead of running away. She also went inside the Bandersnatch's shed to retrieve the Vorpal sword, which she used to slay the Jabberwocky. She also said no to Hamish's marriage proposal.
10-year-old - Alice is a spectacular role model, because she ditched the guy and slayed the Jaberwocky. Also, she had so much confidence.
We included Alice in Wonderland on the list because she is such a strong positive role model for young girls and she is a Disney character.
Alice in Wonderland - 2010
Tim Burton's fantastical interpretation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland or more appropriately Underland. Filled with imaginative characters and amazing computer generated sets it is truly an adventure.
One of my favorite recent movies, Alice in Wonderland has already become a classic.
Rapunzel - 2010
Rapunzel - Princess of Corona
Rapunzel is a princess by birth, who gets stolen and imprisoned in a tower by Mother Gothel. Perhaps one of the 'spunkiest' princesses, Rapunzel is able to fight with her wits, her hair and is also pretty good with a frying pan.
She follows her heart (or in this cases her lanterns) finds her true family and doesn't end up with a prince, rather a change-of-heart bandit who she marries in Tangled Ever After.
12-year-old - Rapunzel knocked Flynn Rider out cold with a frying pan in order to prove to her "mom" that she can take care of herself, which she didn't do. She also saved Flynn and herself's life with her magical glowing hair.
10-year-old - Rapunzel is a great role model, because she follows her heart, doesn't marry a prince, and defeats the bad person.
Tangled - 2010
Tangled is a fun new take on the classic Rapunzel with a twist as she escapes her tower with the help of a bandit.
The scene with the lanterns being released is breath-taking and amazing as a 3-D effect.
Snow White x 2 - 2012
Snow White - Princess by Birth (Mirror Mirror)
Snow White is a princess by birth who must take on her step mother. In Mirror Mirror, she joins a group of dwarf highwaymen, becomes one of the bandits and initially fights off her prince demonstrating that she is good wielding a sword.
Like the original Snow White, this versions is also very kind and loving to everyone, showing concern for the people who have been unfairly treated in her Kingdom. These are good attributes for a future queen and also good ones for young girls to emulate.
12-year-old - She stood up to the monster in the forest, which (adds a twist to the story).
10-year-old - Snow White is a great role model, because she saves her land, defeats the queen, and gets her father back(without killing him).
Mirror Mirror - 2012
In Mirror Mirror the Snow White Legend comes alive. In this more comical look at the tale of Snow White, Snow White must deal with a wicked step mother, played by Julia Roberts.
When she gets banished from the Kingdom, Snow White with the help of seven bandit dwarfs to reclaim the kingdom.
The kingdom and the costumes in Mirror Mirror are visually stunning in a bright color palate.
Snow White - Princess by Birth (Huntsman)
Snow White in "Snow White and the Huntsman" must also fight her stepmother, which is this film is a menacing, heartless character portrayed by Charlize Theron. This Snow White is a quick thinker, learns how to stand up for herself and fight along side of the men. She dons armor, looking like Joan of Arc (or Alice in Wonderland) to lead her followers in the final battle scene.
She ultimately becomes queen, but does not end up with the Prince (who is actually the son of a Duke in this version) takes on a lesser role in this film. We are left wondering at the end of the film if there will be some romance with the Huntsman in a sequel, which would be another break in tradition. Snow White ending up with the Huntsman rather than the Prince.
12-year-old - First of all, Snow White ran from the Evil Queen to avoid her heart being eaten. She also lead an army to the Evil Queen's castle where she stabbed the Evil Queen and therefore, ending her reign of evil.
10-year-old - Snow White is an amazing role model, because she defeats the evil queen by herself and doesn't marry anyone.
Snow White and the Huntsman - 2012
Snow White and the Huntsman is a much darker look at the Snow White tale, based on the original Grimm's fairy tale rather than the Disney interpretation.
The kingdom and costumes created for Snow White and the Huntsman are also visually appealing, but in a darker color palate than Mirror Mirror.
This film is the most intense of the ones reviewed and may be better viewed by older children. My 10 year old was a bit concerned about the trailers, but did fine watching the movie.
Merida - 2012
Merida - Princess of Clan DunBroch
Merida is a princess by birth, the first born of the Clan DunBroch. She defies tradition, wins her own hand in marriage and decides that it is better to let the youth fall in love on their own, rather than with a competition or any arrangement.
Merida is Pixar's first female lead and another Disney Princess to add to the Disney Princess line, although is the first princess not to have a prince featured in the film, instead she has three pretty unworthy and unskilled clan suitors. She is a princess who does not marry a prince by the end of the film.
12-year-old - Merida isn't the typical Disney princess. She'd rather be outside on her horse Anges than looking for a prince. Merida stood up to this huge bear with only a sword. Even though her mom killed the bad bear, Merida stilled saved her mom, so she technically is the heroine.
10-year-old - Merida is my favorite role model, becuase she is smart, independent, and does anything to get her mother back.
Brave is also a great film for mothers and daughters as a way of potentially being a teachable moment as both explore the often complex relationship.
Vote for Your Favorite Princess
If your favorite princess is not on the list, be sure to add her in the comments.
Who is your favorite Princess Role Model?
Question about Princesses as Role Models
Cinderella Both Inspires and "Eats" Daughters
More Thoughts on Princess as Role Models
- What's Wrong With Cinderella? | NYTimes
"Princess," as some Disney execs call it, is not only the fastest-growing brand the company has ever created; they say it is on its way to becoming the largest girls' franchise on the planet.
- Is Princess Merida Of 'Brave' Disney's Best Female Role Model? (OPINION)
Merida from "Brave" is not your typical Disney princess. Pixar's first female protagonist may be beautiful, but she is not in any way dreaming of her prince to come.
- Disney princesses are not the role models they appear to be - Commentary
There are arguably six classic Disney princesses. Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle and Jasmine comprise the heroines of the animated films considered favorites by little girls everywhere. But what are these female leads teaching the child
- Disney Princesses: Positive Role Models for Young Girls?
With the proliferation of Disney Princess movies, costumes, and merchandise, it begs the question: Are these cherished Disney heroines truly representing the values we wish to teach our children?
- A Confused Take That Fan: A Positive Princess Role Model
We took a small group of her friends to the Cinema to see The Princess and the Frog. At last a Princess who wasn't all about being saved by her Prince! The main moral of the film was that hard work is what leads to success.
- Disney Princesses - Role Models for Young Girls? - Disney Princess - Fanpop
Fanpop original article: Are Disney Princesses good role models for young girls?
- 7 Disney Princesses That Make the Worst Role Models
The Princesses in Disney films are some of the most popular characters in the world. Little girls everywhere have at one time or another wanted to grow up to be one of the princess...
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- Which Disney Princess is the Best Role Model for Little Girls? - Yahoo! Voices - voices.yahoo.com
Which Disney Princess is the best role model for little girls? As a father of a three-year-old daughter, I have devoted a lot of time to this question over the past year.
- Girl power: Children's movies starring strong female characters - SFGate
Merida, the spunky heroine with a messy mop of burnt orange curls atop her head, is like a breath of fresh air. She's the star of Pixar's new Brave, and unlike so many female protagonists in children's films she's not a prissy, pink-wearing princess
- Disney Princesses As Role Models | Editorials
Many people see Disney princesses as negative role models for girls because of each story's happy ending; however, I would not agree.
- Ranked: Disney Princesses From Least To Most Feminist | Nerve.com
Brave is a Pixar movie, and its heroine, Merida, is a fairy-tale feminist. Disney princesses for the most part, are not. Most need to be rescued by their male love interests; almost all the Disney Princess movies end in marriage or engagement.
- Disney Princesses As Strong Women | The Love In Her Eyes
I saw something on Pinterest today that really bothered me. Someone made an image with the classic Disney Princesses on it and called it Disney Fail. It told how chauvinistic it all was and that the only appealing attribute of the women was their sex
- Disney Princesses, Deconstructed - Sociological Images
Jeff Brunner put together this analysis of the evolution of the Disney princess.
- Does "Brave Workout" Contradict Cartoon's Positive Role Model? | GeekDad | Wired.com
The Internet is abuzz with Brave, the new fantasy-fairy tale animated movie from Pixar and Disney that opens nationwide on Friday. Much ballyhooed is the fact that it's the first feature cartoon from Pixar with a strong female lead.
- La Femme Critique: Brave | Noise Shark Media
This is a toughy, guys, I'm not gonna lie. I'm of two minds about Brave, the Disney/Pixar animated film featuring Pixar's firstÂ female protagonist, Princess Merida.
The Great Princess Debate
LilMissDiscord shares her thoughts on the great Disney Princess debate.
Books on Media's Impact on Children
More from Common Sense Media
Mulan, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, Rapunzel from Tangled and Danielle from Ever After make the list of "Best Smart Movie Girls on Common Sense Media.
- Why Media Role Models Matter | Common Sense Media
As parents, we have a natural instinct to choose who we want our kids to be friends with -- and who we'd rather they not hang around. The same instinct kicks in for media role models.
- Tips for Battling Stereotypes | Common Sense Media
Advice from Common Sense Media editors. Help your kids identify and see through media generalizations.
- Best Smart Movie Girls
Common Sense Media editors help you choose best smart movie girls. Gems with strong, clever, or otherwise awesome heroines.
Why a Blue Theme for the Page?
Perhaps the more appropriate question would be why didn't I choose princess pink as the theme for this page and instead went with blue, or an aqua-teal color for a page about Princesses.
Since the topic of the page is positive role models, I wanted to pick a color that was pretty without being the princess pink promoted by so much of the princess merchandise. Aqua blue and the Algae theme worked well and was a unique color for princesses.
The focus for the princess role models was to emphasize characteristics and attributes that the princesses possessed rather than their physical beauty and 'pinkness.'
Image by Kirsti A. Dyer adapted from Alexiofx's Crown.
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Is there anyone else that should be added to the list of role model princesses?