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The Cult of Disney Princesses

Updated on November 3, 2011

Lately it seems like almost every little girl goes through “the princess phase,” at least for a little while. The princess phase seems to evoke a huge range of reactions, from “adorable” “precious” to “expensive” and “pain in the behind.”

Some also worry that the whole princess thing is sending the wrong message to little girls, creating the idea that passivity is ideal, and that a woman’s worth is measured by good looks and how great she looks in a tiara.

Are Disney princesses some kind of cult waiting to take over the minds of otherwise strong and opinionated young girls, or is it a benign cultural obsession that will take its course?

The Disney Princess line was launched in 1999 to boost failing sales revenues.
The Disney Princess line was launched in 1999 to boost failing sales revenues. | Source

Active vs. Passive Heroines

When you take a look at Disney princesses, and even popular fairy tale characters, two distinct types emerge. On one side, there’s the passive heroines, the ones that embody goodness, beauty and charm, who do very little besides sit and wait for rescue or true love in the guise of prince charming. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella.

But then there’s all those “active” heroines, you know, the ones that actually do something! Princess Fiona from Shrek and Princess Mononoke (okay, not Disney), Ariel, Mulan, Pocahontes. Even Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

Are you seeing a trend here? Looks like the newer princesses actually do stuff. Sure, some of them keep their tiaras on while doing it, but it’s a far cry from sleeping away half the movie while the prince gets all the action.

Belle was always my favorite. Ball gown or no, she couldn't get her head out of a book.
Belle was always my favorite. Ball gown or no, she couldn't get her head out of a book. | Source

The Marketing Machine

My hope is that maybe the passive heroine is becoming a rather outdated concept. Strong female heroines are increasingly taking a more leading and active role, and that trend is likely to continue. It is true that the marketing geniuses at Disney one day decided that princesses were big, and voilee, the creation of an empire! (It’s called Disney Princess, a franchise company of the Walt Disney Company).

But even though princesses are likely to stick around for a while, there’s nothing to say that they need to be the meek and annoying drones of yester-year. In fact, one could argue that many of the newer princesses actually unsettle rather than reinforce existing gender stereotypes. Witness Fiona belching and eating fried river rat, or whatever it is she likes to chow down on.

The Disney Princess franchise logo.
The Disney Princess franchise logo. | Source

The Princess Legacy

My final thought is that, while I can’t help but be irritated by the whole cult of princesses, it’s a big eye-roller for me, I’m not sure that its really that detrimental. How much do these roles really do influence us? Sure, Cinderella and Snow White are pretty unempowering for women. I also loved them as a kid, so much that I asked my mother to make Cinderella my middle name.

Although the cult of princesses has quite thoroughly pervaded our modern day tradition of fairy tales, when I look around me, I do not see hordes of women living passive, inactive lives. As I look at the women just here on Hubpages for example, I'm sure many would confess to having some sort of princess experience growing up, but it doesn't seem to have done much damage at all. Are we the exception to the rule, or is it that Disney isn't quite as influential they’d like think? Or has the Princess stereotype been just one more negative image in the long list of things we've had to learn to overcome?

Princesses- Yea or Nay? Your Thoughts...

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    • profile image

      Riel Hishon 3 years ago

      Very interesting hub! Although the newly active heroines are definitely a much better image to be presenting to young girls (as opposed to the passive and helpless gender stereotype of women being enforced), I think that there are still some problems in terms of a lack of diversity being presented. I'm not sure about young girls now but when I was little I sooo badly wanted to be a princess and I think that that's quite common rhetoric for young girls, but it can be tough when no princesses look like you in terms of body size and/or skin colour...

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi ishwarya, thanks for stopping by! I agree, I think the newer Disney films do a much better job in their presentation of heroines, and I think its fantastic! I still have not seen Tangled, but its in my Netflix cue, I'm looking forward to it!

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 5 years ago from Chennai, India

      An engaging hub. I admit that I am a big fan of Disney Classic animated films and grew up watching them. You presented your views on Disney Princesses very well. Well-done. I observe that nowadays, Disney has changed quite a lot. The princess and the frog, Tangled etc had active heroines which is indeed a refreshing change from regular normal heroines.

      Thanks for sharing. Rated it Interesting. Voted up.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      Very interesting take, Anaya. you made me interested in princesses. Voted up!

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 6 years ago from Michigan

      Loved this hub! I think many little girls go through a princess phase. I was always infatuated with Elizabeth I for some reason, but she wasn't a Disney princess. Disney as a whole bothers me for many reasons, but I think a little bit of Disney Princess won't cause much harm, as long as girls understand that being beautiful or being a true princess has nothing to do with wealth or power, but with inner beauty and outward grace and kindness. Too many little girls dress up like Disney princesses and proceed to boss everyone else around.

    • Cresentmoon2007 profile image

      Cresentmoon2007 6 years ago from Caledonia, MI

      A very interesting hub. I used to love the Disney Princesses and I suppose in a way I still do. My little cousins are huge fans, even bigger than what I was. Loved it. Voted up.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks Flora! I love making these little achievments:)

      Vmartinezwilson- I agree, there's so many better heroines out these days, a good thing! I haven't seen Tangled, but sounds like I'd like it...

      Millionaire Tips- Interesting point on the good vs. evil themes. I wonder if it has something to do with kids not really being able to understand complexities, or if its just the time-honored formula rehashed over and over....

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 6 years ago from USA

      Many of the princesses come from fairy tales that were written way before Disney. I am glad that the newer Disney princesses are not sitting around and waiting for their prince to come. I do wish that Disney would avoid the good vs evil theme. there are more shades of gray in real life, and no one is completely good or completely evil.

    • vmartinezwilson profile image

      Vanessa Martinez Wilson 6 years ago from Vancouver, WA

      I'm glad that Disney has chosen to move away from Princesses for a while, making more movies that focus on families, people and situatios rather than the dansel in distress. I'm not sure that's the best for thir marketers, but since I'm more of a villains sort of chick, it doesn't matter much to my pocketbook.

      Although I'll note that Rapunzel wasn't paticularly passive in Tangled.


    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 6 years ago

      I see you are over 300 followers. Congratulations. I think the newer active heroines are better examples for girls growing up.