Monday, December 16, 2013

Princesses To Admire and Despise, Samantha Eckels

Princesses To Admire and Despise

Samantha Eckels

What do you want to be when you grow up?  A vet?  An astronaut?  I’ve had my future career ready ever since I was in preschool.  My teacher went around the room and asked each of us what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I took a deep breath, looked her square in the eye and sang out in confidence my future goal of becoming a princess.  I went into great detail of how I would marry a prince, and we would, of course, live happily ever after. 

Although I now know it’s extremely unrealistic, I still have a slight glimmer of hope that I one day will reach my childhood dream of becoming a princesses.  Growing up I watched every Disney movie I could put my hands on, my favorites being the princess movies.  Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella were my idols.  Legendary looks and the voice of an angel. Everything about them radiated perfection.

As much as I still love those classic Disney princesses, I’m appalled at myself for once desiring to be like them.  As women have progressed and changed their gender roles in society, Disney has changed their princesses to match the times.  From damsels in distress to the heroes of their own stories, Disney has drastically altered their classic fairytale structure.

Snow White is the first ever Disney princess and lays the ground work for the princesses that follow her.  She is known for her beauty and is hated by her Stepmother for being more beautiful then her Stepmother is.  Snow White is invited to live with seven dwarfs because of her cleaning and cooking skills.  Snow White spends her days cleaning and cooking while dreaming of her prince: “Though he’s far away, I’ll find my love someday, someday when my dreams come true.”

The story of Snow White contains three major flaws all of which are designed to make Snow White appear weak.  First, the main character trait of Snow White is her beauty.  The fact that she is beautiful is constantly said throughout the film, instead of highlighting her kindness.  Her kindness is over looked by her appearance and causes speculation that beauty is to be admired over kindness or many other character traits.  The Mirror in Snow White describes her beauty to her evil stepmother when the Mirror proclaims: “Lips red as the rose, hair black as ebony, skin white as snow.”    Second, the dwarfs only decide to allow Snow White to stay with them after they realize that she can cook and clean, basically declaring that she is only useful as a housemaid. Snow White becomes a mother to the dwarfs.  The dwarfs may have been happy with how their life was before, however, she makes them feel as if they need to be taken care of.  Third, Snow White’s one desire in life is to meet and fall in love with her prince.  From the first sentence she utters, Snow White wants nothing more than for her prince to come.  She has no interests outside of finding him, no hobbies outside of being with him, and no goals other then marrying him.  Snow White does not desire a career, or to make a difference in the world.  Her future happiness solely relies on a man. 

Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty were the next two princesses to follow in Snow White’s footsteps and their stories share many of the flaws that Snow White’s contained.  Cinderella was hated by her evil stepmother and stepsisters for being more beautiful then them and as a result of this had to be a house servant, cleaning and cooking all day.  Sleeping beauty too was known for her beauty and for her cooking and cleaning skills.  Notice a common trend?  All three of the first Disney princesses were all focused around their skills of being beautiful, a chef, and a maid. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty also dreamed of the day that their prince would become a part of their lives, giving their life meaning and happiness.  With these three princesses, they all relied on their princes to rescue them.  Never taking control of their own destinies and always being the damsels in distress as a pose to becoming their own heroes.  Snow White and Sleeping Beauty both need their prince to kiss them in order to break the spell and can’t defeat the villains in their story without their help.  The only way Cinderella can be saved from her evil stepmother is by getting married, and thus relies on a man to save her from a life of unhappiness.

The next Disney princesses to be released after Sleeping beauty occurs 30 years later and along with the time shows a progress in the foundation of the Disney princesses.  Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine portray a different kind of princess then the first three we are introduced to and start to deteriorate the classic structure that we are accustomed to seeing.  Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine are more independent then the previous princesses.  They are more adventurous and their character is defined as being more then just being beautiful.

Ariel is very curios, constantly desiring to learn more about the world on land and to ultimately become “a part of that world”.  Ariel spends her days collecting human artifacts and trying to find out more information about those who walk on land.  She rebels against her father by continuing to indulge herself in these curiosities.  Ariel’s curiosity and rebellion is new to the disneyprincesses.  She isn’t classified as a house servant but as a wondrous creature. Unfortunately Ariel falls for a prince and is willing to risk her life in order to obtain a chance to be with him when she makes a deal with Ursula, the villain in her story.  In the end Ariel needs the prince’s rescuing, keeping with the common theme of the princess being the damsel in distress and the prince being the hero.

Belle unlike the other princesses doesn’t jump at the first opportunity of marriage.  Belle is proposed by Gaston, the town’s most eligible bachelor, but refuses his proposal because he is “brainless” and she desire a different life, a life full of adventure.  Belle is also different from the previous princesses in that she is known for her intelligence.  The people in the town claim that“she is different from the rest of us” because she always has her nose in a book.  Belle is classified as intelligent, adventurous, and independent.  Showing the progression of the disneyprincesses to be heading in the right direction.  Belle strongly believes that whats on the inside matters more then whats on the outside.  Belle falls in love with a hideous and kind beast as a pose to falling for a handsome jerk.  But Disney continues to have the princesses resort to a state of neediness by having Belle need to be rescued by the Beast.  The Beast, or prince in this story, almost dies for Belle.

Jasmine is the next princess to come in the Disney family.  Jasmine is royalty but doesn’t always want to be, she strives for a life of wonder and adventure.  She meets Aladdin, a poor “street rat,” when she is disguised as a peasant.  She falls for Aladdin even though he is a poor nobody.  Jasmine’s falling for a peasant and desiring an adventurous lifestyle helps display the growth of the princess.  Jasmine is also the first time we see diversity in the princesses.  Jasmine is Arabian, and until she came into the picture the princesses before her were all caucasian.  Although her skin may be a different color, she falls into the same exact pattern as her fellow princesses by getting rescued by a man and being the one needing rescuing while he is the one saving the day.

The theme of diversity continues as disney introduces their next three princess: Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana.  Pocahontas is Native American, Mulan is Chinese, and Tiana is African American.  Each of these movies have a strong focus on their heritage showing that Disney not only is trying to make the appearance of their princesses to appear diverse, but to also educate their audience on other ethnic backgrounds.  Having many princesses of different races makes many young girls feel as though they can relate to the princesses.  Little Chinese girls can look atMulan and feel that they too can be princesses.

Pocahontas is very spiritual and stubborn.  She stands up to many in order to protect what she feels is right.  Pocahontas’s story is extremely different from the princesses in the past in that she does not end happily ever after with a prince.  She falls in love with an explorer and in the end when he has to return to his homeland he asks for Pocahontas to return with him.  Instead she chooses to stay with her tribe.  Pocahontas creates a new concept to Disney princesses in that the princess doesn’t choose the prince in the end.  Pocahontas also, instead of being the damsel, becomes the hero in her story when she creates peace between her tribe and the foreigners.  This is the first time we see a princess become the hero.

Mulan is said to be one of the most inspiring princesses of today.  Mulan disguises herself as a man and risks execution as she goes to war in order to protect her father.  Mulan works very hard at training camp and impresses the other men.  When Mulan and her fellow warriors are attached by the HunsMulan uses her brains and skills to defeat them.  In this battle it is revealed that she is a woman.  This realization sends shockwaves through the army, as she had fully convinced them that she was a man.  She later has to rescue the day again by saving the Emperor from the Hun’s leader and thus earning the respect of all of China and many other high honors.  Mulan is very inspiring.  Her bravery and determination make women everywhere feel that they can accomplish anything.  Mulan proves that women can be just as good as men, if not better.  Although Mulan does fall in love in this story her story revolves around her being the hero, not her falling in love.  She is one of a kind and truly a woman that I would admire to be like.

Tiana is the most career-oriented princess.  She is focused throughout the whole story on owning a restaurant.  She works all the time in order to save up enough money to by the restaurant of her dreams.  In the story a mixup occurs and she is turned into a frog along with a prince.  Through many change of events they fall in love, and although Tiana is career oriented she still has strong morals and refuses to make a deal with the villain in her story.  Tiana is extremely hard working and dedicated.  She keeps her focus and works as hard as she can to meet her dreams.

Disney has changed throughout time.  Giving Disney princesses more and more empowering roles in their stories.  In the beginning Disney princesses were oriented around being beautiful and needing a man.  They were damsels in distress and needed rescuing by a prince.  Now Disney has changed its focus to empowering women who have much more substance.  They are tough, hardworking, brave women and inspire girls of all ages to want more and to do more.  They influence women into believing that no man can measure their worth and that no man is needed to create happiness.  Although I would still love to be a princess, I want to be the new princesses.  When I was younger I wanted to grow up to be beautiful and marry a prince.  Now I want to bring peace to fighting tribes, fight in wars, and own my own restaurant.  I will never be the damsel.  I am my own hero.

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