There is something about a fairytale that makes it timeless. “Fairyland has to offer us that most tender of all the virtues, “Simplicity”. Life is clear-cut in princess fairytales. Characters are straightforward. You have the beautiful princess, the malevolent witch/wizard, the charming prince and the dazzling fairy. It is easy to determine the good guys and the bad guys. Yet for all fairytales‟ simplicity,there are several underlying messages in Disney princess fairytales that beg to be addressed.
Fairy tales have been around as long as anyone can remember, and have been told to children since we first started having them. We tell them stories of fairy tales when they go to sleep, and they watch Disney re-enactments and shows that reinforce them further. They get read at school and generally they are everywhere while we’re growing up and while our children are growing up.
Fairy tales, as well as myths, can be viewed as allegories or dramatic representations of complex psychological processes—usually those of transformation and growth.
They are marvelous vehicles for gaining insights and learning about ourselves and our basic human tendencies. As allegories, myths and fairy tales carry valuable statements in symbolic form about human nature. Stories can be analyzed in a practical way as a means of developing useful tools that may aid us in reflecting upon things that we observe and do in our daily lives.
To be attracted to or repelled by a fairy tale indicates that the story contains something that resonates with an unconscious process in the reader or listener, for one cannot be attracted or repelled unless one recognizes something that is personally meaningful. Recognition indicates the possibility of a healing awareness through discovery of processes imaged in the stories.
Perhaps we can better understand our general acceptance of the use of the words fairy tale if we do a little etymological investigation. The word fairy derives from the Latin, fatum, meaning fate, and from fatus, the past participle of fari, meaning to speak. From the Greek comes the associated word phani, also meaning to speak or say, and that has the same root as phone, meaning sound or voice, as in telephone, phonic, and phonograph.
The second part, the word tale, derives from middle English and means talk and number. These are related to the Gothic talzjan, meaning to instruct, and are associated with the Latin dolus, meaning guile or deceit.
As we know, fairy tales were told orally before they were written or recorded. But even written, they are frequently told aloud. Thus the term fairy tale seems less to do with fairies than with vocally communicating and instructing about fate through guile. Telling a fairy tale is, in essence, verbalizing an allegorical story, the representational process of which is drawn from a vast list of human conditions and experiences.
Myths and fairy tales can be viewed as collective or universal dreams that can apply to all of us.
Fairy tales have come under much scrutiny and are widely studied. This is partly because of their status in popular culture but also because they are such early examples of storytelling and this allows us to learn more about the fundamentals of storytelling in general, and about the psychology behind it.
In particular, one very interesting deconstruction of the fairy tale was provided by Joseph Campbell. Campbell wrote the famous book ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces‘ which looks at how almost all fairy tales and the majority of our modern stories as well follow a very basic pattern that speaks a ‘universal human truth’.
While the situations vary and the characters differ, there are nevertheless similarities in terms of the plot and the process that are eerily similar. This can be best seen in fairy tales because they are so old and that means that in some ways they can be considered a very fundamental and distilled type of story on which others are based.
“Princess” is not just a royal title. It’s a powerful, and popular, ideal.
Yet among today’s educated urbanites, “princess culture” is the subject of raging debate. What some parents consider innocent make-believe, others deem character-eroding indoctrination. Calling your daughter a princess fosters “a sense of entitlement and undeserved superiority,” declares one mother, commenting on a CafeMom post called, “Is the Princess Fantasy Dangerous?”
Others fear that princess stories teach girls to be pretty and helpless, waiting for a prince to rescue them instead of acting on their own behalf. Should liberated women let their daughters play Cinderella? It’s a topic with which mommy blogs never seem to tire, including mine.
Today, princesses are everywhere: under the tree at Christmas and on the sidewalks at Halloween, atop birthday cakes and in videogames, on bedspreads and in perfume ads. They provide themes for baby showers, quinceañeras, even weddings.
You may not find it in a medical textbook, but many young girls suffer from Princess Syndrome (PS) daily.
There are messages everywhere presented to girls that being a princess is the best, and only, way to be. In today’s society, with its focus on appearance, having only the finest things, and the need to be number one, it is understandable that girls are having a difficult time deciphering the messages they observe.
Naturally, girls want to be like the princesses they idealize. Why? Deep down, what girls truly desire is love; they want beautiful, unconditional love. But they do not know how to get this elusive love.
So they look to the princess. How did she get her love? She got it from the prince. Why does the prince love her? Why, he loves her for her beauty of course. Beauty, therefore, must be the key.
The innate desire for love and attention is so great that girls will go to almost any length to achieve it. Some studies show that out of every five women in the world, two of them dye their hair (How Many Women Dye Their Hair?). And according the website to „Become Gorgeous‟ the most popular hair color dye is blonde (Hair Color Ideas for 2010).
This is not surprising; blonde is the hair color of the traditional princess. But girls do not stop at just hair color. In an attempt to achieve the perfect princess body, diets are all the rage. Ask any girl you know. She is either on a diet, about to start a diet, or lamenting the fact that she should be on a diet. When diets fail, there is always plastic surgery.
Plastic surgery costs, on average, between $5,000 and $7,000 Yet there were 1.47 million “surgical cosmetic procedures” in the United States, in 2009 alone (10 Statistics about Cosmetic/Plastic Surgery).
The oddity of it all is that while girls are actively pursuing the outward beauty of a Disney princess, they hardly ever pursue the inside beauty of a princess. There‟s something less glamorous about developing the work ethic of Snow White, the patience of Cinderella, the courage of Ariel or the kindness of Jasmine.
It is much easier to dye hair than to build character. And in the Disney princess fairytales, developing those character traits produces no apparent benefit. As a result girls gloss over them and look for love and beauty elsewhere.
Blonde tresses, the perfect body and an enchanting face seem to promise love. This is a dangerous message. No girl is, or can become, as “perfect‟ as a Disney princess. She, the princess, is simply an unattainable ideal to which girls, both consciously and unconsciously, consistently compare themselves. Since girls can never reach that level of aesthetic perfection, their self-esteem takes a major blow.
And why wouldn’t they? Clothing stores sell t-shirts that tell them they are “too pretty to do homework.” Other stores sell thongs to 7-10-year-olds with slogans on them, such as “wink wink” or “eye candy;” one has even started selling crotchless underwear for girls within this age range. Abercrombie and Fitch, a nationally known clothing company, sold bikinis with push up tops in them designed for children as young as 5. How do young girls learn that they have worth beyond their appearance, when the inordinate amount of pressure on them to “do this” or “look like that” begins so young? And, while this pressure might have started as a teenager in the past, current research shows that girls as young as 11 are having issues with their bodies.
With no formal research done on how Disney’s princess culture has influenced young girls’ trajectories, there’s no way of knowing whether any of the perceived negative messages from the films have really penetrated impressionable minds. However, one can look to Disney’s line of princess products for an idea of what the company thinks young fans of “Tangled” and the rest of the princess franchise “might want”.
In 2000, Disney created the “Disney Princess” franchise, a move that brought all the princesses back into production in a line of merchandise that would earn Disney upwards of $4 billion a year. The princesses aren’t just in movies anymore — they’re everywhere!
The Disney Princesses entered the life of psychotherapist Mary Finucane’s 3-year-old daughter.
“She began refusing to do or wear things that princesses didn’t do or wear,” Finucane, who created the Disney Princess Recovery blog, said of her daughter after she started watching Disney’s princess movies and accumulating princess-emblazoned products.
“She had stopped running and jumping because princesses didn’t do those things. That was about the time I stopped waiting for the phase to pass — when she stopped running.”
“Because Disney Princesses are cartoon images, and from a well-trusted company, one that seems part of the American story, (their effect) is not really looked at as seriously,” Finucane said. “Many articles on girls acting too old, dressing too sexy, are good at pointing out when it’s happening but not at examining what went on years before that.”
Finucane agreed, saying the consumer train is set up for girls to be into Disney Princesses from 2 to 5, move onto the “Disney Girl” from 5 to 8, then follow the Disney Girl into her hypersexualization, a la Cyrus moving on “from squeaky-clean Disney” to having her music videos directed by popular pornography directors.
“It’s a pretty common path. It sells a lot of products and makes a very big profit,” Finucane said. “The fallout is . . . what I’m writing about and what companies don’t have to think about.
Parents often have the misconception that their daughters can avoid being affected by the messages they are receiving. Unfortunately, as well intentioned as this idea is, it takes an incredible amount of self-confidence and self-awareness to avoid being seduced by these messages. Advertising is incredibly powerful and impacts all of us at all ages. Expecting your daughter, at age 3, 4, or 5 to understand that life is better if you have solid values, good friends and a healthy lifestyle, in comparison to the princess lifestyle, is unrealistic. It is up to us, as a parents, to combat the pressures coming from the outside.
A study performed amongst college students from Florida Southern College came to the following conclusion:
[Disney princess fairytales] set up false expectations of womanhood, as each female protagonist takes little action and relies upon her own beauty (and in later films even more openly upon her sexuality) in pursuing her primary objective of finding and marrying her “Prince Charming.” In depicting the marital success of subservient, passive females, Disney thereby teaches its audience that women should fulfill that passive role in society, not acting but instead waiting for a man to give them the perfect life.
In princess fairytales, the emphasis is not on the relationship, but rather on becoming married. The implied assumption is that once the marriage takes place, life will automatically be splendid.
Anyone who is married can tell you this is not the actual case.
There is nothing realistic about the relationships in princess fairytales. Falling in love at first sight, sharing the perfect kiss, and riding off into the sunset are norms in Disneyland, but not in real life land. True love is not an emotion, but rather, as the 90‟s Christian rap group DC Talk defined it, “Luv Is A Verb.
Real love includes washing the dishes for someone even when you are dead tired, holding their head as they are puking up their guts, and dealing with them kindly when they are in a cranky mood.
Princess fairytales do not portray any of these aspects of love. As a result, girls are ill prepared for real relationships. Once the novelty of marriage and the warm, fuzzy emotions wear off, girls are stuck with the dirty laundry and a guy whose true character they barely know.
Wait that cannot be right.
This is not what happens in the movies. Or does it?
Princess fairytales rarely venture into the world of the couple post- wedding. They are simply assigned the fate of living happily ever after and left at that.
Unfortunately real relationships do not work that way.
So girls decide to get out of their relationship. It must have been a mistake. This is not their prince charming. He must still be out there somewhere. This mindset is part of the reason why divorce rates are so high.
According to Marriage 101, “The divorce rate in America is more than 50%, which means one in two couples will break up” (Divorce Rates in America). This is a terrifying statistic. This mindset comes from not only Disney‟s emphasis on marriage as the pinnacle of achievement, but also on how these princesses find their “man”.
Despite the issues girls face, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with princess fairytales. They are delightful tales. But the relationships portrayed in princess fairytales are flawed. There is no such thing as the perfect princess and the perfect prince.
Of course, relationships with men are not the only relationships to suffer the influence of princess fairytales. Disney princesses‟ relationships (or lack thereof) with their parents are also worth examining. Each Disney princess is missing one or more of her parents. Aurora’s parents, while both alive, are not a part of her life for the entire sixteen years the fairytale covers.
With this exception, no Disney princess’s real mother exists. Either the mother has died while the girl was young, or she is simply left out of the story. These princesses have no maternal figure to nurture and counsel them. In her place is either a gaping hole or an evil stepmother.
These princesses have no maternal figure to nurture and counsel them. In her place is either a gaping hole or an evil stepmother. Both Snow White and Cinderella’s main antagonist is a jealous stepmother seeking to kill her innocent stepdaughter’s chance for a happy ever after.
As Rebecca-Anne Do Rozario notes, “the conflict between the princess and her mature adversary is often read in terms of daughter-mother relationships with the mature adversary acting as a wicked maternal substitute, simultaneously erasing the mother and replacing her with a negative image.”
Cinderella’s stepmother takes a twisted delight in allowing Cinderella to get her hopes up and then dash them to the ground. Snow White’s stepmother cuts to the chase, simply trying to murder Snow White.
These malevolent mothers create what Marjorie Worthington calls, “an image of female relationships in which women mistrust one another and can therefore never come together to resist patriarchal forces.
In other words, these films promote the divide-and-conquer atmosphere that patriarchal society fosters among women.” Mother-daughter relationships resemble a dog-eat-dog mentality as opposed to the loving, nurturing relationship a mother was designed to have with her daughter.
Instead of seeing their mothers as someone they can trust and confide in, girls tend to view their mothers as the “enemy‟. This has caused a breakdown in relationships. Mothers have a lot of wisdom and experience to pass on to their daughters. But the daughters have been trained to be unwilling to accept.
As a result, girls launch into the world unprepared to deal with trials that their mothers have already faced. Pain and mistakes could be mitigated if mothers were seen as friends instead of foes.
Sadly this is never the case in princess fairytales.
The second major misconception girls suffer because of princess fairytales is the dream of the perfect man. Just like the perfect princess, the fairytale prince is on a level of all-around handsomeness, charm, grace, and chivalry that is unattainable by actual human beings.
What is more, the actual character of the prince in these fairytales is hardly ever developed. He is more of a cardboard cut out of perfection trotted out at the end of the story to kiss the princess and sweep her away into her happily ever after.
The prince in Snow White is such a secondary character that he is not even given a name. Part of the reason these characters are never defined is because they do not exist in real life. They have no personality for a man or woman to relate to. These heroes are simply an ideal; a lovely notion of what a prince should be like.
Relationships between the princess and her father are also noticeably lacking. If the father does make it into the story, the relationship he shares with his daughter is usually rather ludicrous. The Sultan, Jasmine‟s father, is a short, fat, slight imbecile of a man. He is incompetent to lead his kingdom and relies heavily on an evil wizard for counsel. His relationship with Jasmine consists mainly of his efforts to get her married off to a prince, yet he lacks the backbone to actually make her marry.
Jasmine has him wrapped around her finger; he even changes royal decrees to make her happy. He is certainly not the respected, wise, father figure a girl needs for her dad. He is not a role model and a protector. He is more of a play toy to be pacified so that Jasmine can do whatever she wants.
King Triton, Ariel’s father, is only slightly more respectable. He is portrayed as a competent leader, but a complete failure of a father. He does not understand Ariel and her passion for life on the land. He is completely closed-minded about her secret cache of human possessions and destroys it in a fit of rage.
While it is clear that he loves Ariel, he lacks the means to communicate with her. Because Triton is wrapped up in his world, he gives decrees instead of inviting discussion or providing discernment. The words he speaks reveal how focused he is on himself, not Ariel. When he talks about letting Ariel go, his main concern is how much he will miss Ariel if she lives on land.
Ariel is just as self-oriented. After he gives her legs, Ariel’s final words to her father, “I love you, daddy” are not based on understanding and respect for him; her sweet words are code for “thanks for letting me have what I want.‟
A real relationship between a father, a mother, and their daughter is not and should not be elusive. And a romantic relationship should be built on more than just mutual attraction and the inherent goal to be married.
Unexamined; these underlying foibles can cause a lot of damage in how girls view relationships.
Let me be clear — I absolutely know that there is a need to make sure that girls and women know that what is between their legs should not limit them to achieve anything that their heart is guiding them towards.
And, as with all of us, what I want for my daughter seems so simple: for her to grow up healthy, happy, and confident, with a clear sense of her own potential and the opportunity to fulfill it.Yet she lives in a world that tells her, whether she is three or thirty-three, that the surest way to get there is to look, well, like Cinderella.
The princess archetype is powerful because it is adaptable. It changes with time and circumstance, while retaining its emotional core.
The truth is a princess is what you make of her.
She may be wise-cracking or demure, a blue-eyed blonde or a tawny brunette, goth or Gothic, a domestic goddess like Snow White or a warrior like Xena.
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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