Are Princesses good or bad role models for little girls?
Being the owner of a successful business which profits off of your children looking up to and adoring characters, especially princesses, I am fully aware that this immediately writes me off from being unbiased in the eyes of many readers. However, I can say with confidence, long before I started this business, since childhood I have always loved, looked up to and adored princesses. Guess what? It didn't ruin me in the slightest. In fact, it has been a hugely positive influence on my life in many ways. So please, hear me out as I lay out the answer to this blogpost's question.
Are Princesses good or bad role models for little girls?
Of course my answer is, GOOD. In fact, they are excellent role models. Now more than ever before.
Think about this for a minute. Many parents who have an issue with princesses, and refuse to "buy into the hype" over fairytales, will without a second thought, then go ahead and take their 7 year old child to a pop-concert to watch the latest singing sensation jump around on stage with every lady bit they have on show, gyrating about in the sauciest fashion to lyrics that are generally less than PG rated. But princesses, with their polite mannerisms and generally modest apparel, are considered bad role models. Interesting to say the least. In a world full of all kinds of things that try to pull our little daughters into an early sexual awakening and into a level of "maturity" in many areas that they simply should not have to face yet, princesses are the very least of our worries.
You may have seen social media memes and phrases that have been quite popular, such as
"I blame Disney for my unrealistic expectations on both men and hair" or,
"Frozen - the first Disney movie where a female character shows you don't need a man to save you" (This is actually quite untrue). We grin at these statements and at first glance kind of subconsciously give a nod of agreement to them and move on with our day. But if we were to look realistically at thoughts like this, they are rather untrue. A cartoon isn't responsible for anything at all in a fully grown adults life. That is generally a cop out. However, this isn't the focus of this article, so moving right along from that, let's get into talking about the actual princesses as role models.
What do you want for your little girl? What things do you want her to know, before she reaches adulthood? Here is a short list of some things I am sure we all want for our girls:
> To know she can achieve anything if she puts her heart into it and works for it.
> To never stop dreaming
> To know that she is beautiful
> To know that beauty within is more important than beauty on the outside
> To know that she is worthy of love, and worthy to be pursued
> To know that being different/unique is completely okay
> To grow up to be kind, thoughtful, loving, positive human beings who contribute to this world in their own special way
Of course, there are a lot of other things that we could include, but, this will do for arguments sake. Let's check out this list in light of our Princess role models shall we?
1. TO KNOW SHE CAN ACHIEVE ANYTHING IF SHE PUTS HER HEART INTO IT AND WORKS FOR IT:
Princesses have goals. You may personally not like some of them, but that is your problem. Every woman is different. Some want the career, some want to be stay at home wives and mothers. In this day and age, the choice we have should be celebrated, not looked down upon. Popular princesses present such a wonderful range of life goals, and the diversity is simply marvelous. Princess Tiana worked her rear off to start up her own restaurant. In fact, she said, and I quote: “The only way that you can get what you want in this world is through hard work.” Then we have Rapunzel, all that girl wanted to do was to see those floating lights! Bit of a low-aim one might think? No. The personal struggles she faced, the bravery it took, the literal leap of faith, in herself and the world around her was admirable no small feat! I could go on, but these two examples alone are plenty. I'll let you think about others.
2. TO NEVER STOP DREAMING:
Literally every princess imaginable had a dream. Be it for freedom, true love, adventure or happiness. All of them never stopped dreaming. Even in the face of great adversity they kept their dreams alive. They never gave up and never lost hope. Their tenacity is infectious and I sure want my girl to catch that!
3. TO KNOW THAT SHE IS BEAUTIFUL:
Yes, princesses are flawless, perfect, unmatchable and there is no way we mere humans can duplicate that in real life. But seriously, did you ever as a 5 yr old stare at Ariel and wish you had her eyes? Or at Jasmine and go "brows on point", or at Aurora and think "I wish i was slender like her". No...no you didn't. Girl's do not get bad body image from princesses, they get it from their peers. Humans attack humans. Self esteem is destroyed by people, not animated characters. Besides, when in the world did it become a sin to be beautiful? All because the disney princesses are gorgeous, does not mean they are shallow. That is a terrible stereotype. Besides, in recent years, the princesses have been given unique traits to show that beauty truly does come in all different shapes and looks. Princess Merida has wild hair and a round face. Rapunzel actually has slightly bucked teeth. Anna has lovely freckles, Elsa is as pasty white as a babies bottom, whilst Moana has lovely dark skin and a less "thin" look about her, being more athletic. Even Cinderella is different to her predecessors with more proportionate to real life eyes, nose and mouth with a more classic look. They aren't generic. Nowadays there truly is a princess for every little girl to see and say "she looks like me!" And just as a side note...mum and dad, I'm certain you know that it is up to us as parents to make our daughters feel beautiful. Princesses or no princesses it doesn't change that truth.
4. TO KNOW THAT BEAUTY WITHIN IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN BEAUTY ON THE OUTSIDE
I Don't really need to say much here...Beauty and the Beast - Belle. Enough said. But then there is also Rapunzel, who befriends the "ruffians and thugs" whom she had been brainwashed by Mother Gothel to believe were "bad" people. Despite this mindset, along with them definitely being scary looking and unattractive, Rapunzel fully accepted, enjoyed and celebrated them. Of course we must remember Mulan who was more than happy to get rid of her lovely long hair and makeup, to take her fathers place at war. Then there's Pocahantas who encourages our children to look beyond colour, and beyond the outside appearance to the spirit within a person in which we find we are all alike. We should also remember Cinderella, who reprimanded Bruno for taking joy in dreaming of catching Lucifer the awful housecat, saying that she is sure that Lucifer the cat has good qualities too. Snow white doesn't even flinch at the hideous "peddler woman" (the wicked queen in disguise) and offers her hospitality to someone who in our society would be immediately judged by their appearance. Need I go on? I think not.
5. TO KNOW THAT SHE IS WORTHY OF LOVE AND WORTHY TO BE PURSUED:
This once again, is the responsibility of mum and dad. And no amount of princess movies is going to undo a childhood filled with affirmation from mum and dad. The princesses are of course always seen as worthy of love, and are for the most part, pursued. The reasons for which are varied. Whilst yes, sleeping beauty and Ariel bagged their man's affections because they had beautiful singing voices initially, and Jasmine made Aladdin melt into a pathetic mess as soon as she pulled off her headress and revealed a set of big cat eyes and pretty black hair (okay, ill give you that one), Tiana, Nala, Kida, Mulan and Rapunzel (to name a few) were loved for their personalities and/or traits. Little girls need to know that THEY are worthy. No amount of cartoons with story morals will do that for them. We, the adults in their lives, instill that.
6. TO KNOW THAT BEING DIFFERENT/UNIQUE IS OKAY:
Again, not one that needs much attention. It is rather obvious. Merida, Anna, Elsa, Moana, Mulan, Giselle, Ariel etc etc. All of them had their quirks, or their ideas on life that were out of the ordinary, or were just plain different (Elsa with her cray cray powers) and all of them, through their own personal struggle, perseverance and self-acceptance, learned that this was okay, and in fact beneficial to themselves and those around them.
7. TO GROW UP TO BE KIND, THOUGHTFUL, POSITIVE, LOVING HUMAN BEINGS WHO CONTRIBUTE TO THE WORLD IN THEIR OWN SPECIAL WAY:
Every single princess you can think of, comes with their own set of very admirable traits.
Cinderella is the epitome of kindness and gentleness, Sleeping Beauty has a precious sense of innocence, sweetness and grace. Snow white holds those same qualities along with her thoughtfulness and resourcefulness and willingness to help others, Ariel is creative and determined, Belle, Anna and Mulan are self sacrificing, loving, intelligent and thoughtful, Rapunzel is non-judgmental, most of the princesses are very positive and loving. The list of good qualities is actually pretty endless if you sit there and think of each princess. They all contribute to those around them in their own way. Some through practical works, others through heroic fetes, and yet others with an infectious life-attitude.
Let's move onto the next argument shall we? I've heard it said that "They are all just pretty damsels with no skills or abilities" .... Unless you've been hiding under a rock or not seen any of the movies for yourself, you know this is nonsense. Rapunzel has an impressive myriad of skills from painting, sewing, and ventriloquy through to y'know, the power to heal and keep youth. Snow white is an incredible baker and housekeeper, they are all talented singers, Tiana is a chef of all chefs, Ariel seems to have pretty amazing strength (you try rescuing a tall, dark and handsome fellow from the depths of the ocean and dragging him to shore during a storm!), she is also a gifted swordswoman, as seen in her tv series. Then theres Merida with the bow and arrow, Elsa with her magical ability to create and control cold stuff. Moana is a very decent chief of her village with the smarts and management skills it takes to keep a community running smoothly, plus, she can hula baby! Actually, every single princess is more than just a pretty face. You cannot argue that. Also the "damsel in distress" label doesn't really wash with the likes of Moana, Mulan, Tiana, Merida, Ariel, Belle, Pocahantas or Rapunzel so...
The point of Disney princess movies is not "boy meets girl, boy rescues girl from peril, boy marries girl and they all live happily ever after" and it never has been even though some of the stories do have this chain of events. The movies always give more than that. They bring forth (depending on which film), the preciousness of innocence, the thrill of chasing a dream, the lost beauty of graceful femininity, the stirring of a thirst for adventure, the human yearning for something more than the every day norm, the joy and gift of song, the simplicity of youth and the triumph of good over evil. There is no shallowness in any of the princesses at all. Each one stirrs some form of greatness from within, and that, is truly magical.
At the end of the day, sometimes with self esteem issues, comes prejudices. If we look deep down inside, the issues we may have with princess characters may actually come from unresolved issues in our own hearts and not have so much to do with the characters themselves. I know for me, as an avid Disney princess lover from the second I laid eyes on that very first underwater scene at the beginning of the little mermaid film, I was taken to another world, full of wonder, adventure, hoping and dreaming. A place that only the beauty of make believe can take you. Whist other children were all up on that Santa Claus and Easter Bunny trip, buying into the bribe of being good or they might not visit and so on...I was happily enjoying believing in lovely princesses, knowing that my behavior wouldn't determine their acceptance of me, and that in my world, in my imagination, they were friends and role models that always without fail made my world a better place.
The magic of believing in role models who show wonderful qualities, bravery, dream-chasing and lets not forget, music that makes everyone want to sing is simply put - wonderful.
And now, as a full grown female adult, I can tell you, my role models left no scars, stole no confidence, and stayed in my heart as a cherished memory. Being able to now bring that magic to children I meet every week is beyond marvelous. Coming and greeting a little girl as her hero, her role model, is such an honour and something I do not take lightly. We are not there just to "keep them busy" or "make it fun" (Though yes, I do that too). I am there to give an experience. To make each little girl (or boy!) feel incredibly special, and loved. To build confidence and self esteem. To tell them they are amazing. To make them see they are beautiful and celebrated. The wonder in a little girls eyes when a princess tells them they are so so happy they got to meet them is so heartwarming. The smile on their face when their role model tells them they are beautiful, or that they love their freckles, or that they are sweet and clever, is worth so much in the heart bank. When a little girl puts her arms around you and tells you she will never forget you, you know what you are doing is touching their hearts. When they smile and say "I love you" you know that they have experienced something truly special.
So I rest my case, and stick with my full fledged belief that princesses are excellent role models for little girls for a million and one reasons, and I take great joy in bringing to life remarkable characters and encouraging little girls all over Perth to follow their dreams, to love the skin they are in and to enjoy every day. What a privilege! Princesses for me, are a gift that keeps on giving.