By Nellie Umutesi-Vigneron
After recently attending a toddler Princess birthday party, I reflected on the impact Disney has and still has on little girls and how it can still be felt as we transition into womanhood. I remember myself going to Disney with my then 5 year old son and losing my mind when I saw the ‘real’ Cinderella just a few feet away from me. Me, a 30-something- year- old was instantaneously transported back to my childhood, where I used to day dream of the day my Prince charming would come on his white horse and sweep me off my feet, take me away from my mother, whom I sometimes believed was evil because she expected me to keep my room clean and bring good grades home. How dare she? Did she not understand that my prince was coming to get me ANYTIME?
Disney’s Princess staples are of course Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
Snow White is the first and original Disney Princess. She is forced to seek refuge in the home of the seven dwarfs, hiding from her evil stepmother, who is jealous of her beauty. The evil stepmother succeeds in poisoning Snow White, taking her beauty, until a Prince travelling through the land, sees Snow White, instantly falls in love with her, breaks the curse and marries her and live happily ever after!
Cinderella is the second Disney Princess. Forced into servitude by her evil stepmother and cruel stepsisters. Cinderella dreams of going to the ball. When all seems lost, her fairy godmother, a plump lady, allows her to attend under the condition that Cinderella returns home by midnight. Of course, she goes to the ball, meets the prince, who falls in love with her, but before he can even get her name, she has to leave to be home by midnight. What is a prince to do? He summons every unmarried girl of his Kingdom and finds her. They marry and live happily ever after!
Sleeping Beauty (Princess Aurora) is the daughter of a King. After her birth, a wicked fairy curses the princess, proclaiming that Princess Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die before the sunset of her sixteenth birthday. The good fairy, however, is able to weaken the curse. Instead of dying, Aurora will fall into a deep sleep from which she can only be awakened by true love’s kiss. You got it… Prince charming saves her, gives her a kiss and she awakens from her deep sleep. They marry and live happily ever after!
All of these stories have the following in common: the Princesses possess extraordinary beauty, they face an imminent threat (jealousy and mistreatment form an evil stepmother or witch) and they are rescued by Prince Charming. (Rolling my eyes).
While many may not have any issues with these stories, I do see the following issues with letting our young daughters and nieces get wrapped up in this fantasy world:
(1) The Princesses possess a one-dimensional type beauty. Snow White, for example, is described as: ‘a beautiful young princess born with a skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony, and lips red as the rose’. Exposing our girls to this standard of beautify from a young age can have ripple effect on self- esteem and body image to just name of a few.
(2) These stories set unrealistic expectations of relationships and what Prince Charming is supposed to look like. How can a little girl, who is eventually going to date as she transition into womanhood have a healthy relationship, when the reference point is that you are going to meet a gorgeous Prince (the whole package: looks, money and from a noble family), that you are going to fall in love immediately and that it will be happily ever after! We know that reality is different, hence 50% of marriage end in divorce. Marriages and relationships take work, patience and commitment.
(3) The stories, although beautiful, unfortunately limit the role of a woman. It seems that once a little girl gets ‘saved’ by her Prince Charming, she has achieved her ultimate purpose in life. Nothing is ever mentioned of their lives after marriage, their contribution to the world irrespective of their Prince Charming status (too much to ask?). Aren’t we teaching little girls that marriage is the ultimate goal, the ultimate hooray in life?
What is the alternative, one may ask? Are we supposed to not let our little daughters, nieces watch the Princesses movies? I understand that we all need a little fantasy in life to make reality an easier pill to swallow, but I say make sure to explain the difference between fantasy and reality and make sure that we explain to our young girls that life is what we make it, that we should wait for anyone to come ‘rescue’ us but instead take control of our circumstances. Life is LIMITLESS!