Posted by: saraleming | February 12, 2013

What is Disney teaching girls.

As a child everyone loves Disney movies. I know I was a major fanatic. My favorite movie was Cinderella and I watched it religiously. Today I was thinking back and I asked myself how these movies impacted me as a child. My dream as a five year old was to grow up and be beautiful and then be whisked away romantically by a handsome prince and live happily ever after just like Cinderella. I wanted to find my true love and become a princess. Although I do not believe there is anything wrong with make believe for children, I would like to throughout the question are Disney Princesses based too much on love or beauty? Lets take Cinderella for example.. Why does the prince love her? She is beautiful. He does not like her because she is ambitious or kind to her animal friends he meets her one night only and finds her very attractive. Also Disney made her not so pretty and plump “ugly stepsisters” into bad characters. Ugly people are also associated with being bad people. Ariel, trades her fins for legs so she can fall in love with prince Erik aka she wanted to change something about herself for a guy. Remember Ariel cannot even talk to Erik because Ursala has her voice. Erik falls in love with her beauty before he even speaks to her. Snow White is almost killed because her step mother is jealous of her beauty but she is only saved by being kissed by someone she has never even met. I am a Disney fan forever and always but this does make me wonder if the “perfect skin, hair, and bodies” princess images have is where young girls start to get the idea that women in order to be beautiful have to look a certain way? And should Disney be less stereotypical and make an ugly fat princess? How would they be perceived by society? Would there be consequences for Disney?

Additionally, could young girls first get the impression that they need to have these perfect faces and bodies from Disney movies? After all doesn’t every little girl want to live happily ever after? Are these perfect princesses teaching young girls they need to be flawlessly beautiful to find the man of their dreams and be happy?


  1. I think you bring up a great point with how the media pushes beauty into girls’ minds at such a young age. I think that false realities that Disney creates for young girls only leads them to have a false sense of body image and love. I think that Disney movies should have been talked about in MissRepresentation because the princesses really are a misrepresentation of actual princesses and women in general. I think that fairy tales sell and make big money and that is why they are so popular. As a human being, we all have dreams of the perfect life, whatever that may look like, and Disney just facilitates a lot of girls’ perfect worlds with love, beauty, and a great story line.
    I think that if Disney were to make a movie about a fat, ugly, princess it would not be taken well. I think if Disney started out by making a large, but beautiful, princess, it would be better accepted and might start to change the “perfect body” image that girls have come to accept as correct. Even with some acceptance, Disney most likely wouldn’t profit well. I think that it is good to keep in mind that Americans are very obese in general and that if a young girl watches a movie about a big and beautiful princess, it might give them hope and courage to have ambitions in life as opposed to being self-conscious and not confident to chase their dreams, especially in a leadership role.
    Disney princess movies are unrealistic and it does do some harm in the development of young girls’ lives. They believe they have to be beautiful, find a handsome and rich man, and sacrifice things like family (The Little Mermaid) or their right to have a healthy relationship (Beauty and the Beast). I can’t even begin to think of a solution to the “Disney problem” but I know that it would be a revolution to try and change it.

  2. Very creative idea to bring up. I agree, I think Disney has been one of the foundations laid to stereotype women for many years along with being one of the most visible. It’s sad really, because they have brought joy to so many kids but, in reality, Disney has been a culprit of brainwash. I love the idea of imposing on a kids imagination, like Disney does, but not in the way that cripples it. From an early age, creative directors of companies that have such an influence need to set the right example, as so much of development comes from early childhood. If kids constantly see skinny, white, women subservient to a man’s romantic whims then there is a greater chance that this will impact them as teens and adults. Disney is a kingpin; they need to show responsibility to better young kids, not use them as platforms for making cheap money with stereotypical, and overused, plot ideas

  3. I was really excited when you mentioned you wrote about this for this week! This is such an interesting point. A lot of disney movies have sneaky hidden meanings about politics, sexual orientation, and gender stereotyping. I don’t want to repeat what everyone has already said but I do agree. I would like to add the idea though that I believe Disney has received this excessive backlash and has made recent attempts to create better images of women for young female viewers. In the past decade we have had to additions of Tiana, an African American princess who works to overcome diversity. Instead of being saved by a man/prince SHE saves him! In Tangled, we see the brief absence of beauty and that love, family, and support still exists. I think that although not yet perfect, Disney realizes they messed up in the 90’s and are attempting to change their image. I feel like it is OUR duty and responsibility to encourage all media sites,pages,channels,films to do the same.

  4. I think this is a great example of how children are socialized into gender roles at a very young age. Disney is not likely doing this out of malice of intending to make girls reach for less than they should, and they have even started progress on giving girls a different image of themselves with movies such as “Tangled”, “Brave”, and even “Princess and the Frog”. The princesses now featured have dreams and goals and do hard work to reach them but they are still outrageously thin and painted so as to be considered beautiful. And the older movies with princesses who rely on men to save them are still being watched constantly by children. Too many young girls are still being socialized to believe they need a man to save them and too many young boys are being socialized to believe girls are weaker than boys and can’t help themselves.

  5. I think that this is a perfect example of how exactly media influences the mindset of young girls and boys. I know when I grew up I was invested in disney movies and particularly with the princesses. My favorite being, Ariel I wanted to be just like her. Everytime I would try on clothes or play dress up and do my make up I would want to be just like her. At the time I didn’t realize just how much an impact that this movie had on the way I looked at myself and how it effected the way that I wanted to be presented to others. It is scary to think back now that this media film had such a huge impact on the way that I believed society was suppose to accept me even if at the time I didn’t realize it. Every disney princess movie have the same source of understanding. The princes are all handsome , rich and powerful which is something that every girl seemed to want as we have grown up. It is something that we have seen for so long we think that it is acceptable to find in reality. In all honesty it is something so rare. On the other hand, women are viewed as being imperfect and must accustom there usual way of life to benefit that of others and even the man they are in love with. Until those changes are made there seems to be now chance of falling in love or having the man accepting of you. I think that disney movies are great and that they are really entertaining but I think that they also are a perfect example of exactly why women have these desirable images of how they want life to be and they are far from reality.

  6. I agree with the points made above, but want to focus on the accusations made against Beauty and the Beast. I feel like abuse is such a harsh word to use for that particular movie. But the intentions for this movie was to show how to love someone for more than their appearance. And although Belle is the stereotype of a skinny brunette with perfect eyes, she sees beyond the fuzzy exterior of this man. She is never physically hurt countless times, hit, slashed or bruised. Using the word abuse is not appropriate. IF anything, this falls into the other odd type of romance Hollywood loves to portray, good girl falls for bad boy. Belle runs away and is not impressed with Gustav, the “rich, charming and successful” cookie cutter man from home.
    Yes, Disney is victim to an extreme portrayal of women. But to a point, this video was a tad extreme.

  7. I see your point that all of the princesses are beautiful and the main goal is finding a prince. I have always loved Disney and I always will! Children love fantasy and I see nothing wrong in these movies as long as the children eventually realize that they are not what happens in real life. The issue of having Disney making a fat ugly princess. This probably will not happen anytime soon because this type of movie would not sell. Should they make this kind of movie, that is the toss up question. I love that the Disney movies are more fantasy than real because that is what I love about movies in general. However, if it gives some people a different perception of reality than movie they should not watch them.

  8. I was just discussing this in my Children’s literature class. It’s strange that Disney has been popping up so many times in the past week. I believe that Disney does pick beautiful women to be princesses, but they have been starting to change their image with the changes in society. The princesses of the past have been made to be pale, blonde, and thin which was seen as being the most beautiful of that time. However, princesses are now being created like in the movie Brave and Mulan. The princesses in brave rebelled against her parents wishes and didn’t dress or behave in the manor her parents wanted her to. I believe that even Disney is playing to what would sell, just like the media, and that they know a princess that portrays the ideal beauty would be more of a hit in the box office. Little girls do idolize princesses but I believe that it is good to let children believe in happy endings. Girls get princesses just like little boys get superheroes. Boys wont acquire super strength and web shooters just like girls most likely wont look like a princess and get rescued by a prince charming.

  9. Your questions actually made me think a lot about how Disney’s princesses have influenced me. I remember watching them when I was younger, but my personal copies of the movies were destroyed when my mom and dad split. I was around age three. I didn’t have the ease of access to these movies that my friends did, so I really clung to reading. I am not a big fan of Disney movies because of this. Why would I watch movies, when the adventures in the books were so much more interesting (The Magic Treehouse anyone?). But I have watched friends who were Disney fans drop everything to watch a movie that might not be sending the best messages. My mom and older sisters were the shining examples of women in my life, not a bunch of cartoon princesses, so I think I grew up believing that I had to help myself to get what I wanted, not wait around for someone else to just sweep in and grant my every wish. So yeah, Disney might need to change what it is sending to the younger (and older) girls in this country. Insecurities are commonplace, though no one admits to it.

  10. I grew up watching most of the Disney Princess movies but I honestly never have felt that I was being taught any of those things that were put in those movies. One of my favorite movies was Mulan (which wasn’t featured) and Beauty and the Beast. When I left watching Beauty and the Beast, I didn’t feel like I was being encouraged to stay in a relationship that was abusive, because Belle did leave and was allowed to leave after a little while, but rather, I felt like I learned that even though a person might seem horrible on the outside, the importance of loving someone can help bring about change. And still, even looking back, I don’t think it’s encouraging young girls to stay in an abusive relation ship. And then with the example of Jasmine that said “you must rebel against convention”, I don’t think that is a bad thing. I know there are things that I do that are unconventional but I do not think they are wrong or are teaching me the wrong thing.

  11. I think it is very easy for society to say that Disney is causing young girls to think they have to be perfect to be happy, but I don’t think that is true at all. Disney creates their Princess movies because they sell. Girls enjoy the fantasy of being a princess. I remember wanting to wear crowns and rule a country before I had ever even hear of Cinderella, or any of the other Disney Princesses. It is just something that appeals to girls, just like super heroes appeal to boys. When boys grow up, we don’t blame super hero movies for any adversities they face; so I don’t think it is fair to blame Disney for problems that girls have when they grow up. When a little girl is watching Princess movies, she isn’t focusing on what was wrong with her. She isn’t focused on what she had to do to become a princess. She isn’t focused on how rich, famous, or powerful the prince is. She is focused on the fact that the girl became a princess, and that gives her hope that one day she can be powerful too. Even though girls hope this power will also come with a tiara, I don’t think it is detrimental for girls to hope that they will be able to also be able to hold some sort of power as well.

  12. I think that most of the reasoning behind making “beautiful” princesses as role model’s for young children can be linked back to why reality television is so popular. It makes money because it is what the public wants to see. Having unattractive princesses is not that way Disney or any other media company is going to make money. Although, making movies such as The Princess and the Frog are strides in the right direction. Having the first African American princess opens the eyes of young viewers and can be seen as an example for future animated movies for a younger target audience.

  13. This video’s ending really made me stop and think for a second; when we think about Disney, what do we think of? Princesses. So why is it that as soon as “how are boys affected by Disney” comes up that I can only think of one male Disney characters name? I feel like this question really embodies media and society where women are so narrowly focused on, good or bad lighting, that it is hard to even remember (being a woman) that it affects men as well. In Missrepresentation there were male speakers, however, in class discussion we mentioned how we wanted more male voices so we could hear the counter side. This post really reminded me that every time something from the media is presented to society, it does not just affect the female audience it may be meant for, but it alters the male audience as well. Disney has for so long been about beauty, love, and success and how much it affects young women, but I would find studying its effects on men, or maybe some other equivalent to them, more interesting to see how the portrayal of women really does affect who they are expected to how, how they are supposed to act, and even what they are supposed to look like.

    • Growing up as a young girl, I idolized all Disney princesses. I would dress up just like them, watch the movies, and sing as if I really was one of them. It’s interesting to look back at things, since I am now a more mature person and realize some of the things that were presented in these movies. You dont need to be thin or beautiful to fall in love with your prince charming, and children these days could be getting the wrong perspective as to what they need to look like or act like. Girls are now growing up thinking that they have to lok a certain way or act a certain way in order to be accepted by society and that is not the case. After watching the Miss Representation documentary, it really is true that young women need to be mindful of what they say around other girls because if you look and the mirror and call yourself ugly or fat, others could be watching and hear you.

  14. This weekend, I took my sister up to D.C. to see Disney on Ice at the Verizon Center. We were both really into figure skating and huge Disney princess fanatics when we were younger (who wasn’t?), and we had always wanted to go see the show but had never had the chance until now. The show focused on several of the big name Disney stories and showcased several of the princesses. In between skits, Mickey and Minnie skated out and would kind of recap the morals of the stories so that they would stick with the audience. Your post was on my mind throughout the show so I was paying careful attention to the points they were trying to get across. After the Tangled and Princess in the Frog skits, Mickey and Minnie both stressed how it was Rapunzel’s ambition and drive that really got her ahead in the end, not just her looks. It was really clear to me after comparing the more modern Disney stories like Tangled and that of Snow White that there really has been a significant shift in the public’s mindset on women and their role in society. This seems like a kind of odd setting to note progress, but it really stuck out to me and it made me really excited to see so many five year old girls holding their Tiana and Rapunzel dolls and getting excited over the princesses who really took a stand and didn’t just rely on their looks. Don’t get me wrong – Cinderella is great and will always hold a place in my heart because she and the others were the princesses I grew up with, but good for these kids. I think we’re setting them up right.

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