Sunday, December 08, 2013

Disneyfication, Power Women and the Problem of Flattening Personality

There was an excellent essay in today's Boston Globe Opinions by Joanna Weiss, "The Problem with Princesses." Weiss is referring to an Internet tornado that has grown out of backlash from Disney giving the standard princess treatment to the very non-princessy character Merida from Pixar's "Brave." There was a petition challenging the matter of Disney re-designing Merida with a thinner look, bigger eyes, and tamed locks, into a more standard Disney princess look from a group called A Mighty

In response to this, British artist David Trumble created a series of satirical "princess" portraits of 10 real life women of accomplishment. Leading off with "Supreme Princess" Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which is certainly what caught my eye in the first place, the series is really eye catching, cute and thought provoking. The image here is reproduced from an interesting article about the work, at Absolutely follow the link and enjoy the truly clever portraits he has made of such current and historical figures as Hilary Rodham Clinton, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Marie Curie and Jane Goodall. I have no idea what the current figures think about the images. I hope they are tickled and find the idea clever and worthwhile. The portraits are actually rather good.

The idea being explored is worth revisiting every single gift-giving season. Little girls are confronted by strong messages about beauty and body image conformity very early. They are pushed into sexy images early as well. It's not just Barbie and Bratz with totally unrealistic body dimensions. The Disney princesses, even re-worked for modern theories of empowered women are still worth discussing with little girls. Do you have to have a dainty little nose to be a princess? Do you have to be thin? Do you have to have little feet and elegant hands? How about whether you have to have swishy smooth lush shiny hair that swoops back and forth around you? Do you have to have big eyes with long lashes? What if your mouth isn't small in a cute, pointy chin, with pouty lips? What if, maybe you aren't a classic beauty? Does beauty mean you are good? Does good mean you are beautiful? These two things are sort of mixed up together in the Disney princesses, and in way too much of our little kid toy, AV and illustrated material.

I remember loving pink, and sparkles, and believing that beautiful meant good. I still like to look nice, and have come back to wearing pink after a long hiatus when I wouldn't touch it. But I think it's a very heavy and dangerous little logic trap to lay out for our children and even ourselves to show images of cute and beautiful that equate those images with goodness and flatten all other characteristics. The Disney princesses basically are flat characters who have few other characteristics beyond (recently) "empowerment," beauty and goodness. Even when they are feisty, there is not much more than that to know about them. I suppose, realistically in a shortish animated feature, we don't know much about the other characters, either. But this is why the character of Merida in Brave, who had a long-term struggle with her mother over control issues was so refreshing. She struggled for independence so fiercely, so it made it very ironic when Disney homogenized the character. She particularly did NOT want to be a standard princess crammed into a princess dress, and what did Disney do to her?


The image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Princess Supreme are from the article about David Trumble, who of course, did the charming art work.

The images of Princess Merida from the Pixar movie Brave and from the Disney redesign are from the petition website, the two images from by Pixar and Disney, though uncredited at the petition website.

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