Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
~~ Henry IV, Part II, 3.1
I was on the search for something quick and whimsical today, and I think I may have found it:
Australian retailer BlackMilk just launched its Princess & Villains collection inspired by the ladies of Disney. To be clear, this is a line for adults. As in, adult humans are encouraged to wear this clothing on their bodies. (h/t Jezebel)
I’m pretty much in agreement with Jezebel’s Kara Brown about the ugly/tacky quotient on these. Seriously. This is a line of clothing I am not particularly upset doesn’t run into plus sizes. (I know: from a general fat activism perspective, it’s troubling when any high fashion line perpetuates thin-ness as the only body type worth draping in fashionable clothing. But speaking only for my own personal taste in clothing? I’m not real upset to have this particular line barred from me on account of the sizing and sourcing choices.)
But if nothing else, it’s a good excuse for a bit of a link-fest. (That turned into something more substantive than I originally expected. I quite literally cannot stop myself from pontificating, sometimes…)
And then there’s this gallery on DeviantArt that presents Disney Princesses/Heroines garbed in “their” Princes’ outfits. True confession: There’s a number of these folks I don’t recognize at all. I used to keep up with Disney releases, but clearly I stopped doing so longer ago than I thought I had…
Anyhow. This Princess-to-Prince gallery I remember seeing back when it went viral last fall, but this one, which presents more historically accurate gowns for the characters, was new to me today.
In one corner of the debate are those who point to its influence as another source for the misogynist miasma that helps reinforce the ways girls/women should be primarily focused on their attractiveness and marriageability. For example, Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella At My Daughter:
It’s part of this culture that encourages girls to define themselves through beauty and play-sexiness—and eventually, real sexiness—and I don’t think that’s the yardstick we want our daughters measuring themselves by.
Experts say femininity, identity and sexuality have become a performance for girls. Girls perform sexual confidence but they don’t connect it to erotic desire. It’s not about their own desire, their own self-determination.
As a parent, I didn’t realize how much of my job was going to be protecting my kid’s childhood from being a marketer’s land grab—companies telling her who she should be.
See also: Merida’s attempted Princess makeover.
Disney’s redesign of the character tamed her unruly hair, expanded her breasts, shrank her waist, enlarged her eyes, plastered on makeup, pulled her (now-glittering) dress off her shoulders, and morphed her defiant posture into a come-hither pose. The bow-wielding Merida of Brave — a character who explicitly fought against the princess world her mother tried to push her into in the film — was becoming what she hated, and inadvertently revealing the enormously problematic nature of Disney’s Princess line.
And yet, there are also those who see Disney Princesses in a different light. Possibly as a mild expression of societal — I would say “patriarchal” — values already embedded in the culture. Values more strongly caused and propagated by other sources:
It’s true that princess culture is complicit in keeping in place many of the troubling stressors women and girls suffer. But when you talk to me about impossible beauty standards and eating disorders, I’d point to Photoshop and the “obesity epidemic” before I’d point to stylized animation. When you talk to me about early sexualization of children, consider the retailers selling padded inch-thick push-up bras in the kid’s department before looking at Disney’s chaste kisses between adults. (Unless you think a kid shouldn’t see their parents kissing, in which case… I don’t think we’ll ever be on the same page.)
These are problems, sure, but they’re not problems Disney created, and Disney isn’t the primary villain here. At least not while my seven-year-old is walking by billboards for Victoria’s Secret the size of a school bus.
And then there’s even a more pointed critique of those wishing to critique Princess Culture:
Some say “Princess Culture” promotes materialism, patriarchy, and a sadistic need for long, shiny hair. Many moms worry a Snow White doll will turn their pre-K Amazons into simpering ninnies more concerned with looks than grades and goals. But they’re wrong—and I speak from personal experience. The truth is, Princess Culture helped me become more confident, more adventurous, and more okay with being different. It also helped me understand and embrace the concept of feminism at a very early age. Seriously. (Elle.)
I have enough passing nostalgia for my years loving Disney animation that I can definitely feel the pull to defend what may have been treasured bits of childhood. Still, I’m more on the side of those who remain troubled by Princess Culture. To quote Orenstein’s book (as excerpted here at NPR):
It is tempting, as a parent, to give the new pink-and-pretty a pass. There is already so much to be vigilant about, and the limits of our tolerance, along with our energy, slip a little with each child we have. So if a spa birthday party would make your six-year-old happy (and get her to leave you alone), really, what is the big deal? After all, girls will be girls, right? I agree, they will — and that is exactly why we need to pay more, rather than less, attention to what is happening in their world. According to the American Psychological Association, the girlie-girl culture’s emphasis on beauty and play-sexiness can increase girls’ vulnerability to the pitfalls that most concern parents: depression, eating disorders, distorted body image, risky sexual behavior. In one study of eighth-grade girls, for instance, self-objectification — judging your body by how you think it looks to others — accounted for half the differential in girls’ reports of depression and more than two-thirds of the variance in their self-esteem. Another linked the focus on appearance among girls that age to heightened shame and anxiety about their bodies. Even brief exposure to the typical, idealized images of women that we all see every day has been shown to lower girls’ opinion of themselves, both physically and academically. Nor, as they get older, does the new sexiness lead to greater sexual entitlement. According to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College who studies teenage girls’ desire, “They respond to questions about how their bodies feel — questions about sexuality or arousal — by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.”
As such, I’m very glad to see signs of the Princess Counter-Culture. Like Orenstein’s media and activity suggestions for interested parents — including a Hiyao Miyazaki shout-out!! Or Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor giving career advice on Sesame Street:
And yet. True confession #2: I have these on my desk at work:
Plus a Cruella de Ville stapler.
So I’m as complicit in this commercialized mess as anyone….
Replace the princess: http://saraelyafi.com/2013/05/14/it-is-time-to-replace-the-princess-with-the-woman