I suppose it was inevitable that my little girl would one day enter the Princess Phase.
For the past two years, my 4-year-old daughter has been steadily consuming all things Disney Princess: the movies, dolls, costumes, jewelry, clothing, bed sheets. Whatever merchandise Disney churns out, my daughter will readily (and unquestionably) devour it.
While I’ve learned to
tolerate embrace my daughter’s obsession, that wasn’t always the case. Consider that historically, Disney movies depict a restrictive role for its heroines defined by gender and marriage. The earliest princesses (Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty”) are practically carbon copies of one another: white, soft-spoken, outwardly flawless, and always ready to break into song. Little wonder I was dismayed when my daughter first began worshipping all things pink and sparkly.
Which is why I love photographer Dina Goldstein’s latest conceptual series, Fallen Princesses. Inspired by the intersection of two events in her life—her daughter’s interest in princesses and her mother’s cancer diagnosis—Goldstein’s photos imagine the Disney princesses in scenarios far removed from the sterile and tidy world imagined by Disney. Unlike the happily ever after which ends every Disney Princess story, Goldstein’s series highlights the less pleasant realities of life: things like illness, unhappy marriages, obesity, alcoholism and aging.
In recent years, Disney has made strides to improve the passive image of the princess. The later installments in the empire feature strong-willed, intelligent and self-determining protagonists: Mulan cross-dresses as a soldier to save her father; Tiana from “The Princess and the Frog” works tirelessly to open her own restaurant; Merida, from the Disney/Pixar movie “Brave,” magically transforms her mother into a bear to keep from being forced into marriage.
But despite these advances (if you can call transforming your mother into a wild animal progress), I’m still not so keen on some of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) themes presented. All of the movies end predictably, with the villains receiving swift justice and the princesses living their dreams-come-true. The heroines are uniform in appearance: conventionally attractive with the same lithe figure—something that for many women remains unattainable and unrealistic. And while not all of the movies center on the heroine and her love interest, enough focus on the marriage-and-happily-ever-after scenario that it might be easy for impressionable girls to think marrying the Man of Your DreamsTM is a woman’s greatest life achievement.
To be fair, nearly all child-geared media oversimplify life’s problems (after all, who doesn’t want to see a feel-good movie to forget the complicated and messy realities of one’s own life). But Disney Princesses are a HUGE business, generating over 3 billion in sales in 2006, and are practically a rite of passage for American girls. Factor in that girls and women are already bombarded with far too many messages reminding them to adhere to rigid beauty standards and achieve the pinnacles of marriage and motherhood, and the composite picture can be unsettling.
These images from Goldstein provide a welcome counterpoint, illustrating that life isn’t all about happy endings, but also disappointment and hardship. My daughter is too young to absorb Goldstein’s message, but at least her photos open the way for a dialog and get my daughter to question the roles of her most cherished princesses.
Daily Mail Fallen Princesses
And a video that’s only tangentially related, but highly entertaining: