Usually, when you hear the term "Princess Week," images of ball gowns, tiaras, and lots and lots of pink happily ever afters spring to mind. But not over here at Mom & Pop Culture.
Not that I don't like pink (or a sparkly tiara now and then).
I do (sometimes).
What I don't like is how the Princess Culture has invaded our children's lives via overzealous marketing and branding. I also don't care for the limiting and sexist "values" that most (read: Disney) princesses tend to bring with them. This week we'll look at all things princess, including my own hypocritical princess ideals (you'll have to wait until the next post for that confession).
Over the last few weeks, a few princess-themed pictures have popped up on my Facebook feed, courtesy of George Takei of all people. These pictures strip away the fantasy that Disney tries to market and shows the hidden ugly side to these princesses.
Look at Belle for example. At the beginning of Beauty and the Beast she doesn't fit into the stereotypical princess mold. She's intelligent! She reads books! She wants more than her tiny French village and sees right through the idiocy that is Gaston! But after all is said and done, her "freedom" comes in the form of marriage to a prince (who was once a Beast who treated her horribly). There was so much promise in the set up, and then...disappointment. Especially for me, an eleven-year-old girl who was super into reading books.
While the original version (A French tale called La Belle et la Bête) still included many of the tired tropes that show up in the Disney version, it also included a much richer back story, one that got lost during its "Disneyfication."
This seems to be Disney's method. They take age-old stories and break them down until all that's left are overused stereotypes and a lot of fancy dresses (which you can buy for your child!). The story of Cinderella has been told forever, spanning the globe. There are versions from China, Vietnam, France, Ancient Greece, Egypt and elsewhere. Yet the one version most people think of when they hear the name is the Disneyfied one.
I truly have nothing against the concept of princesses in general. There are a lot of awesome princess stories out there*. Clearly, the romanticized idea of royalty is one that kids have latched on to through the ages. Perhaps it's just an instinctual penchant for frilly dresses and sparkly tiaras. Maybe there is something about a happily-ever-after story that really resonates with children.
No, it's not the actual princesses that get me all fired up. It's what happened once Disney sunk their claws into these fables and turned them from stories into branded commodities. The princess business, which was investigated by author Peggy Orenstein in her latest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Not only has Disney taken a handful of traditional fairytales and cut them down to a set of colorful stereotypes (as noted in the above picture) but they've tied them in to costumes, toys, bedding, games, books, movies, TV shows, school supplies, food, clothing and more to the tune of over 4 billion dollars a year.
As Disney continues to sell their princesses (and make no mistake, they're selling a brand, not just characters), they continue to show us that people will eat up these negative messages as long as they're packaged in an appealing way—in this case, in pinks and purples and lots of sparkle. It's amazing how far they will actually push it.
Last week I stumbled across this gem in the book aisle of a local supermarket. A few hundred Tinkerbells could have flown in my mouth, it was gaping open so wide: A glitter sticker book devoted to Disney princess weddings. It was as if the universe was offering me a prime example of everything I find abhorrent with this whole Princess Culture.
This book does it all: It pushes the concept that the end goal is a happily-ever-after, and the only way to achieve that is through marriage. The Disney Princess stories already lay the groundwork, telling tales of young girls needing to be saved by the handsome prince. This sticker book takes it to the next level, proclaiming that marriage is the desired goal. While the wedding industry certainly doesn't need a boost, planting the seeds of that "perfect day" can now start as young as three, all thanks to Disney.
Beyond promoting examples of unhealthy, sexist, and stereotypical relationships, books like these only feed into our consumerist culture. Along with Princess Culture comes a "Buy It Now!" attitude that is only reinforced by the multitude of products that are brought into the brand every year. Disney, and other companies like it, bank on this, hoping that the Princess Culture grabs you by the heart and the wallet so that when it is time for your special day, you might even consider being the star of your own Disney Wedding.
While many young girls make it through their "princess years" mostly unscathed, in the face of fairytale weddings that get their exposure via reality television, is more of this Princess Culture sinking in then we realize?
*Some fabulous princesses stories that stand on their own (without a 4 billion dollar industry backing them up). Please share if you know of any others!
- The Princess Knight
- The Serpent Slayer
- The Paper Bag Princess
- The Thirteenth Princess
- Dealing With Dragons
Previously: Mom & Pop Culture: The Grocery Game