I have had the spirit of the Disney princesses within me ever since I was a young sapling. I grew up and was practically raised by Disney, so I believe that not only do I have the spirit of the princesses, my personalities have shifted according to each princess.
On some days, I am Cinderella believing dreams are wishes a heart makes and other days, I am Mulan in the mood to save China and make a man out of myself. I can embody Tiana’s determination and hard work or I could paint the colors of the wind like Pocahontas. Regardless, the question that comes to mind though is what makes a Disney princess? What prerequisites are required for one to be crowned a Disney princess?
From what society says, the common trait of a princess is perfection. I know nowadays, perfection is you being your most authentic self no matter the size. However, what they mean and what is written in the fine print is the slender, freakishly skinny, “America’s Next Top Model” type body that all of the Disney princesses have.
Although it seems society has become more inclusive over the years, part of, if not most of, it all is commercial. They will go through lengths, miles and whatever drastic measures necessary to get those big bucks and always be the ones on top. They do not care about the emotional damage and trauma that comes with low self-esteem, eating disorders and poor mental health as long as there are always customers buying the product.
Now, the question is: what if the product demonstrated the opposite of these consequences? I believe during Disney’s Renaissance era, the princesses’ demeanor compared to the 1950s changed tremendously excluding the fact that there had not been a Disney princess since 1959.
The Renaissance brought back Disney princesses starting with Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” (1989) to emphasize the changes happening in the world and with the company such as women empowerment. For example, Jasmine from “Aladdin” (1992) refused to be “a prize to be won” just to get married and be a submissive. Even in the 2019 live-action, she became sultan not because it was a stoned-in destiny she had to cave into but because she showcased her power, intelligence and love for her country and others. During the 1990s as a whole, traditions began to crumble, and boundaries began to get pushed.
According to Comic Book Resources (CBR), this Renaissance era “showed filmmakers and audiences that it was okay to push boundaries. Since then, Disney films have shown characters from all walks of life dealing with situations everyone could relate to on some level.” This source rings true since Disney released their first person of color Disney princess with “Pocahontas” (1995), their first Asian Disney princess with “Mulan” (1999) and their first African-American Disney princess with “The Princess and The Frog” (2009).
The princesses in these films all have diverse cultures and different stories to tell that not everyone can relate; nonetheless, the stories and their coming of age journey exemplifies unity and that we all can have the same story to tell. During Renaissance and the years following after, more Disney films, as well as animation as a whole, were moving away from showing female leads as a damsel in distress in need of a man. Instead, they became their own man and learned how to rescue themselves.
So, let us go back to the question then: what makes you a Disney Princess? The answer is what you make it. Standards, traditions, false body image and the negative/outdated associations with the “perfect princess” have become irrelevant as the world around us changes with inclusiveness and representation.
You are a Disney princess if you exude yourself in the best way possible. What I mean is that Rapunzel exuded herself through her art, her silliness, and her bravery while Moana exuded herself through her love for the ocean, her willpower and her determination. However, soon you realize that in the years following, the Disney princesses’ character traits replicate each other but executed differently.
Moral of the story: there is no wrong way to be a Disney princess as long as you showcase your strengths, your bravery, your honesty and your contribution to the changing world.