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Disney princesses are not the role models they appear to be

By Cassie Schmidt
On January 21, 2010

There are arguably six classic Disney princesses. Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle and Jasmine comprise the heroines of the animated films considered favorites by little girls everywhere. But what are these female leads teaching the children that gather around the TV to watch? Sexism and an inaccurate portrayal of the nature love are the strongest messages Disney has broadcast thus far.

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" was the first animated movie released by Disney. As the first heroine on the scene, Snow White sends the strongest message about gender roles. After being thrown out of her kingdom, she stumbles upon a dirty cottage with seven little men living in it. Without being asked, the young woman cleans the whole house from top to bottom and begins to take on the motherly role the dwarfs expect of her by cooking meals and continuing to clean up after the men. In 1937, when the movie was released, this domestic image of women was commonplace and accepted. But now, more than 80 years later, little girls continue to watch Snow White and assume her submissive role with a smile.

Cinderella was the next Disney princess to hit the silver screen. Again, the female heroine is reduced to cooking and cleaning for others with little other activity in her life. Cinderella, however, embodies another stereotype common among these animated films: love at first sight. Prince Charming, whose mere name evokes images of being swept off one's feet, meets Cinderella and after spending just a few hours together is suddenly head-over-heels in love. Finding a person who knows someone who has fallen in love at first sight is a difficult task, but here Disney is saying that finding your soul mate is as easy as putting on a ball gown and dancing. Children learn by example, and Cinderella teaches that finding love is easy – which is far from the truth.

Princess Aurora, of Sleeping Beauty, is one of the most overlooked princesses. But this does not mean she goes unnoticed by young kids. On the contrary, many young women in high school and college claim their favorite princess is Aurora. "Sleeping Beauty is definitely my favorite. People forget about her sometimes, but she has the best story," said Emily Roderick, a 6th-semester molecular cell biology major. And Aurora's story is one that shows the meekness of women. While Aurora does fall in love at first sight like many of her fellow heroines, the true message lies in her waiting for a prince. In order to come out of her sleeping state, she must receive true love's kiss. Prince Philip, who she has only met once, saves her from the curse that overcame her. In the eyes of the little girls who watch "Sleeping Beauty" until the film of their VHS breaks, all they ever have to do to fix their life's problems is wait for their prince to save them.

Ariel and Belle are the beginnings of the more modern Disney princesses. Both characters are strong willed and have minds of their own. But still, they both share messages with their audiences of female compliance and obedience.  Ariel gives up her entire life to be with a man. She lets Ursula take her voice in exchange for legs and later leaves her home under the ocean to remain on land with her prince. There is no compromise; her husband gives up nothing while she sacrifices everything. Belle, too, lets go of her former life to be with the Beast. But more importantly, Belle teaches how a kind, sweet woman can change a man with a temper and poor demeanor into a gentleman. In reality, Belle could have ended up a battered wife, unable to change her husband's inappropriate behavior.

Jasmine of "Aladdin" joins the others as a modern princess. She refuses to obey her father's order to marry a man she does not love and instead goes on an adventure with Aladdin. But it is important to note that she is the only female character in the entire movie. While Disney improved the message they sent to their viewers, Jasmine was still portrayed as a lonely girl whose only option was to marry in order to not be alone anymore. She had no friends or confidants to help her.

I love Disney just as much as the next girl. I grew up watching the movies and reenacting them with my sister for hours after. But now, in a more modern and enlightened time period, some of the messages Disney has incorporated into their films have become outdated. That doesn't mean children should stop watching the classic films. The old-fashioned morals can help little girls learn about ideals. But somewhere along the line, their dreams of Prince Charming will come crashing down. And this, I suppose, is all part of growing up.

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