𝘋𝘢𝘮𝘢𝘨𝘦 𝘋𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘣𝘺 𝘋𝘪𝘴𝘯𝘦𝘺
Disney has served to be a centerpiece for the youth of today and has formed numerous memories for us. One specific piece of the Disney universe, the Disney Princesses, are well known for catering to young girls around the globe. The Disney Princesses are courageous women that show the significance of virtues, for example, thoughtfulness and sympathy, through their storylines. By and large, Disney Princesses are viewed as positive impacts. However, these films frequently water down the appearances and characters of the Princesses and match them to generalizations of a “perfect lady.” An example of this taking place is explained by Ben Child in The Guardian article, “Brave Director Criticises Disney’s Sexualised Merida Redesign”. In this writing, Child criticizes the modifications made to Princess Merida which consisted of a slimmer, taller and prettier version of herself to increase sales for her merchandise. Child effectively uses ethos and angered diction to expose how Disney warps pure intent into malicious messages for young demographics. He makes it apparent that Disney’s focus strays from good intent in favor of more profitable methods. Though Disney Princesses are meant to serve as positive role models for young girls, Disney franchises off this and instead uses their power as a way to strengthen profit by telling girls they need makeup, dresses, etc. to be ‘pretty’.
Ben Child makes use of rhetorical methods such as ethos to support his reliability in discussing the topic as well as ensuring that his voice is expressed by utilizing an angry diction to argue that Disney must fix their marketing strategies as they are toxic to their demographic. Ethos is established by bringing in the co-director of the movie Brave itself. By doing so Child is establishing ground for his argument as the creator of the movie itself disagrees with how the original message was twisted to capitalize. Child mentions, “Chapman who… maintained a co-director’s credit, said Disney had completely missed the point when creating the new version of her creation… “When little girls say they like it because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the sexy ‘come-hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible,” It is a powerful and effective writing decision to include Chapman’s thoughts here. Chapman refers to Princess Merida as her creation and thus being provided with her distaste for what Disney had done, this is a successfully executed piece of evidence that validates Child’s ethos. Another example of ethos in Child’s writing is when he brings up the use of the petition in his writing. The petition, which had more than 100,000 signatures, aimed to get the attention of the Disney Chairman Bob Iger. One participant writes, “Merida was the princess that countless girls and their parents were waiting for-a strong confident, self-rescuing princess… you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior… they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty.” This petition participant makes it transparent that the actions of Disney to sexualise the princess goes against the original intent of Merida. Child’s decision to include this quote from the petition helps support his argument as it shows that even the viewers of the movie, Disney’s demographic, are upset by the actions Disney took. It is clear that ethos plays a major role in Child’s thesis for including individuals directly affected by the movie validates the claims he made.
Ben Child also used strong phrases throughout his writing to establish a passionate tone about the topic at hand. For example, he writes, “To make matters worse, the new Merida appears wearing a tight dress for which the princess herself expressed hatred in the film.” The phrase ‘to make matters worse’ insinuates Child’s argument being one of urgency. If he had written the sentence without the phrase readers would not be able to sense how strong he felt about the topic which in turn would undermine how serious the topic is. Other powerful phrases include ‘I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida’, ‘Merida was created to break that mould’ and ‘The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to millions of children…’. Such phrases are essential to Child’s argument because they exhibit the strong feelings felt about the matter from all perspectives. Child successfully includes intense wording to describe how fans and younger demographics react to Disney’s actions.
Ben Child brings up many powerful methods to support his argument that Disney warps innocent and positive minded intent, specifically by using the movie Brave. However, using more sources such as other movies that experience similar impact from Disney marketing would make his argument even stronger. Disney has developed their animating style since their first movie, Snow White & The Seven Dwarves. Despite this, the overall look in the female characters remain consistent. “Most female characters shared strikingly similar facial features, while the male characters were much more diverse” (Waletzko). The Disney Princesses all share many similar facial features such as small button noses and large doe eyes, traits that are traditionally seen as desirable and pretty. If you compare Snow White, the first Disney Princess, to Moana, the newest, it is easy to tell how much the animation changed but also, how the eyes continue to cover a large portion of the face. The lack of variety in the physical features of these role models will manipulate the perception of “pretty” in the minds of young girls. Many people noticed the similarities between the recent princesses, Rapunzel and Anna and Elsa. Many can defend this by saying that the animators are the same so obviously, there are bound to be similarities. However, the main male protagonist of Tangled, Flynn Rider, and the main male character, Kristoff, do not share as many features.
After this difference was brought to attention, a Disney executive replied by saying “Historically speaking, animating female characters are really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very — you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to — you can get them off a model very quickly (Amidi).” He gives the example of Frozen as especially hard to animate because of the struggle of making Anna and Elsa, the main protagonists, look different while experiencing the same emotion (Amidi). Many people were angered by this because not only does it limit the versatility in women’s faces but it also implicitly limits the emotions that male characters can feel. The executive desensitizes men’s emotions and just emphasizes how women are pretty faces with sensitive feelings. Another problematic thing he says is how difficult it was to make sure that Anna and Elsa looked different but were also pretty, as if there was one template or base for a pretty woman. The general model the executive refers to characters such as Rapunzel and Elsa. The character design of these characters have large eyes, button noses, and a small face, all correlating with traditional gender norms. These features that have persisted for decades in the stereotype for a “pretty woman” are benefiting businesses that offer solutions to girls that don’t match them such as makeup industries. This goes back to Child’s argument that by encouraging such drastic standards, fashion and beauty industries are prospering.
Another thing that young girls are introduced to because of the Disney Princesses is the “thin ideal.” All the heroines share similar body types: thin, long hair, and small, unattainable waists. The lack of body diversity can possibly damage a child’s perspective of what is desirable and “pretty.” Sarah Coyne, a professor with a PhD in psychology, says “internalization of the thin ideal as portrayed in the media can be damaging, having an impact on a girl’s self-esteem and self-worth” (BYU Speeches). This starts at a young age when young girls are constantly shown princesses as idealized role models. Girls will compare themselves to these princesses and often want to be like one despite some of their pretty features being unattainable. As a girl myself, I have also been affected by beauty standards that are imposed on us and one thing that is always mentioned is waist size. Small, thin waists have always been seen as attractive and people are always working to go down a few inches which can lead to self-esteem problems when met with failure. The fact that young girls see princesses as only “thin ideal” is very problematic and will warp their idea of beauty as this single body type.
Another thing that Coyne touches upon is the emphasis that Disney puts on finding true love and how this is a large part of many of the princesses’ “happily ever afters”. Ten out of 14 princesses, including Anna and Elsa, find “true love.” This theme is emphasized throughout many of the movies and the significance of finding “the one” is amplified. At the end, the girls’ happiness is dependent on the presence of a man. This can lead to young girls chasing after idealized princes even if they are encouraged to be independent and know their self-worth; a concept which movies like Brave hoped to dispel.
Many people often discredit the concerns of these movies by simply saying that they are just movies. However, movies are known to have a great influence on society. Because we are showing these movies to young children and setting the protagonists as role models, we have to be careful as to what the children can take in. In a study conducted by the University of North Texas, researchers exposed Thai Kindergarten girls to different types of movies. The girls were separated into two groups, one being exposed to movies centered around humans while the other centered around animals. “Girls in the experimental group expressed greater body image dissatisfaction scores after watching Disney movies, which was an expected finding. Results from the present study suggest that girls in both groups become concerned about their body esteem after video exposure” (Asawarachan, Tanawan, et al). Although we can argue that the researchers should have chosen a more diverse group of participants, the results for the Thai girls still show a representation of a small group of people. The research study shows that there is a correlation between Disney movies and self-esteem. Overall, the young children were negatively affected by the movies and this can be connected to young children all over the world. Movies can strongly affect children and if we want them to be body positive and confident, we need to show role models on the screen that represent and look like them. This provides a primary example of the phenomenon that Child warned consumers about; the negative outlook on oneself due to retouched role models.
Disney has continued to influence stereotypes that women face. Many of the Disney Princess movies do not show women as leaders, with the exception of a few, and this can affect thoughts on gender norms that children develop at a young age. This can influence young girls to shy away from such careers in the future that would require them to be leaders because of the lack of representation they had since they were young.
Child is able to introduce the wrongdoings in the Disney industry through his analysis of Brave by using rhetorical methods such as diction and ethos, however in order to provide a more in depth reading, his argument would have been more powerful had he mentioned other Disney movies as well. Although Disney markets the Princess movies as empowering for women, many of them contradict this. Many of the movies that are continuously celebrated and are seen as classics often lack diversity in the female characters and do a poor job at representing women. However, Disney has been improving since Snow White & The Seven Dwarves and have created Moana, a movie that many agree to be empowering. However, there are many things even in the recent movies, that can affect the self-esteem of young girls that idolize these protagonists such as their unattainable and idealized appearances. It is important to show children the versatility of women by showing them different types of role models so they have more to choose from in the future.
- Asawarachan, Tanawan, et al. “The Disney Influence on Kindergarten Girls’ Body Image.” University of North Texas, May 2013, https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc271773/#description-content-main
- BYU Speeches. “The Fantasy and Reality of Your Royal Identity | Sarah M. Coyne” Youtube.com, YouTube, 17 June. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=77&v=Lxd5653nckc&feature=emb_logo.
- Child, Ben. “Brave Director Criticizes Disney’s ‘Sexualized’ Princess Merida Design.” theguardian.com, Guardian News and Media, 13 May 2013, https://amp.theguardian.com/film/2013/may/13/brave-director-criticises-sexualised-merida-redesign.
- “Disney Princess.” disney.com, Disney Princess, 10 Nov. 2019, princess.disney.com/.
- Waletzko, Anna. “Why the Bechdel Test Fails Feminism.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/why-the-bechdel-test-fails-feminism_b_7139510.