Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall – Who’s the Wellest of Them All?

Unknown.jpegDisney Princesses aren’t just movie characters.  Disney Princesses aren’t just that phase you have as a child and roll your eyes at later when you look through photo albums, and from ages 3-6 you were your favorite princess for Halloween.  No, Disney Princesses represent so much more.  In particular, they inspire young people and teach valuable lessons, all by exemplifying and promoting different elements of wellness. Disney is notorious for its objectifying of women, as well as men, creating and perpetuating stereotypes, and basically trademarking the idea of the damsel in distress.  Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), and Ariel (1989) were some of Disney’s original princesses.  There are many things they represent as characters but most importantly, as women.  Disney created this heroin who emulates helplessness, weakness, naivety, complacency, and the stereotypical role of a woman: fawning while wrapped in the arms of her strong prince, unless she’s busy cooking or cleaning.  However, these women show more than what they are given credit for.  Each of these three princesses present qualities that every young person can look up to and admire, as well as promote social/community, emotional, mental, multicultural, and intellectual wellness.

Someday my prince will come is the mantra of every helpless princess.  Snow White, the first Disney Princess, set the stage for the message Disney would send its viewers for decades to come.  However, there is more to this fair-faced, ruby-rose-lipped maiden than she’s given credit for.  We all know the story of the seven dwarves, the poison apple, and the kiss that wakes her… But how did she come across the dwarves anyway?  Well, Snow was just told by a huntsman that he was sent by her stepmother to kill her.  She runs into the forest full with intense music and trees that come to life for dramatic effect and then she collapses, overwhelmed (understandably) by the course of events.  Little woodland creatures come to her out of fearful curiosity, but when she looks up, she sings with them a song, saying that with a smile and song life is just a bright sunny day… Remember, you’re the one who can fill the world with sunshine.  Her own stepmother is out to get her but due to her strong emotional wellbeing, there is nothing that will keep this woman from smiling.  Then we have the seven dwarves.  One could say that the motherly role she assumes with them, how she cleaned their house out of some unknown womanly compulsion, is playing to the more sexist side of Disney.  However, view it a little differently.  Snow brings these dwarves together and creates a real family.  Being the mother and housekeeper may seem stereotypical, but it also reveals the kindness and caring she shows towards strangers and how social/community wellness can bring very different people together.

A dream is a wish your heart makes is just a hint at the dismal reality of Cinderella’s waking life.  Cinderella’s story of “rags to riches” would be quoted for the rest of time, but what makes her story less impressive, especially to women, is that she needed a man to help her get there.  Yes, the glass slipper and magic pumpkin are iconic, but there is a key part of the story that people overlook.  Cinderella was a slave to her stepmother and stepsisters.  The music and fun of the movie completely glossed over the fact that she was worked like a dog and was living in an impossible situation.  Despite this, Cinderella showed great strength, not only obeying her abusers’ every whim, but having the constant attitude of don’t let your heart be filled with sorrow for all you know tomorrow, the dream that you wish will come true.   By not losing her sanity and instead finding solace in her positive thoughts, Cinderella shows strong mental wellness.  Never pitying herself or giving into the misery of the life she was living, she also exhibits the inner strength and emotional wellness that viewers can respect and admire.

Part of your world is the idea that fuels The Little Mermaid.  The forbidden mystery of the human world becomes ever more desirable as Ariel is commanded by her father to behave like the rest of the fishy-folk.  At first, this Disney Princess is clearly an effort to modernize the classic mold Disney has created for itself.  However, once Ariel falls in-love-at-first-sight with a human, her adventurous and independent spirit is almost discredited by the quest to be with her prince.  However, Disney is on the right track.  Ariel’s obsession with the human world shows a genuine craving for knowledge and both intellectual and multicultural wellness.  Though this film may have sparked a sudden surge in the cosmetic use of forks, Ariel’s curiosity exhibits a desire to better herself through knowledge and is evident of her intellectual wellbeing.  As she falls deeper in love with her human prince, you see her naiveté when a couple of eels and a voluptuous octopus can convince her to trade her voice for legs.  However, her behavior is very brave.  Agreeing to even be in a cave with an evil octopus who has a collection of poor unfortunate souls in the form of shriveled worms lining the floor is impressive, but her desire to be human is so strong that she is willing to do what it takes to swim there.  Having traded her voice, Ariel is mute in a new world, in a new body, and on a mission she has merely three days to complete.  However, due to her emotional and multicultural wellness, that magnitude of a challenge never proved overwhelming and was handled with constant positivity.  Disney created Ariel to mark a new beginning for the future of Disney’s princesses.  It’s clear that with her desire for knowledge, adventurous attitude, and bravery, Ariel’s character is one many viewers can seek inspiration for their own intellectual, multicultural, and emotional wellness.

Time and time again, Disney creates a magical world where anything is possible, unless you’re a woman; then you’ll need some pixie dust and a man with a sword to guide you.  But despite the gender roles and sexist attitudes, every princess has something positive to give to young viewers as well.  Snow White wasn’t just a dim-witted-damsel with the best complexion in the history of Disney; she was also a kind, positive, and carrying woman who is emotionally and socially/community well.  Cinderella didn’t just hit the jack-pot when her fairy godmother came to help her; she had a personal strength and emotional and mental wellness that’s quite admirable.  And finally, Ariel wasn’t just a naïve fish out of water who was too willing to risk it all for her blind love of the forbidden; she craved knowledge, was fiercely independent, and showed bravery beyond any princess before her, making her emotionally, intellectually, and also multiculturally well. Disney now has begun to mend its ways through films like Mulan, The Princess and the Frog, and especially Brave.  The progress made over the course of 60 years is noteworthy, but we can’t forget that all along, Disney was still doing something right.  Put ‘em together and what have you got? Bibbidi-bobbidi-bo!

Written by Emma Bacon, WLLC 2015-2016

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