I have a confession to make: I wore a Belle (meaning Belle from Beauty and the Beast) dress to prom. Beauty and the Beast was always my favorite Disney movie growing up and I when I discovered my prom dress while shopping I was drawn to it. Not because it looked like Belle’s dress but because it was yellow, had a halter and honestly was gorgeous. Later I realized it looked like Belle’s dress and that somewhat thrilled the little girl inside of me. In fact, I was told several times the night of my prom that I looked like Belle. This was a big deal to me for several reason

1) I had never really wished I was a princess but surprisingly found out that I liked feeling like a princess

2) People who had made fun of my looks must think I looked pretty that night

3) I actually fit in for once. And in fact I even stood out a little in a good way. That had never happened before.


I want to go back to that “feeling like a princess” feeling. I’ve been reading Cinderalla Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Girly-Girly Culture by Peggy Orenstein  and have been fascinated by what she reports. Did you know that The Disney Princess line that Disney now markets and sells didn’t originate till the early 2000’s? By that time I had already passed the Disney movie obsession phase (although I think a certain fondness for animals who sing about the circle of life and the unreachable goal of going on a magic carpet ride never really disappears). Before the Disney Princess line was created in character was never sold with the other. They existed separately and within their own stories. The line introduced the Princesses together and aimed to sell Disney Princess merchandise as  a whole package. And BINGO! Disney suddenly found out that like me little girls (and teens and young women and older women) have that secret (women) and not so secret at all (for girls) desire to feel pretty and to be a “princess”.

Here are the princesses in all their glory:Snow White, Cinderella, Auora (sleeping beauty). Ariel (in a dress I don’t remember her ever wearing in the movie), Belle, Jasmine, Pochastas, Mulan, Tiana (Princess and the Frog) and most recently Rapunzel.

So what are the princesses teaching? That the Princesses are all pretty and they all lived happily ever after. And how did they live happily ever after? Was it by learning how to be independent? traveling the world? having a dream job or curing cancer? No. They simply fell in love and kissed a guy, tried on a shoe or traded their voice in for a pair of legs. I understand it. I mean look at them. They are beautiful and yes I still look at my Belle prom dress and remember how much of a princess I felt in it. But really there is and should be more to life.

I’m not a mom so I can’t speak for what my daughter is learning but I can speak for what I learned from princesses and other female ‘role models’.

I wasn’t around for the full princess  line-up but I learned my place in the world early on like most other little girls. And I can’t deny that dear old Walt Disney didn’t add to society’s expectations for little girls. I knew that girls like pink and boys like green. Boys played with trucks and girls played with dolls. Girls were supposed to play dressup and boys were supposed to track mud in all over the house. Thankfully I had a mother who encouraged all types of play and I grew up with an older cousin (Dave) and a younger brother (Chris). Chris and I played with all of the above. We often would create worlds where my paper dolls lived within his leggo cities. I played in mud holes and in return Dave and Chris played dress-up. So to look back upon my childhood years you would think that I would have avoided female stero-typing.

Well maybe I would have if I lived in a vacuum but then school started. Girls were supposed to be quiet. I wasn’t supposed to dress like a boy or play with them. And most of all I was supposed to be “pretty”. It was alright for the boys to harass me because “boys will be boys” and like millions of other women I was supposed to accept that excuse and lie down so they could hit, harrass and embarrass me. Where in the world did those beliefs come from? Not from my mother or my grandmother or my aunts. From specific teachers yes but mostly I just ‘knew’ the rules. I can only look to society and it’s influences. And it scares me how society and it’s expectations for little girls could suddenly replace all of the hours spent playing in the mud and dressing up with my boy cousin and brother.

So really, the Disney Princesses are only one example. The true problem of how little girls perceive themselves and what their ambitions for the future are is so much broader than Disney Princess sheets or Disney Dream House (Disney makes a lot of money from their princess line and honestly I find some of it quite adorable. I have a secret wish to have  all things Belle). Society has somehow set the standards and expectations for how little girls should behave which then morphs into how women should behave. And what society teaches can be dangerous. I can speak for that from first hand experience (and will speak about it in another blog). So something has to change if we want young girls to grow up differently than I did and women to exist in a safer world. Don’t ask me what – I don’t know but obviously something does.

I do know however that what I experienced as I was conforming to society’s expectations of girlhood I was injured in the process.

And I don’t want that for any little girl and especially not for my two ‘nieces’.




Filed under body image, bullying, eating disorder, eating disorders, the past

6 responses to “princesses

  1. Kate, you have such honesty and wisdom. I think Belle is not too bad because she really likes reading and she falls for a man who is FAR from perfect and somehow her innocent love makes him be a better man, which is much less superficial than riding off on horseback with Prince Charming or at least that’s what I tell myself.

    I, too, bought into the “girl” role, though my main belief was, (and I never would have said this out loud) that girls aren’t supposed to be smart. “It’s not pretty or feminine or cool to be smart; it’s nerdy and weird and awkward.” And so many times I avoided raising my hand or asking questions or prefaced my answer with “This is probably wrong, but… ” (literally). I thought it was girly to be helpless, to be in need of being saved, to wait to be rescued instead of climbing out of the darn tower. Because being romantically rescued and swept off your feet sounds so alluring, but really you just keep WAITING and it’s very blah. I don’t think I’ve ever articulated this, so thank you. Also I don’t think it’s wrong to love princesses, just to recognize that they propagate a bunch of stereotypes about weak and helpless and pretty being feminine. I wish someone would have told me as a child that being strong or being smart or saving yourself was more important than fitting into cultural norms, though I’m not sure I would’ve believed them.

    Sorry for rambling. I love you, and you’re awesome. You will make an EXCELLENT women’s studies major.

    • But the best is Mulan (who is wearing that dress she hates – what’s up with that?). Be A Man. 🙂
      And thank you. I think i have finally found something I am passionent about besides dogs. It feels nice. I’m glad you were able to articulate your fears about being smart. Isn’t funny we can have those relevlations years later and then still effect us. I guess that is why we go to therapy. lol love you lots.

  2. Mary

    What an interesting post. You are gonna write some kick-ass papers for Women’s Studies! I think that you are such a strong person and I know that society has a hand on all of us. But, I have found that getting out and traveling around helps to increase your knowledge and by increasing knowledge, you decrease fear. (total sidenote there – though your blog helps to do that exact thing for me with some of the issues that you talk about)

    • Thanks Miss Mary. I’m looking forward to starting school again and having the opportunities to write papers. It’s nice to have found something that I am passionate. And actually I have been thinking about the opportunity I will have to travel with Ben. I have a trip to Utah planned in the fall and my friend Carrie is in CA till next May so I’ll visit her on spring break. Maybe we can arrange for me to come to see you next summer. 😀

  3. My friend also wore a Belle dress to her prom, and how she is getting married in a Belle wedding dress from Alfred Angelo’s Princess Collection.
    Also- have you ever watched the show Once Upon A Time? The first season just ended but its about how fairy tale characters were turned into real people and do not remember their past. Snow White is the main character. It’s a great show and a nice twist on princesses and “Happily Ever After”

  4. I have always loved Belle. When I was little, I carried around a figurine of her with me everywhere. A few years ago, I tried to make myself a belle gown. Today, I check Disney stores to make sure they aren’t forgetting Belle, and I’m only slightly embarrassed to say that I know the movie by heart. No, I’m definitely not obsessed, but Belle holds a special place in my heart. I think I loved her so much because she was the one princess (pre-Mulan) who wanted something other than a prince. She loved books, made sacrifices. She was strong and brave. I never loved any of the other princesses (I was even a bit of a tomboy—I loved rockets and space), but Belle was my role model. Anyway, I think the issues you bring up are really interesting. Belle has shaped me, and the other princesses have undoubtedly shaped many other women today. Of course there are many things that go into creating societal pressures, and the princesses are just one manifestation of our culture’s ideas about how girls and women should behave. However, I do think that the fairytales and myths have always been important in helping define these different norms.

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