I ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon last weekend. And I’m not embarassed to admit that when I approached Cinderella’s castle and saw coachmen waiting near the entrance as trumpeters announced our arrival, I was positively swooning. I even got a little misty-eyed when we ran through the castle, down the path, and saw Cinderella and Prince Charming posing on the other side. I loved my Belle race bib, and I giggled when I heard “Whatta Man” blasting as several of the princes posed for pictures with runners. I may not have hopped off course to pose for photographs, but my inner eight-year-old was certainly smitten.
It’s not that I was really a Disney princess-obsessed little girl. I liked the movies. Most of all, I loved singing along with all of the songs. I was particularly fond of the music in The Little Mermaid, and I adored book-loving Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Princess attire didn’t make it so far as a Halloween costume when I was a child. I prefered Pippi Longstocking, Wilma Flintstone, and even Bobby Brady. In high school, some friends as I dressed as the princesses for Halloween, but chose to be somewhat ironic about the whole thing. I was Ariel in her blue dress; my friend was Cinderella in rags. We had fun being the non-traditional versions of princesses. My blue dress still hangs in my closet. I still go to see new Disney movies when they hit the theaters, and I’ll own up to absolutely loving Tangled.
At the same time, though I often skirt the actual term, claiming to be “big on girl power,” let’s face it, I’m a feminist. It is extremely important to me that girls grow up with the knowledge that they can be anything they want to be. I idolized Amelia Earhart growing up; Ariel and Belle never held a candle to the enchantment Ms. Earhart possessed over me. And though I never noticed some of the Disney subtext as a child, at 26, I can frequently be heard on anti-Disney rampages. (Though I still refuse to admit any negative messages in Beauty and the Beast. Bookish Belle won me over, hook, line, and sinker.)
Ariel won over Prince Eric only after Ursula took away her voice. Snow White and Princess Aurora (Sleepy Beauty) just slept, looking pretty, until their princes came to awaken them with a magical kiss. Cinderella is destined to a life of servitude until Prince Charming comes along. (Holding tight to Belle being a tough cookie because she demanded that the Beast — whose name is apparently Adam — let her father go, and took his place in that awful castle.) While most simply further the annoying “damsel in distress” theme, The Little Mermaid is downright maddening if I think about it too much. Don’t worry, girls, you don’t even need to communicate to get your man. Don’t speak, don’t write, communicating with him isn’t really necessary at all. Simply look pretty, be a ditz (combing her hair with a fork?!) and get him to kiss you. Then you’ll live happily ever after.
Disney merchandise can be appalling, too. Take the t-shirt above, sold at Target, and the object of a Twitter outcry several months ago. It clearly shows little girls that their waist should be much smaller than it is. (Here is a great blog post on the topic.) And really? You’re telling me that they couldn’t tell the same stories with cartoon women who have proportions that might actually exist in real life? Melissa Wardy, owner of Pigtail Pals, posed a question to her Facebook followers that had my mind spinning for days. “Measure your head and your waist. Tell me which is smaller.” The answer, of course, is your head, but check out the proportions on the Disney Princesses. Mind-boggling.
Still, I go all warm and fuzzy when I run through Cinderella’s castle. I sing “Something There” and “Part of Your World” absent-mindedly from time to time. The fireworks at Disney feel magical to me. When I (hopefully) have children someday, I want to share these movies from my childhood with them. However, as my parents did, I’ll balance them with powerful female role models like Amelia Earhart, and hopefully a mother who has her pilot’s liscence, to boot.