I've loved Disney for as long as I can remember. It seems like I came into the world already knowing the lyrics to "When You Wish Upon a Star," and I belted them for everyone to hear. For every birthday and Halloween, I was dressed in a different princess's dress and watching one of their movies. I lived and breathed Disney.
Nowadays, that hasn't changed. I still love Disney and I love the princesses, but something I've discovered that I love just as much is the idea of feminism and all it entails. Equal rights for all, fighting against misogyny, and changing the narrative to include those underrepresented have given women all over the world a new passion to fight for what is known to be right. I'm among their ranks, and I have been since I learned just how twisted of a world we live in.
But where people seem to get confused is when I tell them I love the Disney princesses and I'm also a feminist. They make a face, and say something along the lines of "But don't they all wait for a prince to save them?"
There are a lot of things that infuriate me, and frankly, that's one of them. Because you see, the Disney Princesses are so much more than just their charming princes and fairytale endings. If that's all you know, then that's all you see, and that couldn't be further from the truth.
1. Snow White is a symbol of purity and innocence.
The first to bear the Disney princess mantle (and also the youngest), Snow White's story has often been one of the most scrutinized from a modern perspective. After all, what more did her story consist of aside from cooking, cleaning, and being rescued by a prince? While these things did happen in her story, they do not define Snow White herself. Snow White is the most innocent of the princesses, partially due to her young age but mostly due to her heart. She's good and kind and generous, which, at first glance, may not seem like strengths, especially compared to some of the more modern princesses. However, they are strengths all the same. A woman can wish and dream for a fairy-tale ending without having to have her own compassionate strengths erased entirely.
2. Cinderella endured neglect and abuse, but she did not let that change her heart.
"Cinderella waited for a man to escape her step-mother."
First off, no. No, she didn't. After years of mistreatment and neglect, Cinderella simply wanted one night to herself, where she didn't have to serve her wicked sisters or step-mother. She never wanted to meet the prince, and throughout the scenes of her movie whilst at the ball, she doesn't even realize that she's been dancing with the prince for this reason. Throughout her entire story, Cinderella never lost hope of a brighter day, and despite the darkness she was forced to endure, she never let that change who she innately was. What she went through was terrible, and most would be hardened by a similar experience. However, Cinderella never lost the joy she had always possessed, and that benevolence is what liberated her, not the prince. It takes strength to remain positive—it is not a weakness.
3. Aurora was the victim of a curse she couldn't control.
Aurora has a reputation as the quietest Disney princess, due to the fact that she's asleep for half the movie and hardly speaking in the other. However, the most significant thing about Aurora's story—and why she's so quiet—is that she was cursed. A victim of Maleficent's wrath, Aurora didn't know her true identity until her sixteenth birthday, but she didn't mind. She was still cheerful and generous while living as a peasant, and even after she ran into Prince Philip, she was concerned over what it would mean for her "aunts," the only family she knew. She was never selfish or greedy—she was a victim of forces she couldn't control, manipulated by a curse. That doesn't make her helpless, though. If anything, her genuineness, her cheerfulness, and her abnegation compile her crowning glory.
4. Ariel was pursuing her passion for the world above, NOT her passion for the prince.
If there is one Disney princess who I will relentlessly defend, it's Ariel. Characterized by her spunk and recklessness, Ariel has always had one dream: to be a part of that world on land. She does all she can to learn about her passion, from collecting artifacts in sunken ships to skipping her princess duties to explore. She's curious, she's an adventurer—some even call her a literal anthropologist. So when Ariel falls in love with Eric, most see that as the entire reason why she makes the deal with Ursula. In reality, Eric is only the catalyst. Ariel would have done anything to have the chance to walk on land. It just so happened that that chance came sooner than expected. Had Ariel not met Eric but had that chance, she would have taken it. She's driven by her passion and curiosity as an anthropologist, not a lovestruck teenager.
5. Belle is intelligent and creative and doesn't allow Gaston to push her or anyone else around.
Belle said it, not me: she wants so much more than this provincial life. Who can blame her? Living in a small town full of people like Gaston that only comment on how weird it is that she reads? I think I'd want to leave to. Now, Belle is already attributed as being one of the most "feminist" princesses because of her love of reading and longing for something greater, whether that's an adventure in the great, wide somewhere or just a chance to prove herself. Belle's always wanted to follow her own dreams, but that doesn't make her greedy. She's helpful, compassionate, and down-to-earth. She's full of love, and that's what defines her name as meaning beauty, that's what helps defrost the Beast's heart. Belle has always been ahead of her time and contemporaries—that's what makes her so inspirational.
6. Jasmine knows that she is not a prize to be won.
Is there a single more gratifying scene in any Disney movie than when Jasmine barges into the discussion being held by her father, Aladdin, and Jafar and completely tells them off for objectifying? If there is, I have yet to find it.
Jasmine is rebellious and intuitive, and that's what I love about her. Despite her father's over-protective wishes, Jasmine wants to see what life outside the palace is like, and she goes and does it. She doesn't wait for anyone's permission but her own when it comes to her life and dreams. Because of this, she's on guard when Aladdin—excuse me, Prince Ali—waltzes into the palace, vying for her heart and hand. Is this going to be another suitor that wants to put her on a pedestal like some kind of trophy? Of course, she's bound to fall in love with him, but only because Aladdin doesn't want to trap Jasmine the way she's so afraid of. Instead, he sees her as his equal, if not greater than him. Aladdin wants Jasmine to be herself, that's why he falls in love with her. Jasmine's entire story is about shooting for the stars and following your dreams, no matter your station in life.
7. Pocahontas leads with her head and her heart.
Now, I'm not going to say that the film "Pocahontas" doesn't have its major setbacks. The entire movie is a historical inaccuracy, but that isn't to say that Disney's heroine is not without her strengths. Pocahontas is brave and free-spirited, knowing in her heart the difference between right and wrong. She is not one to let someone's differences define them, nor their mistakes, and one of the most powerful moments in the movie is when she defies her father's wishes and defends John Smith. Pocahontas has a heart of gold and an iron will. She is smart and bold and compassionate and is as much of a heroine as any of her princess companions.
8. Mulan defends herself, her family, and her country.
Ah, Mulan, Disney's resident butt-kicker. She's most people's favorite Disney princess for her bravery and her moral compass, and for good reason. However, just because Mulan might be the most physically capable of the princesses doesn't mean she is the strongest of them all. Now, I don't need to tell you why Mulan is a strong princess because we see that clearly in her movie. Instead, I'm going to talk about one of the most important symbols in the entire movie, especially in her fight scene against Shan-Yu in the Imperial City.
It's a thrilling chase as Mulan tries to evade Shan-Yu atop the Imperial Palace, and finally, he catches up to her. Shan-Yu wields his sword, and Mulan's armed with only a fan. Shan-Yu sees this as his chance to strike, but Mulan's got another trick up her sleeve and uses her fan—a symbol of femininity—to disarm Shan-Yu's sword—a symbol of masculinity—until she's holding both. The symbolism in this scene is so powerful, especially given the gender roles that the movie mentions throughout. Mulan doesn't need to sacrifice her "feminine" traits to be seen as strong as any man. They both serve as strengths.
9. Tiana doesn't give up her dreams in the face of adversity.
Personally, I think "The Princess and the Frog" is among the most underrated Disney movies, if not the most underrated. Full of catchy songs, beautiful images, and a powerful set of characters, what's not to love? The crowning jewel of the movie is none other than Princess Tiana. Throughout the entire movie, Tiana does whatever it takes to make her dreams a reality, no matter how much hard work it takes or obstacles she faces. Of course, one of those obstacles turns out to be getting turned into a frog, but nonetheless, Tiana is defined by her perseverance. She's a symbol of hard-work and determination, and she doesn't take the easy road to make her dreams come true. Even in the face of adversity, she's creative, witty, and sincere, which are strengths all the same. Tiana never gives up, which is a powerful lesson for us all.
10. Rapunzel is adventurous and curious, and does whatever it takes to make her dreams come true.
Disney's first CGI princess, Rapunzel and her movie are fan favorites for a reason. In terms of the princess herself, Rapunzel has had a life akin to those of Cinderella and Aurora: she was taken away from her home, unsure of who she truly was, and forced to live with someone who mistreated her. All this considered, Rapunzel kept dreaming, even if she couldn't leave her tower. She wanted nothing more than to see the lanterns, and when the opportunity finally came, she took it. Of course, Rapunzel felt guilty for disobeying Mother Gothel's one rule, but she would stop at nothing to make her dreams come true. Rapunzel, along with Tiana, is an advocate for following your dreams, and what happens when you follow one? You get to go find a new one.
11. Merida follows her intuition and doesn't let anyone tell her who she has to be.
Merida, similar to Mulan, is another physically capable princess. She's armed with a bow and clearly a skilled athlete, whether it's archery or horse-back riding or mountain-climbing. All this considered, Merida is driven by her sense of adventure. She'd much rather be exploring the beautiful lands surrounding her castle than being shut up within it. So when Merida finds out that she's expected to marry one of her suitors and become queen, she reasonably freaks out. She isn't ready for that yet, and she doesn't want that—she'll do anything to get out of it, and she does. Merida endorses independence, but even when she's shooting for her own hand, she knows how important things like compassion and her family are. Merida represents the duality of being independent: you don't have to sacrifice your connections to friends and family in order to be your own person and follow your heart.
12. Anna and Elsa know the importance of family while still pursuing their own dreams.
Say what you want about "Frozen," but it's one of my favorite Disney movies because of Anna and Elsa's relationship. "Frozen" famously sets up a romantic key to everyone's problems, before revealing that the love between sisters and family is stronger than anything else. The moment where Anna sacrifices herself for Elsa stops my heart each time I see it for this exact reason. While Anna and Elsa have their differences and their own set of fears, they know that nothing can separate them as sisters. They are both caring, skilled, and protective of those and that which they love. Elsa might be the one with the powers, but both the queen and princess of Arendelle are forces to be reckoned with.
13. Moana is innovative and doesn't sacrifice the past to look to the future.
The most recent Disney princess, Moana is bubbly, ambitious, and brave. She has her dreams to become a wayfinder and does what she can to turn them into a reality. Even when she thinks about staying and doing what's expected of her on her island, she knows that she doesn't want to settle. So when Moana gets her chance to prove herself as a wayfinder, she leaps at it. Ultimately, even with the help of Maui, it is Moana who discovers the truth about Te Fiti and restores her heart after sailing across the ocean. Moana both changes and saves the world she lives in, all by herself. Moana is an advocate for never giving up, no matter how tempting or hard it might be. Something great is waiting for you, you just have to hear its call and go after it.
What do the Disney princesses mean to you?