When the word ‘Disney’ is mentioned, many people react differently because of its diverse meanings. However, the most common meaning of the word represents movies, business, and theme parks. The study seeks to identify the various ways in which Disney movies have portrayed girls with respect to the present status in racial divide, women equality, and human rights. The study represents options to do away with the generated stereotypes and reinforce the positive roles for modern girls whose values and virtues can be embraced. Many people are exposed early to the Disney culture, due to the paranormal experience they encounter visiting the Walt Disney World while young. The society look up to Disney as a relative responsive corporation that develops and upholds moral values coupled with entertainment for the children. Even though Disney appears harmless on the first instance, it has negative impacts behind the pink princesses. Images portrayed in the Disney movies serves to degrade the identity of girls and adversely integrate the unreasonable expectations, which not only affect the social life but also the family unions and financial prospects altogether.
Analysis of the movies
Disney movies came up with series of short stories with familiar characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. This was in the 1930s before the studio progressed to produce lengthy animated films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Reviewing the background of the Disney movies, there is tendency in the roles female characters play. In the first vivacious piece, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Snow White is depicted as incredibly familial and dependent on the prince for better life. This propensity is similar in the movies, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. When comparing the mentioned movies with others such as Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Mulan, the princes are more independent than the female characters.
Female Disney heroes are conventionally placed to highlight the main stereotypes; the romanticized teenage hero, the wicked middle-aged beauty and the fostering post-menopausal woman. Snow White illustrates a teenage heroine as she assumes the mother role in the film. She performs household tasks such as food preparation and taking care of the dwarfs. All these, Snow White accomplish while smiling and singing without complaining. The Little Mermaid illustrates the stereotypical passive role of a woman. Ariel the protagonist in the movie does everything in her ability to make the prince fall for her. The message Ariel sends to children so that the female have to give up everything including her family and career to gain romance. This negatively influences young girls who desire to study and focus on their future. Mulan depicts an independent woman as she is brave, less focused on gaining the attention of a man and thus more independent. A more significant role in the Disney movies is realized in Pocahontas who has to overcome her feminine virtues and independence to prove her leadership abilities (Pewewardy 1).
Disney movies strive to modify continually the role female characters to keep up with the periods (Garabedian 22). This modification in the movies gives varied messages to the girl child. In spite of all these changes, Disney princesses continue to draw attention to the girl child from generation to generation. Going by the profits margin in the princesses’ production, it is evident that Disney messages through the princesses continue to affect negatively children.
Similarities in the movies
Most of the princesses in the Disney movies are depicted as beautiful, skinny as they triumph over hardship in their lives. The female actors find the liberating lovers and ideally happy lives. This kind of live is contrary to the real love between married couples. In reality, marriage is full of trials and temptations, unlike the happily ever after kind of marriage these princesses do enjoy. It is essential for all the young children to realize that there will never be a time when prince charming will appear in their lives and sweep them off their feet. These male characters are not supposed to cry or express their personal emotions other than love and by no means agree to ‘no’ as a comeback.
The body structures of these characters in Disney are in any way impracticable to reproduce. It is rare to see a naturally curvy princess in reality. It is likewise easier said than done to have girls with incredibly minuscule waists, and faultless bone constitution, as the princess depicted in the movies. As a result of the perfect body frames, most of the young girls in the present world are developing eating disorders and undergoing plastic surgery to imitate the princesses (Benefits-Fredericks 695). Besides this, the girls grow up looking forward to the day they will find a prince charming. The young girls in the real world grow up thinking that if they fail to find the perfect body shapes as those in the movie, they will fail to find their prince.
Common themes in the movies
Gender roles: This is very prominent in the movies. Typically, women are depicted as princesses and homemakers (Pickett 1). The Disney princess is a female hero that many of the children desire to assume their roles. Although the character may not have been princess by birth, the female characters assume the position due to their skills, strong will, and determination. Many characters have been sued to portray the Disney princess. Earlier on, the princesses were shown in a conventional fairy tale where the females were in distress, the heroine always required rescue by a prince. This met the early 20th century ideals. This is the common theme in films such as Cinderella, who stayed in servitude until she was rescued by a prince through marriage. As feminism rose, there was a great shift in the portrayal of the princess in the Disney movies. The princesses were reinvented to assume rebellious and ambitious characters. This is depicted in the movie, The Little Mermaid, who ended up marrying her true love. Later on, Pocahontas reveals the power within the female to stand up for herself and fight to save her country as in the movie Mulan.
The female characters are more pronounced than the male characters in Disney, for several reasons (Maio 2). This approach makes the females to easily recognize their weaknesses and their dependency on the male figures that are depicted as hardy. The princesses also offer a role model to all viewers whereas the Disney prince becomes inaccessible to the viewer in this position.
Racism: The movie also depicts several fundamentals of racial discrimination in. There is an element of ethnic minority represented by some of the princesses. This is apparent in Pocahontas, Aladdin, Mulan, and Princess and the frog. The ethnic princesses in the movies are however exotic and hyper-sexualized. In Pocahontas, powerful cultural implications are highlighted. Many of the native Indians are perceived as savages. This ideal is challenging in real life and segregating the Indians from the rest of humanity. In addition, children watching the movie develop a negative attitude towards the native Indians because their mind has registered hatred and marginalization of the group. In the movie Aladdin, Princess Jasmine active seduction influences young girls to think that they can use their bodies to manipulate people are walking away with whatever they want. It is necessary for young girls to grow up knowing that there is danger in exploiting their bodies.
Male dominance: In the movie Beauty and the Beast, Belle is a prisoner of the beast in his mansion. He expresses elements of anger wherever Belle refuses his authority. This is evident in the scene where he demanded that they eat together only for Belle to turn him down. The scene accentuates masculine supremacy over the feminine weakness. Eventually, Belle falls in love with the Beast and forgives him of his anger and rage. From a psychological perspective, Belle’s action is representative of the Stockholm perspective, which is an occurrence in which the hostage shows empathy and positive feelings towards their captors. Even though this perspective is debatable, I feel that the story highlights this theme.
Women as weaker gender: The movie ‘Tangled’, Princess Rapunzel is showcased as a young girl who fails to leave her tower until a handsome prince comes to protect and lead her to the world she was dreaming about. The storyline is quite enjoyable. Nonetheless, most of the girls imagine that they need a young handsome man for protection. This is common on most of the Disney movies. This movie, for instance, fails to depict the idea of a string independent woman (Maio 1). The two women depicted in the movie play negative roles in the life of the young princess. There is the evil old witch and Rapunzel’s mother who is sad all through the movie until Rapunzel came back. The movie portrays her as mute since she never spoke. Even thought the movie displays other female characters, the message the children derive is that women cannot save themselves and in fact, they are their own enemies. For better lives, women have to depend on the male gender.
Positive Influence of the Movies
On the contrary, accentuating the princess factor in most of the Disney movies is significant. Princesses are a sign of progress and an indication that girls can indeed embrace their preference for pink and still remain strong and ambitious. According to Mooney, the director at Disney, ‘the princess syndrome’ is actually a period when all the young girls admire the life of a princess and lives with the wish to become one (Bispo 2). However, as they develop through the phase, they drop the vision and become the greatest professionals of the present age. Mooney is right: no studies has so far confirmed that assuming the role of princess directly affects the self-esteem of a girl or even worse, dampens the aspirations of other girls. On the contrary, it is true that young women value the most conventionally feminine beliefs. This makes them avoid conflicts and perpetually become nice and pretty. Due to the pressure to become perfect, these girls attain academic success, assume leadership roles and go ahead to assume professional positions.
Besides this, Disney movies define the characters of children from an early age. According to the theories of gender constancy, children do not realize their gender and assume that they can grow to become either a man or a woman. By watching these movies, children, from an early age come to acknowledge the defined roles of both female and males. As a result, children assume certain attitudes and behaviors that are stereotypical of their identity (Pickett 1).
The 1937 movie of Snow White, the protagonist actually assumed the role of women in that period. Women never assumed professional roles but stayed at home to ensure everything was ready for their men, once they came back from work. Having a girl watch such as a movie can positively contribute to their perception of women roles in the society. Nonetheless, as the society develops, so are the Disney princesses expected to influence positively the lives of the viewers.
The fact that Disney sends mixed versions of the messages to its viewers is of great concern. This is because these young children grow up looking forward to becoming either the princesses or the princes and save the princesses from evil. Everywhere, children are immersed in the portrayed themes. According to Gupta (1), a critic of the stories, most of the young girls grow up with the burgeoning girlies girl culture, which greatly affects their identities and future. Based on these stories, it is speculative of what the future holds for the children.
The feminist theory categorizes a voice to attain women’s emancipation by eradicating women oppression in the society (Fisher & Ellen 125). Classic Disney princesses have greatly influenced the young girls in the society in different ways. There is the negative effect on self-esteem, self-image, depression, and eating disorders. This is according to Fisher & Ellen (128), the ‘princess effect’ is taking a toll on the way young girls develop to full-grown emotionally stable women. According to Castillo (7), a majority of the women, gender stereotypes dictate how parents presently manage their children as they cave into the desires of their children. Parents are compelled to realize that this is acceptable as long as the parents realize how to balance.
Overall, Disney has modified the images of the princesses. Up to 1959, the image portrayed of passive, temperate princesses with the classical ideal of beauty. The princesses were portrayed further as dreamers awaiting their princes to come. Images within 1989-1992 portrayed the princesses are curious, rebellious, and adventurous. The princesses had budding independence but still required the princes’ rescuing. Later on, the images portrayed intrepid and willful princesses who had strong certainty that they were heroes of their own stories. Coupled with the variations in the representations, massive elements have been modified in perceiving the appearances, gender roles and the images (Brendgen 18).
Disney princess effects can be portrayed in varied approaches. Young girls have precisely developed unrealistic expectations on their future. Young girls with the defined approaches fail to develop to strong, independent women who can be motivated to bring positive changes in their world. From different stories, for instance, the Beauty and the Beast, women are not expected to be intelligence but should fulfill men’s needs, thereby affecting the feminine perception of their position in the world.
Similar to many critics, the main characters in Disney are young and beautiful girls in search of men. These girls fail to have personal ambitions and instead teach the viewers the various stereotypes. For instance, in Cinderella, the main message a girl gains is ‘it is not how hard working you are but how beautiful you are to become successful in life’. This message results to a negative effect where adolescents strive to lose weight by all means while others become diagnosed with eating disorders. Children, in addition, come to learn that being fat and old is a character of the bad people into the society. As children develop, their brain comes to understand the external world from the families. Children come to embrace societal morals, language and social skills (Bogle 1). Therefore, in the event that a movie basically focuses on the evil morals, the brain of the child comes to register this and starts relating it with the negative morals it has grasped. This has made children to relate old age and fatness with evil.
Equipped with the required expectation of beauty, the media depicts outrageous levels of beauty. The princes also act as damsels in distress. According to the feminist perception, this is contradicting, since the girls are meant to take care of themselves and still manage to take care of other people. by watching this movie, boys are also made to note that they should take care of the girls, who are obviously weak always (Castillo 1).
Role of the Parents in Correcting the Problem
One significant factor in raising girls within this period is being open-minded (Ruh & Nicole 489). Bearing individual opinions and perceptions on how everything should run may be ineffective in this present generation. It is generally agreeable that princesses are not a necessity in every girl’s life. However, it becomes difficult to move past the perception once a girl encounters one. The Disney effect according to the feminist theory demands that parents allow their children watch the classic movies and educate them on what is right and what is wrong. When watching the movies, parents need to notify their children on what is right and wrong (Ruh & Nocole 491). The feminists go on to affirm that parents ought to let the children know that the stereotypes are present and that they should not be influenced by the stereotypes in their development. Society as a whole needs more education on how to bring up daughters in the princess generation.
Irrespective of the fact that humanity has advanced in technology and in digital platforms, a lot is yet to be accomplished in influencing the girl child to be a better person. Comprehensive analysis of the origin of these problems reveals the strong influence of the movies and cartoons stemming from companies such as Disney. Analysis of different movies reveals that the girl child is negatively influenced to assume stereotypic roles and limits the girl child from becoming successful career wise and even socially.
Benowitz-Fredericks, Carson A., et al. “Body Image, Eating Disorders, and the Relationship to Adolescent Media Use.” Pediatric Clinics of North America, vol. 59, no. 3, 2012, pp. 693–704.
Bispo, Ashley. “Fairytale Dreams: Disney Princesses’ Effect on Young Girls’ Self-
Images.”[email protected] 9 (2014). Web. 6 Dec. 2014.
Bogle, Thomas. “Frozen’: A Conflict of Negative and Positive Rights?” Fee.org, 5 Feb.
Brendgen, Mara. “Development of Indirect Aggression before School Entry.” Children, vol. 3, no. 13, 2012, pp. 17–19.
Castillo, Paul. “The Negative Effects of Disney on Children.” The Sundial, 4 Dec. 2006, sundial.csun.edu/2006/12/thenegativeeffectsofdisneyonchildren/.
Fisher, Jerilyn, and Ellen S. Silber. “Good and Bad beyond Belief: Teaching Gender Lessons through Fairy Tales and Feminist Theory.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 3/4, 2000, pp. 121–136, www.jstor.org/stable/40005478.
Garabedian, Juliana. “Animating Gender Roles: How Disney is redefining the Modern Princess.” James Madison Undergraduate Research Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, 2014, pp. 22–25, https://commons.lib.jmu.edu/jmurj/vol2/iss1/4/.
Gupta, Sanjay, and Elizabeth Cohen. “Study: Some Cartoons are bad for Children’s Brains.” Cable News Network, 12 Sept. 2011, thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/09/12/study-some-cartoons-are-bad-for-childrens-brains/.
Maio, Kathy. “Women, Race & Culture in Disney’s Movies.” Women, Race and Culture in
Movies. The New Internationalist, Web.29 Jan. 2015, https://www.newint.org/easier-
Pewewardy, Cornel. “The Pocahontas Paradox: A Cautionary Tale for Educators.” Journal of Navajo Education, 1996, www.hanksville.org/storytellers/pewe/writing/Pocahontas.html.
Pickett, Leah. “How Growing up Disney Shapes Gender Roles.” WBEZ, 7 June 2013, www.wbez.org/shows/wbez-news/how-growing-up-disney-shapes-gender-roles/02ec5c94-e9ec-486a-9424-22b4793191b4.
Ruh Linder, Jennifer, and Nicole E. Werner. “Relationally Aggressive Media Exposure and Children’s Normative Beliefs: Does Parental Mediation Matter?” Family Relations, vol. 61, no. 3, 2012, pp. 488–500.