Saturday, May 25, 2013

Belle, the Disney Princess

You know who you remind me of, Belle? 
A Disney princess.

This is hands-down the best compliment I’ve ever received.

I know this might seem unusual coming from such an outspoken feminist, but I can’t help it. I love all things Disney, and all things princessy. Disney princesses are the best.
With my tiara and fan in Toronto
I’m obviously aware that the earlier Disney princesses aren’t the best of role models for little girls, and most critiques of my favorite princess (Belle, duh) suggest she suffers from Stockholm syndrome. The earlier Disney princesses are very passive, and even the later Disney princesses mostly end up married… to men, of course. Disney is very heteronormative.

via pink-martini on tumblr, created prior to Tangled or Brave
But does that mean there isn’t a place for Disney princesses in little girls’ and even grown women’s lives?

My favorite parenting blog, written by Melissa Wardy, is called Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies, with the tagline “Redefine Girly.” Melissa has stated many times before that she’s not anti-pink or anti-princess: she’s anti-limitation.

When I was a kid, little girls had more options than pink and princessy. (Or maybe my parents just gave me more options). My favorite Disney movie was 101 Dalmatians, with Beauty and the Beast being my second favorite. My first Barbie was a gift from family friends, but the only Barbies I really wanted were the mermaid Barbies and the ones in bathing suits so I could play with them in the bathtub or pool. H and I both played with Duplos and Tinker Toys and Marble Works, all in bright primary colors. Our toy kitchen was also in primary colors, and it was half kitchen, half restaurant. When I first took ballet at age 3, it was with my twin brother beside me. Years later, when J expressed an interest in dance classes, my parents signed him up for a few “test” lessons at my dance studio (he had a bad habit of being really interested in something for a few weeks, like karate, drum lessons, dance… Tennis and theatre are the two he stuck with). When I was in the second grade, I played with J’s toy tools all the time. I loved hammering plastic nails into the present holes and screwing and unscrewing the plastic screws. So Santa brought me my own real tool kit with my name on it that year.

I picked my Halloween costumes every year from when I was 3. I was a princess on a horse at 3 and 4 (with the COOLEST horse costume, so my legs were the horse’s legs, and then the princess legs were sewn on the side, and the front horse legs came out the front). I was an angel at 5 and a gypsy at 6. I was Queen Elizabeth II at 7, the Queen of the Flowers at 8, a 50s girl at 9 (with a Scottie dog skirt, not a poodle skirt), Rose from Titanic at 11, Dorothy at 12, and a rich witch (with a feather boa and sparkly witch’s hat) at 13. I’m blanking on who I was at 10… I might have been Heidi… My mom made all our Halloween costumes, many of them without a pattern, and they were AWESOME.

My parents offered me endless opportunities to choose my own interests and develop my own passions. I chose pink/purple as my favorite colors, and I chose to dress up as a princess. I loved going to weddings with Daddy, and afterward, I would talk about everything I wanted at my own wedding, including a rainbow-colored dress. Like many little girls, I liked to make-believe a wedding, except I was a bossy little girl who got the whole family involved. My mom was my flower girl, Daddy was the minister, and I married my stuffed dog. I’m pretty sure I wrote the script for Daddy, too…

I chose all the traditionally “girly” stuff, but I did it my way. The Paper Bag Princess led to Girls to the Rescue and The Royal Diaries series. I loved the Cinderella story, but instead of watching the Disney film over and over, I read as many variations as possible and started writing my own, with a dream of one day writing and editing an entire collection of retold Cinderella stories. Queen Elizabeth I became my role model, and I read as many books and watched as many documentaries on her as possible.
The first I ever read. Image via

When Pocahontas came out, my parents took us to see it, and I marveled at her bravery, her strength, and her refusal to marry someone she didn’t love. My mom agreed that she was a strong character, but pointed out that giving her big boobs and a tiny waist was unnecessary. As more Disney princesses debuted, princesses who were fierce and independent, I only loved the franchise more.

I was working as an au pair when trailers for Brave first appeared. My littlest loved her princess movies, especially Tangled. She would watch Tangled in both the original English and the dubbed French. I spent months pumping her up to watch Brave. It came out right at the beginning of my kids’ summer vacation. The older two had already left to see friends and go to camp, but I had my littlest to entertain for a week. One of our excursions was to see Brave, and she loved it. And I, her au pair, loved her excitement. We talked about how cool Merida was, and how great it was that she was a good archer, and how cute her little brothers were, and how funny her dad was, and how it was nice that Merida and her mother worked together.

So when Disney decided to remarket Merida as sexy, parents, children, and feminists like me exploded. It’s not because we think a sparkly dress or luscious curls are wrong, but because sparkly princesses with flowing locks are already available. Merida was a different kind of princess, one for girls who don’t like dresses and who live for wild adventures. Girls like me, who wanted to read all day while wearing a tiara,* we already had princesses like ourselves. We didn’t need Merida to wear sparkles.

So what does all of this have to do with my friend complimenting me?

I smile all the time. I genuinely like most people, I get along with literally everyone who is not related to me, but I managed to do so while still standing up for my beliefs. I have a very enthusiastic personality. I have no shame in admitting my love for uncool things, and I’m totally fine acting like a kid. I’m almost always happy, without even trying. I’m a feminist, and everyone knows it. I like to wear pretty things. I would do anything for my friends. Pink is my favorite color. I worked really hard in school, and I still love to learn new things. I tend to clap and jump up & down when I’m excited.

These traits might not be part of any one Disney princess, but they are a combination of the best traits of each Disney princess. I have no idea if this is what my friend was thinking when he complimented me, but that’s what I heard. He might as well have said:

You’re so enthusiastic about your passions. You’re so excited about life. You’re so genuinely good and kind. You’re so you, and that’s cool.

*Okay, fine, I still do this.


  1. Found you via the blog every day in may linkup. :) Thoughtful post - it's wonderful that your parents gave you and your siblings so many options.

    1. Thank you! Yes, I had a very good childhood. My parents weren't perfect, especially when I was in high school, but they were really great about letting us be us, whatever that looked like.

  2. Belle has always been my favorite. Your definition of his compliment at the end is spot on.

    And I somehow haven't seen Tangled OR Brave. I'm so far behind!

    1. If it makes you feel better, I haven't seen Toy Story 3 yet. And it won an Academy Award.

      Brave and Tangled are both great. From a musical standpoint, I think Tangled has better music. The songs play on my Disney pandora station all the time, and I LOVE them.

  3. I love this post. I loved Disney Princesses as a kid not because I was a girl but because I thought it was cool to wear crowns and go on adventures. (Which is why I read so many fairy tales that later fed into my love for the fantasy genre.) I like polka dots and dresses and lipstick not because I am a girl but because I can have opinions not based on my gender. I also loved catching spiders, playing with legos and jumping off of tall structures. Not because I was a tomboy but because I am an individual.

    By the way, I was working as an au pair in England when Brave came out so I've seen the movie 1,000,000,000 times and read the book to the kids every night for months straight. xx

    1. I devoured fairy tales, and retold fairy tales, until fantasy fiction became my favorite genre. (Favorite fantasy fiction books are linked in My Library on my toolbar, just FYI!).

      I also tweeted this the other day, as one of the best comments I've ever received: "because I can have opinions not based on my gender." YES YES a million times YES.

      I saw Tangled quite a few times with my little one. She was obsessed with the Junie B. Jones books, but I noticed the bad grammar in the books was very similar to the grammatical mistakes my youngest made. I started picking out other books to read to her, and luckily, she liked them just as much!


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