Although I am a huge Disney fan, I can understand the bashing that Disney Princesses have been getting lately. The imagery that ladies had their own lives (just about) until they were saved by their prince always felt a little too damsel in distress like for me. As much as I loved those movies they aren’t the ones that made me want to be a princess. Even at a young age I was too impatient to be saved by a prince, hence why I always felt more like Mulan, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Kida. I associated more with them on a cultural as well as an emotional level. Although my marriage was never impeding or my land was being invaded by new people I always felt a kinship with those ladies. Their songs had meaning, their personalities were their own even though they were not always accepted. Their adventures did not rely on them being saved by men if anything they did everything within their power to write their own destiny and that is why Declan and I are going to defend our favourite princesses.
I’ve seen a lot of people bash Disney Princesses recently and just as many come to their defence – the notion that a girl should dream to grow up to be a Princess and be rescued by the Prince always bothered me. I always had more in common with these young girls, Belle and Mulan were always my favourite characters from Disney. Not because they were Princess, not because they were pretty and could sing but because of what I learned from them – I didn’t see the man, the title or the castle, I saw a person striving to find their self and be true to that person. Finding love for these two was an accident, they didn’t go out looking for it, their journeys weren’t about that!
I can understand why some people would take issue with the Princesses but Tendai and I would like to show you another side to these young women, the only side I ever saw.
Snow White – Change comes deal with it!
A princess, a fourteen year old princess taken deep into the woods with a plot to have her murdered hanging over her head! The reason? Her new stepmother is jealous of her beauty and her kind nature. One day changes her entire world, the comforts afforded to her as a Princess are stripped away from her and she’s abandoned in the woods. While fear takes hold, she doesn’t let it consume her and she stumbles across an apparently disused cottage – here the young Princess sets about rebuilding her life refusing to let her experiences dampen her spirits or remove her kindness.
In the face of all this change Snow White still manages to be true to herself and while many criticise her as a role model, we would argue that she is not a helpless young girl depending on others be it her Prince or the Seven Dwarves to rescue her and shelter her.
Belle – Different isn’t bad
This brunette haired French beauty was one of a kind where she lived – her father and herself lived just a little outside the quaint French village her neighbours called home. Here she was deemed odd and different, a girl who wanted to read, to educate herself and learn about the world when all the other women around her concerned themselves with trying to woo and seduce Gaston, the local hero. When her father is imprisoned in a forgotten castle, Belle offers her life in forfeit of his and becomes the prisoner of the terrifying Beast.
It might sound strange at first but Belle sees something within this monster, a gentler and kinder spirit and beyond that she even sees herself within him – a person judged by others because of how they look or they act, judged to be different therefore judged to be bad. While the movie is a fairy tale and the Princess must get her Prince that wasn’t the lesson we took from it, who cares about that?
Belle showed us so many things; books were/are the greatest adventures you will ever take, being yourself is one of the hardest things to be and perhaps most importantly being different/odd/weird/strange doesn’t make you bad!
Rapunzel – Make your own dreams come true.
Rapunzel’s story is that of a young girl who is given to an enchantress (not willingly) and is locked in a tower at the age of 12. The tower has no stairs or a door. Just a window she can look out of from the huge open room.A prince discovers said tower because of her singing and asks her to marry him. Unfortunately she gives it away that she has had a visitor. In her anger the enchantress cuts off Rapunzel’s lengthy locks and casts her out into the wild. Unwillingly the prince returns to see her, is carried up by the golden hair but is greeted by the enchantress. The prince is then thrown from the tower and is blinded by the thorns below. Eventually the two love birds meet again and Rapunzels tears of joy heal the princes sight and they live happily ever after.
Rapunzel in the ‘Tangled’ version is a dreamer who just wants to see the lanterns that light up on her birthday each year, it’s the one thing she has wanted to do her entire life, it’s the thing she dreams about doing every year but it’s just a silly dream. Rapunzel teaches us that no matter the dream, be it big or small, it’s worth striving out for, the Princess leaves behind her entire world and strikes out on her own (Okay she has Flynn and Pascal too) to make her dream happen. Along her journey she discovers so much about the world, a place that has passed her by for so many years but she learns so much more about the person she is, not just a Princess but a strong, noble and intelligent individual with more courage than she would ever thought she had.
That’s the power of dreams and the reason to pursue, it’s not just about the goal, it’s about the journey that takes us their and the lessons we can learn.
Jasmine – Life is nothing without freedom
The beautiful Arabian daughter of the Sultan. From the get go this strong willed young woman wants to live her life her own way. She doesn’t want to marry for duty. She wants to find love but at her own pace. When she is told that that is not what is expected of her she does what any girl should do. She resolves to leave her pampered life behind and run away from home. This is a big step considering she had never stepped foot outside of the palace walls. She is juxtaposed to Aladdin, a young man with the freedom of the world to explore but no means to do it, they are trapped by their circumstances but Jasmine’s position is only made more difficult because she is a woman, a woman in a world where the rules are made by men.
Her fate is written for her by her father and his sleazy advisor, Jafar – she will be married off to the man they choose for her and while she does everything within her power to turn these men off her, her time is running out. With little options to her she turns her back on tradition, her pampered lifestyle, the wealth and comforts of being a Princess because what’s the point in having it all if you can’t choose who you want to love, who you want to really be.
She teaches Aladdin and all of us that of all on the riches in this world, freedom is the one we should not take for granted.
Mulan – Be true to yourself
We’ve seen princesses defy their fears, their families and villains but never has there been a princess that defied centuries of tradition, her culture and her people quite like Mulan. The daughter of a soldier her life was to be that of a doting mother and dutiful wife, to bear many sons and to please her husband but from the start we saw Mulan sit uncomfortably with this notion and ask herself why?! Why did she have to be all of these things?
When her elderly father is drafted into military service in the name of the Emperor Mulan defies her entire world by stealing his armour and weapon and racing off to battle. Here she adopts the guise of a man and while at first she struggles with this new identity we quickly see her adapt to these roles, not only performing her duties on par with the other men but besting them in some. She throws herself into the path of danger to protect her comrades and when her disguise is exposed she risks her life once more to defy military orders and warn the Emperor that China is still in danger.
These traits, courage, strength, skill, intelligence, passion and kindness weren’t things she learned or pretended to have while disguised as a man, this is who Mulan is, these are the traits that we all have, male or female and while she showed many young girls that they could do all the things that boys could, perhaps the greatest thing she teaches us is that no matter what happens, what challenges you face, you have to always be true to yourself.
Keep an eye out for part II of our “Disney Princesses: Lessons for Life” coming soon.