COMMENTARY: Disney Princesses Evolve with the Modern Woman

Princess2Since Disney’s first princess, Snow White, made her debut in 1937, Disney’s “princess criteria” has continued to evolve with the conventions of each generation. The brand has received a lot of negative commentary on the overly feminine, submissive nature of all of its earliest princesses. I would argue, however, that Disney has done a phenomenal job of representing the women of each generation. In the 30s, 40s, and 50s, when Snow White, Cinderella, and Princess Aurora reigned supreme, but still appeared—I will admit—a bit overly “damsel in distress,” this was the average woman of the early 1900s. Like it or not, many women of this time married for security or relied on men to do things that they did not realize they were capable of doing. In our day and age, Cinderella would take a trip to Century 21 and find something much trendier than that glass slipper, Aurora would wake up and smell the coffee, and Belle would text her dad to come pick her up from Beast’s castle.

You’ll notice that Disney did very little else with princesses after a few damsel films; then, in 1989, Ariel the underwater princess, was introduced. Since then, the princess craze has taken over a little at a time. I find that it’s because there’s a princess for every girl and every personality. While our generation has seen many women take a stand against oppression and inequality, Disney’s representation of women has changed as well. The brand presented its first women of color, Pocahantas, Mulan, and now Tiana in The Princess and the Frog. Today’s princess is a do-it-yourself girl like Merida, from Brave, who refuses to marry her betrothed and faces her fair share of adversity with, well, bravery. Jasmine stands up to her father and says she will only marry for love; Ariel goes after her man instead of waiting on him. Many parents fear that little girls are consumed with this idea of being a “royal highness,” but I think it’s healthy for children, especially now with the recent additions, to see this representation of bravery, courage, class, and elegance. And let’s be fair: every girl loves to play dress-up, whether it’s Snow White, Mulan, or Merida.

When I was four, I had to pick one princess with whom my mom would decorate my room. I cried because I loved Belle and Ariel in equal measure. Disney is now marketing princesses as a whole. All princesses are equal, and even better than before! Bikes, play sets, and dress up kits, now feature all of the princesses. DVD collections are sold combining the adored princess films. Even the dolls are now sold in a set. Today’s lucky girls don’t have to choose, they can have their palace and underwater kingdom, too.

For more commentary from Kara, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!


    1. D7ana says:

      Thanks for sharing this view on the Disney princesses. I think that a modern Belle would likely sue her father for attempting to sell her off to pay his debts. And she’d probably win the case.

      I enjoyed reading the grimmer adult versions of Grimm’s Fairy tales when I was in my early teens. Remember the retelling where the evil stepsisters cut off heels or toes to fit into the glass slipper. (Yes, ugh, but then again, they were dumb enough to do so just to get a tacky prince demanding a princess fit and wear a glass slipper … d’oh.) The early Disney princesses were too saccharine for me to like. Just thinking about them made my eyes roll.

      I’m glad to see that the newer Disney princesses present themselves as more independent, less “ideal,” and more likely to have rollicking good fun. Princesses don’t have to yield their integrity to win real princes.