Womens Issues

How Messed Up Lessons From Disney Films Affect Us

By  

New Age 1995 – 2009: This cycle featured Mulan, Pocahontas, and the Princess and the Frog. These Princesses were more complex with hobbies, skills, and careers, and they were often the heroines of the story. However, these Princesses mimicked the Renaissance Princesses in that at the end of the day, they just wanted to get married.

Lesson: Despite anything else, a woman’s greatest accomplishment in life is having a rich or powerful man take you away and claim you as his wife (even if he’s dangerously insecure). Seeing any patterns here?

So have the Disney Princesses truly fucked us up? Are we unhappy because we don’t have an 18″ waist? Do we feel competitive with other women because of this messed-up messaging? And speaking of this Prince, why are all the women always in competition for this one guy who only seems to care about youth and beauty? Haven’t they heard? There’s more than one (rich) fish in the sea!

Warning: Lessons may not be healthy to internalize!

If we were to adhere to the Disney Princess formula, all we have to do to get our happy ending is to be the most extraordinarily beautiful and young — beat out other women — and perhaps completely give up our voice? Hmmm… Not very subtle on the sexism, guys.

Disney movies help create a society that sees women as beautiful only when they are impossibly thin and overwhelmingly white.

But it’s more than that. A study conducted by Brigham Young University who chronicled the responses of 198 preschoolers found that children who are exposed to Disney Princess media are more likely to buy into sexist gender stereotypes. Long-lasting effects on young girls included higher risk of unhealthy body image and loss of confidence.

Disney has indeed made efforts to update their Princesses to reflect modern sentiments, but they’ve made a few errors along the way. A study of the dialogue in the Disney Princess franchise have uncovered a startling trend: Disney Princesses have had a smaller percentage of spoken words in the 90s films verses the original ones. So, while women in Disney films were becoming more independent and self-realizing, they were also speaking less than their male counterparts.

The study also suggests that this is partly because of the larger cast of characters featured in the newer movies. While the first cycle of Disney Princess movies only had a handful of characters, newer films are saturated with a massive cast, and because we still see men as the default, many of these minor characters are men. Need a shop keeper? Jolly people in the pub? A sidekick? Just add in a few more men with some major or minor speaking roles and you have yourself a movie with male-dominated dialogue.

Pages: 1 2 3 4

A writer, artist and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary spends most of her time in France, but still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC and has traveled extensively around the world, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

43 Comments

  1. I used to love Disney when I was little — I’d never thought about the messages in it! I must say, I really love how your articles take an issue that’s right in front of my face and yet I still can’t see it clearly, and articulate it in a way that shines a light on it. Thanks to Urbanette, I’m no longer blind to how I’m being manipulated!

  2. Jackie Lewis

    Disney movies are typically enjoyable and tend to be instant classics, none of these films are immune to that. I know there are some people who say “it’s just a cartoon, get over it,” but for some women, these works are what they based their idea of what women should be like. I think there is nothing wrong for little girls (and women) to enjoy these movies, but their families should be conscious of making sure they know that they should be valued for themselves and not just their marriageability, sexuality, or physical appearance.

  3. This is so sad. We see the wrong with Disney films when we grow up.

  4. Sylvie

    When I was younger it was all about Pocahontas. I watched the movie a countless number of times, I dressed up as her, and had sheets with images from the movie on them. I think the reason I admired her character so much then and now is because (at least as she is portrayed in the movie) she has several striking feminist qualities. She is a free spirit, bold, brave, a leader, and community oriented. Perhaps she does fit into Disney’s physical standard so they don’t get a 10/10. However, the ending stands out from the other DPC plots because she chooses her family and her duty to her community over her “prince”. Oh and ALSO I am annoyed that she is rarely considered to be a Disney Princess- her father it the chief which should translate to king but I guess according to Disney you’re not a REAL princess if you scrape your knee one in a while. In retrospect, I think Pocahontas may have significantly contributed to the feminist person I grew up to be.

  5. Jennifer McSween

    Very true, Hilary! Have you noticed the secret / hidden sexual details in those movies? Check the wall of Boo’s room in Monsters Inc for example. There’s a drawing on that wall… Dropped my jaw… A shadow of teenage girl performing sexual acts in the Toy Story…. So many other examples. How are these supposed to be children’s movies?

  6. Joel Bonpensiero

    Leave the princesses aside. Let’s talk about Monsters Inc. Some big old monster creeps on little girls in their closets. A whole movie made base on that terrible scary and pervy idea… And it’s made to be seem innocent and cute. Come on people! Wake up.

  7. Ingrid Winston

    What surprises me more is that there are still people who try to defense these movies even after reading these facts. Speechless!

    • Jeff

      It’s a frickin’ cartoon, get over it. Nobody cares except people who make a living pointing these things out. All three of my daughters grew up watching all of the mentioned shows and they all grew up to be strong, educated, self-reliant women. I think that the fact that we never steered them to be anything except what they wanted to be allowed them to be their own persons, stupid cartoons not withstanding. They were no more affected by Cinderella’s simple mindedness than we (all parents) were affected by Wylie Coyote’s proclivity for violence.

  8. Yeah that is so not okay… Disney has been making it look so natural for underaged girls to be married to some charming handsome heroic princes. Unbelievable how none of us even realize until we sit down and analyze, right?!!!

  9. Diana Hewitt

    WHAT?? Snow White is 14??!! Really? How is that even legal to even show kids? Some grown up prince giving her a kiss to bring her back to life… Oh how so romantic until you realize she’s just a 14 year old kid! Omg blew my mind in the worst ways!!

  10. Kaitlyn Barrett

    I agree that Disney has some messed up secret messages and all but honestly, Disney isn’t the only one. Can’t even think of one big company that doesn’t promote negative female stereotypes.

  11. I just want to know why Disney has been doing these mind games for nearly a century now……

  12. Irene Morales

    Agreed! Disney need to watch themselves (literally lol!!) before they wreck themselves. More and more people are becoming aware of the issues that are addressed in this article.

  13. Roberta Bennett

    This has been bothering me for long, and I’m so happy to see some awareness towards it is happening more and more everyday.

  14. Pearl Nguyen

    Disney’s idea of happy ending, the wait for the prince charming to come and save the princess and sweep her off her feet, is what bothers me the most. I for one, want to see a prince being saved a princess charming for once for a change!!

  15. What an insightful and informative article, Hilary! ???????? I’d like to bring your attention to one thing though… Those super masculine and handsome princes and superheroes… They’re just as bad, both for girls and boys. Think about it!

  16. Sasha Rosswell

    I get what you’re saying. But these characters don’t have unrealistically thin bodies or waist. Back when the older movies were made women used to actually have that type of bodies. Please look at the women we see in 30’s 40’s 50’s movies… The actual problem is that people of our day have trouble staying healthy and fit, due to bad diets etc. I don’t believe the movies were telling people to look like the female characters. I think they were just portraying what the women of those days looked like in a more tooney way. But one thing for sure, they do have some evil messages like step mothers are bad, women need men and romance, if you’re pretty and young anything you want is yours… Ridiculous! I don’t support this – just to be clear!

  17. Some seriously disgusting subliminal messages and ideas in all of the Disney movies. I don’t let my children watch them.

    • Jennifer Polluck

      Me either! Why do parents mindlessly get in line and keep spending their hard earned money on all the Disney trash that pollutes young children’s minds with the lamest of gender and social – society stereotypes?
      DISNEY = GARBAGE ENTERTAINMENT!
      Great parenting means staying off the Disney track!
      Aren’t there at least a dozen other things you could have exposed your children to that were fun, educational, healthy (sports or exercise outside) and stimulated actual thought ?
      Instead they got totally useless garbage Disney movies and TV shows wasting valuable learning years…pathetic

  18. Christina Cavanaugh

    Yesssss!!! I’m in full agreement!! It’s time for people to wake up and stop pumping these evil hidden secret messages into our children’s innocent minds.

  19. Can we all just take a moment and realize Disney is not only sexist but also racist? How many of the countless amount of Disney princesses are black?? ONE! Just one. They FINALLY made one black princess, Princess Tiana in 2009. None before or after that. I can’t be the only one that’s bothered by this!

  20. Betty O'Leary

    Considering there are lots of women out there who look and act the same, like some sort of mass produced plastic dolls, I think Hilary has a good point here!

  21. Olivia Peterson

    In my opinion there are lots more dangerous things in the current popular culture that are damaging people’s self esteem more than Disney characters do. Some really weak minded people out there paying thousands to plastic surgeons to look like Kardashians or Beckham! It’s alarming.

  22. Molly Twain

    I see what you mean, but I don’t think they’re doing this on purpose. And I’m sure they’re not trying to body shame anybody. Especially considering most of the older Disney films were not written by Disney from the scratch! They’re mostly based on the old Grimm Tales written by the Grimm Brothers. Such scary horror stories that terrified children were adapted into fairy tales by Disney. There’s a positive side to it too!

  23. Marina Henderson

    I agree. And to think at one point people were saying Disney characters were positive female role models… ? Crazy!

    • Lynn Hayes

      Those were male dominant days when women were supposed to be nothing but doll looking housewives.

  24. This is all so true, but on the other hand, there’s Shrek! That movie tells us the complete opposite of what Disney has been telling us in every other movie they made! Let’s not forget that! 🙂

  25. Sonja Fallow

    Never been a Disney fan. Made me feel like an outcast at times, especially while growing up. But reading this made me feel better about my disinterest in this whole princess-mania.

  26. This is very informative and such an eye opener, Hilary! Thanks so much. I’ll keep it in mind for when my nieces want to watch these movies.

  27. Disney needs to start showing little girls that they don’t need to be saved by a prince or a knight in a shining armor!!

  28. Elin Hanks

    It’s true that Disney characters and movies give children false expectations and wrong messages. But I don’t think the movies are all to blame. It’s a parent’ duty to raise a child with a better self-worth.

  29. Ayla Pennington

    I agree that children indeed need more realistically bodyshaped heros and heroines. But the phenomenal success of these films show that this is what the kids want to see.

  30. Deborah Henry

    I see your point Hilary, but I personally think it’s okay for children to watch Disney movies, as long as parents don’trely on media to raise their children. It’s a parent’s job to guide their children and teach them to navigate what they’re being exposed to and instill common sense to them.

    • Stephanie Tucker

      I disagree. Kids internalize these messages whether we try to talk them out of it or not.

      Beauty and the Beast is about how if you just love a violent abusive man enough, he’ll change. Some role model.

  31. Nancy Musselman

    Whenever my daughter watches a Disney movie I can’t help but think a very expensive wedding is ahead of us in the future lol

  32. Saying Disney movies will make girls want to be like the Disney princesses is just like saying boys will want to ride a tiger and wear speedos if they watch He-man.

    • Lucretia Asher

      Hahaha I’ll stop you there Gregor. My youngest son wants to be Kuzco. Some really impossibly high standards Disney have set for all of us!! ?

  33. Franny Pimms

    Disney characters are just like some gateway drugs of our society’s crazy obsession of unrealistic and overly sexualized female body.

  34. Kimberley Foulkes

    I’ve never seen any Disney girl that scale up to a standard human size. Yet generations over generations thought they were great examples for kids to look up to.

  35. Julia MacLean

    Yes, very correct points. I agree from bottom to top. But it would be wrong to blame it all on Disney. It’s society’s faults too, as much as it is Disney’s fault. The film industry goes hand in hand with the expectations of the society. They never dare making films that the society would disapprove of. Had the Disney films were not such huge successes, they wouldn’t be making more and more of them.

    • Gerry Carlton

      Maybe so, or maybe film companies and tv channels like Disney are brainwashing the society into thinking this is what they want, and this is how it should be???

  36. Celine Carter

    Thankfully the new generations are smarter than that and don’t buy into their messed up messages.

  37. Winona Miller

    “The Princesses were seen and not heard, and prized for their beauty alone, always in competition with nasty older women for one Prince’s attention.” My thoughts exactly. These films are telling us that as long as you’re young and beautiful you’ll win, otherwise you’re trash. What a load of bs, isnt it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *