How Messed Up Lessons From Disney Films Affect Us - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog

Womens Issues

How Messed Up Lessons From Disney Films Affect Us

A startling look into the lessons embedded in Disney films.


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.

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A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she spends most of her time in France, NYC, London and Switzerland, and travels extensively around the world. Hilary spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always looking for hot new topics, destinations, and brands to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 46 Comments

  1. Elsa Gomez

    Classics such as Aladdin and Cinderella showed us how happiness is better than wealth but at the same time being poor also sucks. I mean, Cinderella’s life was much better when she got to go to the ball…

  2. Kim Asunciom

    Hello. I totally agree with this. I hadn’t thought of it until now, but WOW.

  3. Sasha Smith

    I bet to agree! That is so not okay… Disney has been making it look so natural for teens/ girls to be married to some charming handsome heroic princes. Its like girls cannot do anything at all. She just needs to sit there, be pretty and wait. WAIT and wait. I mean, Girls can run the world, Disney!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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