Womens Issues

How Messed Up Lessons From Disney Films Affect Us

A startling look into the lessons embedded in Disney films.


Unless you were raised by wolves, chances are you grew up enthralled with Disney Princesses. You most likely had a favorite Princess and maybe even dressed up like her, enacted scenes from your most beloved movie, and awaited your Prince Charming.

How Messed Up Lessons From Disney Films Affect Us - sexist disney princesses

But recent speculation about the Disney Princess effect suggests that we may actually have been better off raised by wolves. To truly understand why Disney Princesses can be so detrimental to a girl’s development, we must first understand the three main cycles in the Disney Princess franchise:

Classics 1937 – 1959: This era of Disney Princesses included the movies Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. The Princesses in these films were subordinate, gentle, quiet, beautiful, caucasian, and took the backseats to their own stories while they awaited their Prince. In other words, they were seen and not heard, and prized for their beauty alone.

Pretty girls don’t even need to be conscious to get some hot Prince action.

The older (and therefore supposedly less attractive) women were cruel. They were filled with jealousy and hatred, all because of the competition for the one perfect (and rich) Prince’s affections. Now that I think of it, The Bachelor TV show mimics many aspects of this theme.

How Messed Up Lessons From Disney Films Affect Us

Snow White… the whiter the skin… the younger the girl…

Snow White: Her 14-year-old burgeoning sexuality (and snow white skin) is a threat to another woman, so she’s killed. Her only asset, her beauty, is what saves her in the end. At first, it may seem terrible, being so beautiful that other women get jealous enough to try to kill you. But don’t worry, once your beauty attracts a man, he’ll protect you.

Cinderella: This 19-year-old blonde is saved from terrible living conditions, not by hard work, but by a Prince. He does this, not because her personality impressed him, but because she is young and beautiful. So, ladies, if you’re young and beautiful enough, don’t try to work hard or develop yourself to get out of a bad situation. Instead, just rely on your beauty and let a rich man save you.

How Messed Up Lessons From Disney Films Affect Us - sexist disney lessons2

So beautiful, she can snag a rich guy to save her without uttering a word.

Sleeping Beauty: Betrothed at birth to solidify a political position, she is then killed by another woman out of jealousy and spite. Her owner… ahem… fiance, saves her with a kiss, showing that pretty girls don’t even need to be conscious to get some hot Prince action. Again, sex is her only salvation. Oh, and she got only 18 lines of dialogue in the whole film.

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.

Overall Lesson: Youth trumps all. Older women are always less attractive (even very beautiful women) than teenage girls, and that makes them bitter. You don’t need a personality to win the best man. The most important thing in life is to beat our other women for the richest man’s affections.

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Avatar of Hilary Rowland

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 lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 125 Comments

  1. Avatar of Hannah Banana

    Hannah Banana

    A Disney movie that never had as much success was the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Whenever you buy Disney merchandise, you never see Esmerelda among the popular Disney Princesses Jasmine, Belle, Ariel, and Cinderella. The themes it dealt with such as disabilities and religious persecution was too dark for mainstream audiences. I was a Disney fed child. Every year my family took a trip to Disney World and I still love my Disney movies it’s just that we have realize that they weren’t as empowered as they were marketed to be. Like Hilary was saying many people were saying that Ariel giving up her voice to be with prince Eric was promoting passivity. Even though Disney movies have come a long way since their racist and sexist start in 1940 they still have a ways to go.

  2. Avatar of Hannah


    When I was a child I idolized princess jasmine. But now as an adult I wonder whether the movies are as female empowerment as they are intended to be. In Beauty in the beast, they made the main character a nerd and gave the message that beauty comes from within. But why does every one of those female characters-Jasmine, Belle-get all the guys? Where’s the female character who doesn’t get a lot of attention from guys? Another thing about Disney: The hunchback of notre dame was a movie that didn’t have much success. You never see Esmerelda among the Disney princesses because it dealt with the themes of religious persecution and disabilities. While Disney may have a ways to go it has come a long way since its days in the 40s. Pinocchio was antisemetic but now the CEO of Disney is a jew.

  3. Avatar of Hannah Banana

    Hannah Banana

    When I was a child I pretended to be Princess Jasmine. But now I’m beginning to rethink that those movies aren’t as female empowerment as they had led us to believe. Beauty and the beast had a lot of good themes like making the lead character a nerd and that real beauty comes from within but why does every female character get all the guys in every role? Why couldn’t they have made the leads not get a lot of attention from guys? If you look at the movie the hunchback of notre dame Esmerelda was never a Disney princess. The themes that movie dealt with-religious persecution, disabilities-was too dark for most audiences. Even though I still love my Disney movies and Disney world trips it’s good people are beginning to rethink the themes of the movies.

  4. Avatar of baccarat

    Check out the Beast and the Beuty

  5. Avatar of Patti Salazar

    Patti Salazar

    I feel like Cinderella was the worst of all. What a freaking gold digger. But yeah, not to mention the prince of Sleeping Beauty who just kissed a princess who wasn’t even conscious. I wouldn’t have understood all of this if it wasn’t for this article. But I was thinking that maybe Disney didn’t intend to do this, mainly because they’re not really the author of these classic books. Removing the main details would have been a complete remake. So I guess they didn’t have a choice.

  6. Avatar of Joan Taylor

    Joan Taylor

    I don’t remember Disney being as stupid as this. Maybe we’re just overthinking?

  7. Avatar of Delores Green

    Delores Green

    I hate how they made Rapunzel dumb. I used to like her.

  8. Avatar of Hilda Norris

    Hilda Norris

    Oh please, just because they’re cartoons it doesn’t always mean it’s for kids. Plus, supervise your children so that they don’t end up watching something as stupid as this.

  9. Avatar of Claudia Delgado

    Claudia Delgado

    Never liked old Disney anyways. I like the current Disney Princesses better. Elsa didn’t even need a prince.

  10. Avatar of Monique Fleming

    Monique Fleming

    I was probably a dumb kid back in the days because I didn’t even see the undertone of these Disney movies. I just thought that princess and prince’s were loving couples and that everyone in this world has their prince charming. The real message was lost in translation to me. Eitherway, I’m glad someone compiled this because I want this to serve as a lesson to a lot of people that even though they’re cartoons and that the show seems harmless, we might be putting across the wrong message.

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