A Sexy Four Year Old? Sexualization of Disney Princesses By Candace McCullough

Disney princesses are everywhere throughout stores and especially seen during Halloween time.  My four year old niece loves these princesses and enjoys dressing up as them.  Strangers say, “Oh, you’re so pretty.  Where’s your prince charming?” Hello, people.  She’s only four years old.  She does not need a prince charming yet and possibly never will.  Disney’s newest princess, Merida, is the most inspiring princess to date because she tries resisting the stereotypes that society is forcing upon her.  Although this is true, all of the princesses incorporate sexuality into their character.  They are all feminine in the types of clothes they wear and play a more submissive role to the antagonists in the films.  These representations are shown to young girls who are trying to figure out what type of woman they will become.  By revealing only one type of character throughout ten different films, society represses these young girls into becoming what they see on television.  They will eventually grow up and become women who can become more than a submissive, consumerist housewife.  Young girls have the potential to take on adventures outside of their home country, just as men do.  I incorporated videos as well as pictures to display how the characters’ personalities can change the way they are perceived sexually.  The pictures only depict how the character is seen in a provocative way.  Combining videos and pictures effectively displays the misrepresentations of women when they lack a unique personality and are seen as a mere object.

Merida is the newest Disney princess who disrupts the norms of marriage and sexuality.  She is not longing for prince charming to sweep her off her feet but instead, wants to fight for her own independence.  She is not submissive to anyone, including her parents and the males interested in her.  While the men compete for Merida’s hand in marriage, they are actually “using [her] sexuality as a commodity” (Valenti 183).  Merida is forced to dress up in uncomfortable clothes that are not practical for everyday wearing.  She is not wearing the dress to impress the men nor does she have an up-do for the men.  According to her mother, she should be presentable to the male spectator, and she is to “flatter him” with her sexuality (Berger 52).  Her defiance against her mother competes with the norms of heterosexuality as she is not ready for an arranged marriage with a man, but she is told by society that she needs to be married to a man.

disney princesses bitchy tangled hair cut

Rapunzel has sexy, long, blonde hair throughout Tangled which is a stereotypical white female.  Black females are not born with blonde hair (no one is born with platinum blonde hair) and have more work to grow their hair (or use weaves) because it is coarser than white females’ hair.  This meme is working on the light/dark binary where long, blonde hair is desired because it is light in color and makes the female sexy, while short, brunette hair is not wanted because it is dark in color and makes the female look butch.  White women with platinum blonde hair helps “maintain a distance, a separation between that image and the black female Other” or a way to keep the white people powerful over the powerless black people (Hooks 110).  Reinforcing the normative understandings of sexuality, Rapunzel becomes more self-conscious with short hair, and she will “survey, like men, [her] own femininity” because she is usually looked at like an object (Berger 52).  The phallocentric gaze will lose interest in the female with short hair since the female is lacking power and no penis which causes “a threat of castration.”  As she defies the norms of female sexuality, she disrupts the “direct scopophilic contact with the female form displayed for his enjoyment” (Mulvey 62).

Tiana is dressed as a young “mammy” figure, being conservative in her clothes and is also seen holding a broom while she’s trying to clean up the building that will eventually be her own diner.  When Tiana dreams of her diner, she is in an evening dress and has all-men staff (or waiters) dressed in tuxedos.  She is disrupting the stereotypical black female dream, and her mother tries to reinforce the stereotype by telling her to find a man to take care of her.  Her dream is what her father wanted and is beyond what society has in place for her and her family as Lorde states, “to allow women of Color to step out of stereotypes is too guilt provoking”(Lorde 21).  It is difficult for the rest of society to admit that they have actively repressed women of color. Although she dreams of herself in an evening gown, the end of the scene goes back to her reality where she is dressed in conservative clothes where her social class is also taken into consideration as she would need more money to pay for her dress and diner.  Tiana is portrayed through the eyes of powerful white men, “a unified and racist ‘ruling class’” (Hall 82).

Celebs and Their Cartoon Look-A-Likes - Princess Jasmine & Kim Kardashian

Comparing these two pictures of Jasmine to Kim Kardashian exemplifies how the male gaze functions.  Jasmine’s eyes are enlarged and almond shaped, and her lips are plump with a soft nose.  Her straps to her top are off the shoulder and exposes her abdomen in an attempt to “turn herself into an object—and most particularly an object of vision: a sight” (Berger 50).  Kim Kardashian dresses as Princess Jasmine and accentuates her breasts in a small top, inviting males to look at her as an object rather than an individual.  Self-objectification consents to active scopophilia where the male controls what is being looked at (Mulvey 59).  Jasmine, along with the other Disney Princesses, is a fictional character, invented by powerful white men, and this picture of Jasmine is one misrepresentation of Arabic women.  Kim Kardashian has the choice to dress as promiscuous as Jasmine, or she could wear a more modest outfit.  In a way, Kim, without power in society, is giving the power to the male spectator by dressing provocatively (Mulvey 59).  Kim and Jasmine are from wealthy families and have the resources to acquire what they want.  Jasmine is the only Arabic female represented in the mainstream American culture; therefore, the stereotypical Arabic female was hypersexual and dressed promiscuously since “Americans in particular have never been known for their cultural sensitivity” (Klein 116).

Apparently, this wedding dress is inspired by the Disney Princess Snow White.  Young girls dream of becoming a Disney Princess and with this wedding dress, her dream can become a “reality.”  The woman wearing the dress, with long luxurious curls, does not look like Snow White, who had dark, short hair.  Instead of hiring a woman who resembles Snow White, the audience sees “representations of people who ‘stand for’ reigning social values” (Jhally 200).  The focus is not on the dress because the dress does not stand out in this picture.  What snatches attention is the white woman’s face and hair.  Also, the camera angle does not show the attributes of the wedding dress.  Instead, the woman is in a seductive pose, trying to use her beauty and sex appeal as advertisement.  Our image-based culture “reflects our desires and dreams, yet we have only the pleasure of the images to sustain us in our actual experience with goods” because the goods themselves do not bring the happiness that was to come with it (Jhally 201).  This image epitomizes how consumers are taught to use their emotions when buying products since Snow White is not clearly represented.

The main audience for Disney movies is young girls, and they can fantasize as being one of the Disney princesses.  Children are placed in a double bind at the very beginning of their lives.  “From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually,” and by internalizing the gaze, she gives control to the male spectator (Berger 49). The Role models they aspire to become are hypersexualized and are longing for prince charming to come along and take care of them.  On the other hand, they are told to stay abstinent until marriage.  The virgin/whore dichotomy explains to young women that “neither sexual activity nor sexual inactivity is all right” (Frye 41).  By ingraining this virgin/whore dichotomy into society, males keep oppressing women for their own gain of power in society.  A woman “symbolizes the castration threat by her real lack of a penis and secondly thereby raises her child into the symbolic,” and by doing so, she reinforces the patriarchal society (Mulvey 57).  This white supremacist society does not leave much room for other cultures and identities.  “Racism is one of the most profoundly ‘naturalized’ of existing ideologies” as stereotypes have kept in check (Hall 82).  It seems natural for the young black woman to be portrayed as a poor southern girl, and it’s also natural for the brown-skinned Arabic woman to come from a wealthy family while the other Disney princesses, who are white, come from a middle class background.  Young girls then relate to the middle class white princess.  The newest addition to the Disney princesses questions these social structures.  Before Merida, the role models consisted of beautiful, unrealistic women who lived happily ever after with a man by their side.  Merida does not play into the consumerism aspect of society nor does she care about the beauty aspect.  These actions interested young girls because they had not seen this type of character depicted in movies beforehand, and these young children were the answer the “market success” (Klein 112).  Merida is inspiring to young girls, but it is more fun to dress up and put on make-up as older women do.  All of the Disney princesses have prominent feminine features, including large, almond shaped eyes, plump lips, flowing locks of hair, and a well-defined hourglass figure.  Women do not casually wear ball gown dresses, but when they do have special events, they pay and will continue to pay outrageous prices “as long as the commodity image-system maintains its ubiquitous presence and influence” (Jhally 202).  The price goes unquestioned because it is instilled in our consumerist society to obtain the best product that we can afford.  The Snow White wedding dress only resembles Snow White’s cartoon dress by being a type of ball gown.  Other than that, the advertisement relies on the woman’s emotion toward Snow White to actually sell the dress (Jhally 202).  Women passively appear to men who actively watch (Mulvey 64).  The men hold the power of the gaze toward women and force them to appear as they imagine.  These Disney princesses do not resemble any contemporary realistic woman.  Their dreams of becoming a princess are unrealistic. They are molded into thinking that they have a chance to become a princess and meet a man to live with happily ever after.  In reality, women work to please men and children and are held accountable for the happiness of both their husband and their children while they have no power over either (Frye 46).  Disney Princesses force young girls to objectify themselves at a young age in order to please the young boys around them.

Works Cited

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010. 49-52.

DisneyPixar. “Brave ‘The Prize’ Trailer.” Video. Youtube.  Youtube, 22 Februrary 2012. Web. 5 October 2013.

Frye, Marilyn. “Oppression.” Reading Women’s Lives. Ed. Amanda Rossie. New York: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2010. Pg 39-49.

Hall, Stuart. “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. 81-84. Print.

Hooks, Bell. “The Oppositional Gaze.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010. 107-117.

Jedeikin, Desi. “Rapunzel.” Photograph. Smosh. Alloy Digital, LLC, 2012. Web. 5 October 2013.

Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. 199-203. Print.

Klein, Naomi. “Patriarchy Gets Funky.” No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs. 10th Anniversary ed. New York: Picador, 2010. 107-124. Print.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Reading Women’s Lives. Ed. Amanda Rossie. New York: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2010. Pg 17-27.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010. 57-65.

“Princess Jasmine and Kim Kardashian.” Photograph. MTV. Viacom International Media Networks, 2012. Web. 5 October 2013.

princesstianaparty. “Princess Tiana Party – I’m Almost There Sing-A-Long.” Video. Youtube. Youtube, 23 August 2010. Web. 5 October 2013.

“Snow White.” Photograph. Alfred Angelo. Alfred Angelo, Inc, 2013. Web. 5 October 2013.

Valenti, Jessica. “The Cult of Virginity.” In Women’s Voices, Feminist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Susan Shaw and Janet Lee, eds. 2011. 5th Edition. Boston: McGraw Hill. 181-185. Print.


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