Disney Princesses are Sh*tty Storytellers. ~ Heather Grimes.

Via Heather Grimes
on Sep 25, 2013
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Design by HelleeTitch

Here’s what I’d like to do with the Disney Princesses:

I’d like to throw them all in a beat-up station wagon, drive them into the middle of back-country Appalachia and tell them I’ll pick them up in a week. No men. No hairdryers or magnifying make-up mirrors. (I imagine it would be hard to trailblaze in those layered, taffeta gowns.)

That would be a princess tale that maintains my interest.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not hoping for their demise. I wouldn’t want them to be torn to bits by bears or to develop Lyme disease from all the ticks. I just want to see them in a situation that inspires a bit more toughness. Given that they’ve all come from horrific family backgrounds, I’d love to see what those girls are really made of.

For the bulk of my childhood, I was obsessed with The Little Mermaid (until I hit high school and embraced a more gothic affect). To this day, I know every word, nuance and pause from the soundtrack.

When I was a kid, it didn’t occur to me that the story was rather shallow.

I was entertained by the talking crabs and humor—though much of it went over my head. What stayed with me over the years was the music and the grand, glorious scenes of the world beneath the sea. Not the fact that this movie, as so many other Disney Princess movies, conclude with a wedding and happily-ever-after-with-a-man.

That’s where most of the stories end.

So you know, I’m hardly a stalwart feminist. I’m not oversensitive and I enjoy a good boob joke as well as the next guy.  When a beautiful woman walks by, I call a spade a spade. I like to play dress-up and I compliment Opal’s outfits. Until recently, the Disney Princesses ranked in my book as being as neutral as Clifford-the-dog or Madeline.

Being an English Major and a relentless writer (for better or for worse), I am an advocate for excellent writing, and I am aware of the influential power of a well-told story.

It has come to my attention that, in this arena, the famous gang of Princesses is drastically falling short.

Recently, Opal and I were at the library, picking out some magazines for a road trip. Granted, the selection was limited for a kid Opal’s age— superhero magazines, a few on animals and Disney Princess Magazines. She headed straight towards the Princesses. After unsuccessfully trying to convince her of the splendor of a blowfish or puffer penguins, I acquiesced and checked out three issues of Princesses.

Due to a slight mix up in packing, a bag of books was left in the living room and we spent the entire weekend with nothing to read but those three god-forsaken princess magazines. Hence, they inadvertently became a study.

The stories were limited and totally lacking substance.

They were about princess weddings, shopping and being in love (in a boring, Disney-G-rated sort of way). Princess Mulan was the only one who portrayed a different message—she rescued a little boy from a cave faster than two huge men who had discounted her for being just a girl. (Go Milan!)

My eyes became weary from looking at these cartoon girls (not women) ad naseum. With their gorgeous, flowing locks, their Miss America poses, their prom gowns (that presumably signify success), their wide, doey eyes and do-I-look-pretty expressions and the image of them snuggled up next to their man. Oye.

Really, how can an average-sized schoolgirl relate to all that flawlessness?

The image not only sets a dangerous precedence, but it hugely lacks creativity. Can we have one chunky princess, please? Or one with big teeth? Or a different ending?

“Read it again, Mommy!”

After reading these stories again and again, I felt off.  Like I needed something dark, inappropriate and lacking veneer to balance things out.

So I envisioned Cinderella putting Comet on her step-sisters’ Bundt cake, Mulan as a man-hating feminist who was filled with unexpressed rage, and Snow White as a closet meth-user who developed a constellation of sores on her face. Swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction brought me closer to a state of equilibrium.

I’ve cooled off a bit since then.

But still, let’s get real here. Disney is  a $50 billion dollar industry. They certainly have the funds to hire some decent writers to compose story-lines for these characters that are curious and thought-provoking. My daughter is four. She loves when I make up stories about things that resonate with her.

Impromptu storytelling plays a major role in our household:

“Did I ever tell you the story about the little girl who didn’t eat breakfast and then she got to preschool and was too  grumpy to play with her friends? Or about the Queen who was kind to all people equally, even though she was very, very shy? Or of the RV that transforms into a magical play-factory when it rains outside?”

If I had more time and perhaps a staff, I’d love to write an underground zine about my own troop of Princesses.  And no, they wouldn’t save the world in overt, impossible ways. They wouldn’t have superpowers.

My Cinderella would find a way to rework the public school system so that children from all socio-economic backgrounds would have access to the same quality education. She would ride to and from work on a unicorn with a saddle woven directly from a rainbow. (Nothing wrong with having a little fun.)

My Ariel would do the work of the 400,000 volunteers around the world who pick up 6 million pounds of plastic trash from the ocean in a single day. Then she’d party all night with the singing crab and his wild posse of sea-crooners.

Or, my snow white would be an excellent mother to two children instead of seven dwarfs.

She would console one sick kid while getting the other ready for school and juggle play dates, work and domestic endeavors without losing her mind. She wouldn’t blame herself when things didn’t go as planned and she’d smile at her aging reflection in the mirror.

Now that would be a powerful story.


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Ed: Cat Beekmans


About Heather Grimes

Heather is a full-time mama to her five-year-old daughter, Opal. She's also a part-time massage therapist to a variety of lovely folks, with a focus on old ladies. In the gaps, she writes, sews, reads, roller skates, falls, writes more, walks and relaxes with her awesome friends and husband. She also loves to tell stories on stage. You can find her at hcgrimes.org. You can also check out her—now, inactive—blog at: thegrimesfamilychronicles.blogspot.com.


8 Responses to “Disney Princesses are Sh*tty Storytellers. ~ Heather Grimes.”

  1. Shauna says:

    Yes! This as all of Heather’s articles speaks so clearly as to the joys, frustrations and confounding moments of parenthood. I want to read more about her princesses- a perfect mix of reality, heroism and fantasy. Heather you are one of my heros, thank you for continuing to share your writing with us.

  2. Clare says:

    Thanks for the giggly and thought-provoking article! I think you might be interested to see Brave, as you don't seem to be aware of it… it's Disney, it's recent, and its heroine is a rebellious princess with AWESOME uncontrollable orange frizzy hair, a fairly realistic body shape and a round, unsexualised face. She likes archery, mountain climbing and riding her draught horse. She has a real mum who does real mum things, and – from an adult point of view – both battling mum and daughter are fairly sympathetic characters.

    If you get into it, then prepared to get properly riled all over again when you see this – because sadly, the Disney team responsible for making the Brave film is not the same team responsible for marketing Disney Princesses. http://tinyurl.com/cc7tkfw

  3. kmacku says:

    This is why I really liked the Disney short, "Paperman." If you get a chance, and you haven't already, find a way to watch it (it's no longer on Youtube for free).

    I was recently informed by my friend who works at Disney that Peg (the female in the story) doesn't qualify as a Princess because she was never coronated. And that kind of bugged me; so maybe she's not singing to any forest animals (actually, neither character even speaks), but Peg's a New York girl fighting for a job; that's for more realistic than any of the coronated princesses.

    Anyways, fun article!

  4. Heather Grimes says:

    Thank you, my dear Shauna. YOU are one of my heroes, too. As a mama, a woman, a world-traveler, a dancer, a creative thinker, a master conversationalist and a stunning friend. xoxo.

  5. Heather Grimes says:

    Yes, Clare, thank you!!
    I had heard of BRAVE, but I thought it was a product of the master-minds at Pixar. I adore the stories that come from them—Toy Story, Monsters Inc—and I didn't realize that since Disney bought Pixar, Merida (our BRAVE heroine) was a Disney-Girl, too.
    My husband and I watched the BRAVE trailer three times in bed last night and I went to sleep feeling her badass-ness buzzing through me. You described her perfectly—the wild hair, the round face, the realistic body. (She even busts through her dress at one point to shoot her arrow! Be still my heart!)
    Thanks for the link to the Huff Post article where our beloved, wild protagonist is being "Princessized" for the masses. Oye.* But at least we have a full-length movie that shatters all those expired Princess stereotypes and shows some major creativity in the process.
    We will be renting BRAVE this weekend (my husband and I, Opal is still too young) and enjoying every moment of it. xo.

  6. Heather Grimes says:

    Thanks for the response!
    I have never heard the word "coronate" used in context, I never even realized it was a verb. Well done.
    I just bought 'PaperMan' on I-tunes and watched it. In short, I enjoyed the hell out of it. I loved that the whole, sorted love story took place in under 7 minutes. I loved the quirkiness of the characters and their personal acts of civil disobedience and the expressions on the man's face between each attempt at a paper-throw. (I don't want to spoil it—if you are reading, you must watch for yourself!)

    This is why I love writing for Elephant. You and Clare have given me so much more to think on, and I appreciate that so much!
    Warmly, Heather

  7. AJ says:

    I love this article so much, Heather. As you know we are all princess here at our household. I looked at the store the other day and saw a princess storybook and could not bear to buy it. We have no princess books, per say, except some books of opposites and Princesses Wear Hiking Boots. That is a great series of books. I plan to get more.

    My little one comments sometimes how in the books the princesses never go potty and that she doesn’t have to go potty either. I just ordered last night 3 books on princesses going potty.

    We talk about how princesses use their pleases and thank yous and are very polite and that princesses are strong and brave and great at helping people. She told me she tamed a dinosaur and I thought that was commendable and very princess-like.

  8. Heather Grimes says:

    Yes! It is so princess-like to wear hiking boots and go potty and tame a dinosaur. I love this. Without barring the word "princess," let's simply make an effort to link it with more positive—and downright realistic—associations! Well done! xo.