Thursday, September 6, 2012

Another Princess Post: Merchandise Culture

This will be my last Princess post for a while.  They just provide so much material!  I'll have more variety in the next few articles so stick around :)

It’s no secret Disney Princesses are “it girls” in today’s society, and have been for some time.  They seem pretty much perfect, and are most definitely portrayed that way as they are marketed to children in the form of toys, clothes, school supplies, you name it.  With the targeted consumers being young girls, these are the products that can reinforce the kind of person they aspire to be. 

Now this would be a fair goal, IF the Princesses were modeled as the well-rounded, adventurous, brave, proactive, and sometimes not-that-feminine ladies that are seen in the actual movies.  However, as you know if you’ve ever encountered Princess merchandise, this is not how they are marketed.  If you haven't, please just humor me and Google "Disney Princesses."  The below picture is the first result that pops up that I grabbed from Google Images.  The girls are predominantly in their best iconic dress and posed in such passive positions to appear demure, sweet, and dainty. 

Here's the whole lineup   (See Link A)

I know this is how Princesses are “supposed to” appear.  As royalty they should uphold a certain standard.  But when watching the movies in which they star, some of the girls are only in those dresses for a single key scene (Mulan, Aurora, Cinderella, Tiana, Belle, and Ariel all fit this bill), and the rest of the time they are much more active about moving the plot along. 

Take Belle, for example: she is in her yellow ball gown for the ballroom/balcony scene and that is it.  But her merchandise has her permanently stuck in that thing and looking as if she’s floating on air.  In fact her character is rather defiant, feisty, and fights for what she loves.  But you would never know by looking at the products.

Toddler Girl's shirt from Target  (See Link B)

Another great example is Mulan, who is an outward female for perhaps 10% of the movie.  Yet she is never on merchandise in her brave, selfless soldier form, but only as a sweet young lady in a dress.

I could not find one Mulan product where she was her solder self...  (See Link C)

I’m not opposed to promoting the Princesses to young audiences, but I do wish there could be a bit of variance between hyper-femininity and active personalities that are indicative of gender-neutral roles, especially if they are consistent with the movies.  These young consumers tend to love to take after those they admire, and hopefully the movie versions of Princesses help with that.  But wouldn’t it be nice if the merchandise they were handed also sparked some adventurous and intelligent qualities with a belief that they could be anything they wanted if they put their minds to it?


  1. At least the movies themselves (nowadays) tend to portray the princesses as more independent, plucky, adventurous, etc. Presumably the consumers of these "pretty princess" items have seen those films and feel a connection to the characters that goes deeper than any picture on a t-shirt would imply, don't you think? In other words, that pin shows Mulan as a vacuous mannequin, but we remember her as the peasant girl who triumphs over the Hun invasion with heart and courage. Hopefully!

  2. Yes I definitely approve of the direction Princess movies take these days. As you say, we can only hope that young consumers wish to take after the heroines they see in the films more than the ones they have on their shirts/backpacks/posters etc. Another thing to think about with Halloween coming up is the little girl Princess costumes. How many are the outfits the Princesses wore while being brave and adventurous? And how many are the iconic ballgowns that make them feel pretty instead of powerful? I'm not bashing, just zooming in my sociological lens. :) It's what I do here!