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Disney Princesses: Role Models or Ridiculous?

26/06/2014 11:25 BST | Updated 25/08/2014 10:59 BST

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Jenny Park Photography

As a girl growing up, forget Maya Angelou or Ellie Simmonds, the Disney Princesses were the women I looked up to. There never was a day more cherished than when I first laid eyes on Cinderella waltzing through the streets of Disneyworld and my heart has never beaten as fast as the moment when she caught my eye and told me how lovely I looked. Dad managed to take a quick snapshot and the picture remains one I still treasure today. Ariel said in The Little Mermaid:

'who says that my dreams have to stay just my dreams?'

Oh how I dreamed to be as beautiful as those women, to have animal friends to confide in and to find, or more Disney-like, to be found, by my Prince Charming. Although sadly his existence remains unknown.

Beginning my summer vacation, I thought what better way to start my quest for summer love than by re-watching my most favoured Disney love stories. Yet well over a decade later Cinderella no longer lives up to the beautiful and admired woman that 5-year-old me had so desperately wished to be. Although the princess can be commended for her work ethic, the 19-year-old servant is ultimately rewarded for one thing only, her good looks. Disagreeably it is the beautiful woman who gains her happy ending and her stepsisters are contrastingly mocked for their ugliness. So what Cinderella actually teaches us women is that hard work does not pay off, but beauty does, we all have a fairy godmother and a prince waiting to rescue us, (care to show your faces anytime soon?), and a shoe can change our lives.

But sadly the only shoe that will change mine will be when a seven-inch stiletto sends me flying down the stairs and left with every bone broken.

So Mr Walt Disney, you truly deceived us all. The magic moviemaker did say:

'all our dreams can come true'
But my dream of becoming a perfect princess and being whisked off my feet by a fairytale fellow is definitely unreachable. It is a dream completely lost in neverland.

But Cinderella is not the only awfully materialistic and sexualized Disney princess. Belle, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Ariel are nothing but victims of the male gaze. Being sexual objects they stand in stark contrast to many headstrong and hearty 21st century modern women. Ariel even seems to mark the cosmetic culture that today's society suffers from. Having to physically change herself to gain the attention of Eric, Ariel is no more of a princess than those women who go under the knife in a fierce fight to possess perfection. And the loss of her voice, ironically her most beautiful asset, leaves her a speechless, subordinate woman.

There is no way I want to be part of that world.

And what is perhaps even more absurd is Sleeping Beauty's fairytale ending. Being fast asleep when found by Prince Charming, the princess is once again only a role model for those girls who want to be appreciated solely for their appearance. Like The Little Mermaid, what this story suggests is that women don't even have to speak to win the heart of their dream man, and more horrifically, we don't even have to be awake. All that is needed in life is an ability to look pretty.

Although Beauty and the Beast attempts to teach us not to judge a book by its cover, it is ironic again that Beauty is the image of perfection. Would such a happy ending have occurred if she were as beastly as the beast himself?

I am still waiting for the Disney revolution, when an overweight female becomes the next princess protagonist.

But the development of Disney does indeed mirror the great historical achievements of women in their dedication and determination to reach gender equality. In opposition to the 1950s Cinderella stands the 1998 Disney Princess movie Mulan. Not only does the Chinese chick break the former white ethnicity of the princesses, but the film embodies third wave feminism and finally teaches girls that being prim and proper and looking pretty are not our only roles. With Mulan fighting alongside males, she proves that women are just as strong as men. It is her strength, not her sexiness, which makes her one of Disney's most valued heroines.

So it seems that Disney has moved with the times, as it is the more recent princesses that symbolise true female role models. Merida, a new princess from Brave, shows that Disney has tossed aside the snow-white, angelic style. Instead, the bushy, ginger-haired scruff ball, is a free-spirited and powerful girl. Her physical prowess as an unbeatable archer leaves much to be desired for Disney's former damsels in distress. Rapunzel from Tangled fights for her freedom, as all females should, and cleverly manipulates a man, Flynn Ryder, to achieve her dreams.

So who is the fairest of them all? Those women who achieve their fairytale through a pretty mind, a pretty heart, and a beautiful soul- we don't need a prince to help either.