Disney Princesses progression

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Disney films have gained international acclaim, especially among children. It is a significant part of children's media and has a significant influence on their lives. The Disney princesses, in particular, have had the most clout due to their strong marketing authorization. Disney princess films are said to have greater cultural authority in teaching children morals, beliefs, and unique responsibilities than religious institutions, communities, and even schools. Many children have internalized the messages and ideals conveyed in these Disney princess films (Johnson). The eras of the Disney princesses from Snow white (1937) to Moana (2017) have witnessed immense growth and changes in many ways from gender roles, how love has been portrayed and body images (Johnson).The changing times has seen the rise of women from their stereotypical positions of home makers to heroism. The gaining of a stronger voice by women in the society has also been captured in the evolution of the Disney princesses. These films though they have been dismissed as children’s films they have played a significant role in changing the societal ideas about women, feminism and social expectations. Below are some of the research questions used to navigate the topic and they include:

Research Question One: What are some of the gender roles that have changed over time?

Research question two: What are some of the changes unveiled in the portrayal of love?

Research question three: What new body images of the princesses have been witnessed during their progression?


Sampling and Procedure

Content analysis for this study was necessary to compare the differences in the characterization of the Disney princesses in the different eras. Six Samples of the original animated Disney princess films that represented different eras since the start of Disney animation films were collected to be watched and evaluated to answer the above research questions. These were Snow White (1937), Cinderella (1950), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Little Mermaid (1989), Brave (2012) and Moana (2017). Other than sampling and observation, literature overview was used to back the information. Extensive research has been done by authors on the influence of Disney princess films. Information from various scholarly articles from google scholar was also used to gather more information on more films. This study was also based on research through blogs and some scholarly journals. Observations were done by several people to get more views and diverse perspectives on the films. The observations were then backed by several instances on the films to ensure evidence based and reliable findings.


Disney Princess films have come a long way in trying to ensure that women have an equal ground in the society. However, there are still other stereotypical representations of the past eras being portrayed. Disney princess films should represent real women in the world out there to act as examples and role models for children. The films should capture the various forms of women in all sizes from different ethnicities and physical forms to allow children to have a healthy and positive representation of the female gender. Children these days go as far as wanting to be like the Disney princesses thus for protective measure against body dissatisfaction, and depression, more diverse role models should be featured (Coyne et al.)

As stated earlier in the methodology and procedure of gathering data for this research, the study was based on the viewer interpretation of the films and extensive searching through the available information from other authors. Though the data presented may not be valid as it lacks statistical evidence, these are the effects of the Disney Princess films being discussed by people in the world. The evolution of the Walt Disney princess films and how they affect children have instilled curiosity in many. Therefore, more research is being done to find out how progression in these films is impacting girls’ trajectories in the society today.


Research Question One: Changing Gender Roles

Disney Princess films have portrayed gender roles to match the stereotypical views of the society. Princesses have been associated with being submissive, dutiful, independent and weak. The behaviors of the princesses plus their house managing persona were exhibited through their physical appearance (Johnson).In the first Disney princess film Snow White, Snow White is depicted as subordinate to the prince and relied on the prince’s kiss for her to wake up from her sleeping curse. She is also taken by the seven dwarfs to their cottage to cook and clean as they went to work. Cinderella from the film Cinderella, is also expected to cook and clean for her wicked step mother and step sisters in order to be liked by her step family. Three fairies in the film Sleeping Beauty sacrifice their magical powers to protect Aurora.

These princesses were expected to be house matrons through cleaning and cooking and they never complained. They are also not depicted as assertive. However concentrate on their physical appearance more. The films also show their emotional vulnerability, particularly through crying. In the films, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, Ariel and Belle respectively show more fierce characteristics such as independence and heroism. Ariel wants to get out of the comfort of her home in the sea and explore. She also wants to make decisions independently for her life without the influence of her father. Belle also displays independence and fights against the tradition of being subject to a man, Gaston. She is assertive and brave. She also goes against the society’s expectation by engaging herself in books. Pocahontas and Mulan have been seen to have masculine features. They are involved in war and display heroism in saving their male counterparts using their minds and intellectual capabilities. Pocahontas choses her family in the end and does not end up with her male counterpart showing that women are still tied down by traditions that overwhelm independence (Johnson).

Disney princess films in the present era have been known to focus on their element of independence, empowerment and reject stereotypical behaviors (Wilde). Tiana, a character from the film The Princess and the Frog, is depicted as the first princess to have career dreams which do not include a prince. She not only wants to be a waitress but also owns her restaurant. Although she finds herself a prince she does not leave her dreams to accommodate him; rather she even tries to save him. Other characters like Elsa from Frozen is displayed as an authoritative and influential woman. Despite her excellent leadership skills, she is also depicted as one who cannot control her powers and emotions. Merida from Brave is another character that refuses to be defined by a man and goes ahead to satisfy her yearning for adventure. She skillfully uses a bow and rides a horse to the mountains. She was defiant, free- spirited and adventurous, characteristics which did not at all match the traditional expectations of a woman. She is posed as a character with a strong-will by most viewers. Moana has an adventurous spirit and is also very brave. She is never afraid to speak her mind and to explore the outside world. She is also her village’s hero when she returns the magical stone meant to save her village. She is accompanied by a male character, and the journey is successful without the topic of marriage or romance. Princesses in the present era are seen to combat traditional expectations by their display of strength, power, ambitions and assertiveness (Barber).

Question Two: Disney Princesses and the Portrayal of Love

From the beginning of the Disney princess films, love was found at first sight. It had no foundation in knowing someone through dating or courtship. The princesses would end up with their charming princess, marry and somehow live happily ever after. Their whole story is based on finding a prince whom they will find happiness through marriage, and there is no need of them having common likes or interests (Johnson). Princesses are seen to sing, dream and fantasize about princes they would meet. Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora are saved by men through a true love’s kiss. Cinderella depended on the prince to save her from her slave life to her step mother and sisters.

In films like Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast show an improved perception of love. Here love is more emphasized and seen as something that gradually grows over time. Marriage is not the only goal. The characters also seek to pursue their dreams. Pocahontas takes on a different road because she gives up her love life for her family. Despite the improvements in breaking the traditional stereotypes, the ultimate objective was still to get a suitor and settle. According to many customs and cultures, marriages were used to domesticate women. For their lives to be happy, they had to find a prince. They were seen to leave their desires, dreams and combat with family demands to find their happiness (Johnson).

In the present era, a happy ending involves more than just marriage. It also includes personal interests and satisfaction. From The Princess and the Frog, Tiana finds her happy ending after marrying Prince Naveen and owning her restaurant. It is marriage not only based on a union to a prince but also the respect of personal fulfillment. Merida goes against all expectations of a mere princess. She refuses to marry suitors brought to her by her mother and even goes ahead to win a challenge meant to find a suitable man for her. She wishes to find her destiny. The kind of love that comes out is the love between a daughter and a mother. Elsa from Frozen who brought forth a strong and powerful female character is seen to find her happiness with no prince and romance involved. She even went ahead to question her sister Anna’s marriage to Hans, a price she had just met. The film goes ahead to define a relationship between two sisters that is bound by Love for each other. Anna is expected to do an act of true love to save her sister’s heart from freezing, in which she decides to give her life for her sister’s. An act of true love contradicts the other eras dictated by true love’s kiss. The present era has shown more different kinds of love. Moana also sets out for a dangerous journey to restore and save her people. Family love and self-love have been embraced in the present era (Johnson).

Research question three: Body Images of Disney Princesses

Disney Princesses Films have reflected on the societies’ assumption of how a woman should look like particularly her physical physique. Snow white is seen to have pale rosy cheeks and a thin frame. She is hunted down by her evil queen because she is considered the fairest in the land. Aurora was also cursed to sleep by the evil witch. Old age has been linked to death and ugliness through the evil witches, stepmothers and queens. Cinderella’s stepmother was also old and evil. Therefore, supporting the myth that one can only be beautiful when young. Cinderella was identified through a small glass slipper. Thus arousing feelings of dissatisfaction among viewers (Boyd and Sarah).

Pocahontas also had long Barbie doll legs, a tiny waist and a big bust that fully accentuated her sexuality. Belle also had a small frame with a tiny waist and is also said to be the most beautiful girl in that village, the reason why Gaston wanted her to be his wife. Sexuality was fully embraced in these eras. Ariel in The Little Mermaid, wore only a brassier shell and swung her hips, moving provocatively to attract the prince even when she had no voice. The evil witch also turned herself from an octopus to a young lady to capture the prince with her beauty. Tiana from the film The Princess and the Frog was the first princess with color although she did not genuinely show a change in the body image as she was slender and young. In Tangled, Rapunzel’s glowing hair is used by Gothel to prevent herself from aging signifying that her beauty was a great gift and should not be tampered with (Johnson).

Merida breaks beauty norms with her frizzy hair and her defiant nature in wearing princess’s dresses. She doesn’t care about her appearance. The film Brave is one of the most successful Disney princess films to break the stereotyping imaging of women’s bodies. Elsa and Anna in Frozen also possess casual princess attributes with thin bodies and long luxurious hair. Moana is young and not sexualized. She also represents Disney’s ethnical change to try Hawaiian culture being careful not to insult it. Many critics have criticized the attention given to the ideas of a perfect body, skin and hair and how Disney princesses lack realistic body features contributing to unhealthy body dissatisfaction feelings among viewers (Boyd and Sarah).


Disney princess films depict the cultural standards and norms present in the time of production providing a glimpse into the real world. Through decades these films have traced the rise of the female character to be uniquely autotomized. The evolution of the Disney princesses has witnessed massive changes in gender roles, body imaging and how love has been portrayed over time. These factors have been changed to fit the current society. These films play an important role in influencing the younger generation thus messages passed across should be appropriate and able to instill positive thinking and mindset.

Works Cited

Barber, McKenzie. Disney’s Female Gender Roles: The Change of Modern Culture. Diss. 2016.

Boyd, Hope, and Sarah K. Murnen. "Thin and sexy vs. muscular and dominant: Prevalence of gendered body ideals in popular dolls and action figures." Body Image 21 (2017): 90-96.

Coyne, Sarah M., et al. "Pretty as a princess: Longitudinal effects of engagement with Disney princesses on gender stereotypes, body esteem, and prosocial behavior in children." Child development 87.6 (2016): 1909-1925.

Johnson, Rachael Michelle. "The Evolution of Disney Princesses and their Effect on Body Image, Gender Roles, and the Portrayal of Love." (2015).

Wilde, Sarah. "Repackaging the Disney Princess: A Post-feminist Reading of Modern Day Fairy Tales." Journal of Promotional Communications 2.1 (2014).

July 29, 2022

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