If you're a mother of girls, it feels like the "Disney Princess Debate" is huge, and e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e has an opinion about it. I've had some people ask me about it, and after some reading, thinking and percolating, here's what I think.
I read about this study done with girls ages 6 and younger dealing with body image and watching Disney princess movies. For brevity's sake, I'll just mention the results, which showed no link between young girls' body image and watching Disney princesses. The biggest factor in forming their self image was the parents. If the subjects' parents were obsessed with their weight and body image and were constantly talking about it to others, the little girl picked up on it.
A third of the girls in the study said they wanted a slimmer figure (!). This is girls 6 and under, peeps! I absolutely know that media has an influence on the conscious and subconscious minds of children, which is why I'm incredibly picky about what comes in my house, in all media types. However, I think that blaming Disney princesses for the body image issues of young women is just an easy scape goat. There are hundreds of reasons why women have body image issues, media is obviously one of the biggest factors.
I know the feminist arguments against fairy tales. Ariel giving up her voice to attract her prince, relying only her physical beauty, sends off feminist alarm bells a la the femi-Nazi in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But once you start picking apart the world that way, where do you stop? I think it just sucks the fun right out of things. I don't think feminists have much fun.
Here's my plan. Raising children is difficult, and raising my three sweet chicas to have solid self-esteem is probably my number one goal, after having faith in God. I'm very careful about what I say around them, even at their age. I have been working very hard on changing my own self-image by thinking, "Would I want my girls to be thinking that of themselves?" every time I start berating my post-three-babies body. If I am self-confident, they will be.
I pretended to be Snow White for probably two straight years of my childhood, and I just don't think it damaged me. I think the unwholesome media directed at teens is a much, much greater worry than the sweetness of Disney princesses. So, if Millie sings "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" and twirls, I'm not going to worry that much. If she starts wanting to marry a vampire, I will :).
I tell each of my beauties every night when I cuddle them in their bed, "You are beautiful. You are my perfect little girl and I love you." Loving them with all my heart is the best I can do for them, and carefully choosing what comes in to our house will protect them from things they don't have to deal with yet. But in the meantime, we'll still be watching Rapunzel.