Ok so here’s something we didn’t see coming from Disney! We have been vocal critics of the Disney Princess culture, as have many organizations, individuals and campaigns. Toy brands like Goldieblox, designed to teach girls basic engineering skills from a young age, were specifically created to be an antidote to the pink princess culture which of course is most perpetuated by Disney.
So when we read about the #DreamBigPrincess photography campaign, we were pleasantly surprised! Disney launched the initiative in 2016, and for this photo series they teamed up with the UN Foundation in an effort to help raise $1 million for the Girl Up campaign, which helps empower young girls in leadership. The fundraising goal has already been met, which shows you just how powerful and influential the Disney brand is.
Visual imagery is incredibly powerful, and the series of images taken 19 photographers, all female, who hail from 15 different countries, all portray empowering and inspiring women sharing their stories and showing them in various states of action. Generally speaking, most of the Disney Princess protagonists are all about trying to find a man to marry and aspiring to the heteronormative standards of womanhood.
An article in the scholarly journal Child Development in 2016 detailed the negative effects of princess culture on girls. The lead author, Sarah Coyne, an associate professor of family life at Brigham Young University, was inspired to conduct this study after reading journalist Peggy Orenstein’s 2011 bestseller ‘Cinderella Ate My Daughter’, writes Rebecca Hains at the Washington Post.
Her research found the more girls engage with the Disney Princess culture, the more they are likely to buy into gender stereotypes of femininity.
“There was no evidence that the girls’ engagement with princess culture influenced girls’ behavior for the better. Princesses’ potential as positive, prosocial role models is limited,” it also noted.
This really hammers home the importance of a brand like Disney taking a more empowering stance within its messaging, as it can potentially help raise an entire generation of young feminists who grow up wanting to reject gender stereotypes. It shows the power of positive role models in the life of a girl.
Over the past few years we have seen a few progressive storylines from Disney, most notably in ‘Brave’, where princess Merida vocally shuns her family tradition of needing to marry a man and instead tells her parents she wants to focus on her passion for archery. And let’s not forget 2016’s ‘Moana’, centered around a young Polynesian protagonist who is determined to unearth her family’s seafaring history and go on an adventure to reclaim her culture. There was no romantic interest for her. Instead, she was positioned as an inspiring, determined go-getter who is constantly doing something, rather than just existing to be admired, swept of her feet etc.
Given the popularity of ‘Moana’, ‘Frozen’, and others, we hope this is a direction Disney is willing to explore more aggressively and be part of a culture that dismantles harmful gender stereotypes which they have certainly been a large player in selling to young girls for decades. This photo series is yet another indicator that progress is happening at the company.
There are images of girls playing soccer, carrying surfboards, and coding in front of a computer, as well as pictures of inspiring real-life subjects, such as the youngest person to ever speak at the United Nations, the leader of the first female cycling team in Afghanistan, a teenage author of a STEM coding book for kids, a young surf champion from Brazil, and a Chinese Paralympic gold medalist. No room for Prince Charming here!
One of the photographers whose work was featured in the series is Kate Parker, the author of ‘Strong Is The New Pretty’. According to Vogue.com she loved the idea of what this campaign was all about.
“Like most kids, my daughters grew up having a lot of exposure to Disney and Disney princesses. So I wanted to find a way to combine an element of empowering princess and real girls,” she said.
Kate dressed up her daughter Alice, 9, and a few of her friends in recognizable Disney Princess outfits, and took photos of them playing in the mud, kicking a ball, and generally having fun while enjoying each other’s friendship.
“A lot of girls feel like you have to either be a tomboy or a girly girl who dresses up. But Alice likes both things. I wanted her to know that that’s okay and you can be anything you want to be. It’s a gray area that’s not discussed a lot,” she added.
Another one of her images is of a young girl named Grace who is currently undergoing treatment for osteosarcoma while training for a 5K marathon. Kate says she hopes her own daughter will be inspired by seeing other female role models who are doing incredible things that can encourage her to do the same.
“I really feel a responsibility to show girls what is possible. So many images of girls these days are Photoshopped and filtered and not real. I don’t want my daughter to think that’s who she should strive to be or emulate. I think the more honesty and truth that we can put out there as women and as photographers, the more it chips away at that unattainable, unreal ideal,” she said.
Aside from the badass images in the Dream Big, Princess photo series, Disney wants everyday people to upload their own empowering images of girls to social media using their hashtag, from now until October 11 which is International Day Of The Girl. Not only is this campaign giving young female Disney audiences a more empowering way of looking at their abilities, it also brings in the understanding of the need to ensure girls in less fortunate parts of the world have the same opportunities to succeed.
“This campaign aims to make a tangible difference for girls who face challenges in achieving their dreams, through a collaboration with Girl Up…Girls are powerful, When they’re educated, healthy and safe, they transform their communities. When girls stand up for girls in need, they empower each other and transform our world,” said a statement on the Dream Big, Princess landing page.
You can learn more about the photo series by clicking here, or watching the video below: