Princess Cultures

Mediating Girls’ Imaginations and Identities

by Miriam Forman-Brunell (Volume editor) Rebecca C. Hains (Volume editor)
©2015 Monographs XXII, 288 Pages
Series: Mediated Youth, Volume 18


Princesses today are significant figures in girls’ culture in the United States and around the world. Although the reign of girls’ princess culture has generated intense debate, this anthology is the first to bring together international and interdisciplinary perspectives on the multitude of princess cultures, continuously redrawn and recast by grownups and girls from the Ancien Régime to the New Millennium. Essays critically examine the gendered, racialized, classed, and ethnic meanings of royal figures and fairytale and pop culture princesses inscribed in folk tales, movies, cartoons, video games, dolls, and imitated in play and performance. Focusing on the representation and reception of the princess, this collection sheds new light on the position of princess cultures mediating the lives, imaginations, and identities of girls from toddlers to teenagers – and beyond.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Princess Cultures and Children’s Cultures
  • Chapter One: The Princess and the Teen Witch: Fantasies of the Essential Self
  • Chapter Two: Applying for the Position of Princess: Race, Labor, and the Privileging of Whiteness in the Disney Princess Line
  • Chapter Three: Ghetto Princes, Pretty Boys, and Handsome Slackers: Masculinity, Race and the Disney Princes
  • Chapter Four: Rescue the Princess: The Videogame Princess as Prize, Parody, and Protagonist
  • Chapter Five: Playing to Belong: Princesses and Peer Cultures in Preschool
  • Part II: Princess Cultures Beyond Western Cultures
  • Chapter Six: Mono- or Multi-Culturalism: Girls around the World Interpret Non-Western Disney Princesses
  • Chapter Seven: Princess Culture in Qatar: Exploring Princess Media Narratives in the Lives of Arab Female Youth
  • Part III: Princess and Performance Cultures
  • Chapter Eight: Blue Bloods, Movie Queens, and Jane Does: Or How Princess Culture, American Film, and Girl Fandom Came Together in the 1910s
  • Chapter Nine: JAPpy: Portraits of Canadian Girls Mediating the Jewish American Princess and Identity
  • Chapter Ten: If I Were a Belle: Performers’ Negotiations of Feminism, Gender, and Race in Princess Culture
  • Part IV: The Royal Cultures and Imagined Princess Cultures
  • Chapter Eleven: Princess Sissi of Austria: Image, Reality, and Transformation
  • Chapter Twelve: Dedicated to Princesses: The Marriage Market and the Royal Revelations of Ancien Régime Fairy Tales
  • Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index



When I was four years old, Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) stirred my interest in things princess. But only briefly. After yet another pair of recently-purchased, much longed for and poorly produced plastic slippers cracked the moment I stood up, I grew disillusioned and gave up on princess culture.

Decades later, students in a course I taught on the history of girlhood reawakened my notice of the princess. It is to my insightful students, first at Wellesely College and since 1994 at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, to whom I am indebted for inspiring me to probe the princess. At the American Play, Sports, Games, Entertainment, and Fantasy in American Culture Conference at the Strong National Museum of Play, in Rochester, New York and at the World Congress of the International Toy Research Association Conference on Toys & Culture in Nafplion, Greece, the enthusiastic audiences offered lots more excellent suggestions. I incorporated these into “The Graceful and Gritty Princess: Managing Girlhoods from the New Nation to the New Millennium,” an essay published in the American Journal of Play in 2009. I co-authored the essay with Julie Eaton whose insights into contemporary princess culture deepened my understandings.

The outstanding contributors to this lively collection, especially Diana Anselmo-Sequeira, opened my eyes to unforeseen princess cultures. A bevy of other wonderful women made this princess project come true. My co-editor, Rebecca Hains, or “Princess Rebecca,” made collaborating on this collection a pleasure. ← vii | viii → At Peter Lang, it has been my great fortune to work with Mary Savigar and Sharon Mazzarella, who together have done more for the field of girls’ studies than any other editors anywhere. Bernadette Shade and Phyllis Korper did a great job readying the manuscript for publication. I am grateful for your patience, understanding, consideration, and support during the unforeseen course of events that interrupted the timely production of this book.

Others include Rachel Whitney-Boulanger whose photograph of her daughter, Jocelyn Boulanger, is just what I wanted for the cover! Many thanks for the sharp eye, quick feet, and playful aesthetic. I also want to thank Zoe Brunell and Darcy Tepper for their millennial insights into the princess and their scholarly understandings of punctuation.

I can’t thank enough: Drs. Alexander Swistell and Anne Moore at Weil Cornell and Drs. Amy Rabe, James Coster and Amie Jew at the University of Kansas hospital. They, along with the many outstanding nurses, deserve my appreciation and affection for their expertise, warmth, and meaningful conversation.

Many thanks as well to my compassionate department chair, John Herron, who negotiated a generous leave from teaching during my lengthy treatment. Also at UMKC, Amy Brost helpfully formatted, printed, copied, forwarded, and figured out all things technological.

Thank you David Formanek, Ellen Tepper, Susan Medyn, and Colette Brunell for being there; Ruth Formanek and Perry Brunell for helping me every step of the way; and Hagrid Meriweather Brunell for never once leaving my side. This book is most lovingly dedicated to my “happily ever after” pearl of a husband, Claude Brunell.

Miriam Forman-Brunell
Kansas City, MO

When I was a small child, Disney reigned as the supreme pop culture brand in my home. My sister and I had Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck shoes, banks, and t-shirts, and we loved Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, and Cinderella. Princesses were just part of Disney’s panoply of family-friendly characters that we knew and loved.

My family was always very musical (my father had been a member of the U.S. Navy Band, and throughout my childhood owned a music store), and we enjoyed musical theater. I frequently performed onstage myself, in Gilbert & Sullivan productions and musicals with youth groups and local community theaters. For this reason, when I was in high school and college, I adored Disney’s new line of ← viii | ix → animated films that were actually musicals, like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King, wishing that they’d someday be set as stage productions—and was delighted when, ultimately, they were.

Much later, as a newly minted scholar of media studies, I noticed while working on my book Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life that princesses had changed. They were no longer on an equal footing with Disney’s other characters. They reigned supreme, captivating young girls in a way that seemed new and a bit alarming. Neither I nor my friends nor the children I babysat in my youth had been dedicated to princesses in the way that girls growing up with the relatively new Disney Princess brand seemed to be.

Because I was so intrigued by this, when Growing Up With Girl Power was completed, I embarked upon my own new princess research project. I began by drawing on my performance background, going undercover à la Gloria Steinem in “I was a Playboy Bunny,” seeing what it was like to be a princess character at children’s birthday parties. Expanding from there, I conducted extensive interviews with other performers, parents, educators, and others to inform what would become my next book, The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years—as well as my chapter in this volume.

At this time, during my background research for The Princess Problem, I recognized a serious gap in the literature. How could there be no scholarly anthology on princess culture? Around this time, Miriam Forman-Brunell was guest-editing a special issue of the journal Girlhood Studies on the subject of girls and dolls, to which I contributed an essay on girls’ Bratz doll play from my girl power research. In the course of our conversations about our shared interests in girl culture, we agreed to work on this anthology together, to my great delight. I couldn’t be happier about having had the opportunity to collaborate with (and learn from) such a wonderful scholar and editor as Miriam on this volume. Additionally, editor Mary Savigar of Peter Lang and our series editor Sharon Mazzarella, who has long been a wonderful mentor, have been terrific to work with once again. I am also grateful to Bernadette Shade, Phyllis Korper, and the rest of the Peter Lang team for their countless contributions to our project.

I also wish to thank several colleagues at Salem State University whose support helped make this volume possible: Michele Sweeney, Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and her predecessor Jude Nixon; Peter Oehlkers, chair of the Communications Department, and his predecessor Judi Cook; my colleague Robert Brown, fount of endless (and entertaining) wisdom and camaraderie; and my graduate research assistants Timothy Magill, Krista Andberg, Karen Loughlin, and Irene Walcott, all of whom helped at various stages of this project: much gratitude to all. ← ix | x →

Last but not least, I am grateful to my family for their ongoing support, including Lucie Consentino, Anthony Consentino, Sarah Jackson, Corey Jackson, and Liz Ovard: Thank you all for being there when I need you. I dedicate this book to my husband Tyler Hains and our children, Theo and Alexander, the three loves of my life, who make everything possible.

Rebecca Hains
Salem, MA
← x | xi →




Princesses are everywhere there are girls. Donning pink tulle dresses and sporting glittery tiaras, little princesses appear in preschools and playgrounds, backyards, and bedrooms. Many gowns and crowns are homemade while others are store-bought. Disney’s pricey princess costumes (around $45.00) are among the 40,000 licensed princess productsii that today ornament girls from toes to tiara. Disney’s “lifestyle brand”—aiming to include everything girls around the world could possibly need (including identities)—has mushroomed Disney’s Princess line of merchandise into a multi-billion dollar industry. So in addition to glittering dress-up costumes, jewelry, shoes, and handbags available on line and at Target, Walmart, and other retailers, things princess also include: vanities, make-up cases, cell phones, walkie-talkies, CD players, books, kitchens, beds, comforters, cereal, toothbrushes, potty seats, raincoats, underwear, nightgowns, backpacks, bicycles, tents, TVs, rocking chairs, doggy dishes, castles, toys, games, dolls (Barbie, Bratz, others), and much, much more.iii

Daughters wooed by princess culture have led many parents and pundits to worry about girls’ imaginations, identities, and ideals. In newspapers and magazines, on TV and radio, in blogs and on internet sites, adults have engaged in a lively public debate about the potential identity-shaping dangers of “princess culture.” Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Girlie-Girl Culture (2011) sees the iconic female figure as a wholly inadequate role ← xi | xii → model for well-rounded girls.iv Developmental psychologists Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown similarly argue in Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes (2006) that commercialized princesses contribute to the erosion of girls’ self-esteem.v In The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, Rebecca Hains contends that, lacking media literacy skills, young girls are ill equipped to handle the messages princess culture conveys about consumerism, ideals of beauty, and gender and race stereotypes.vi Although critics acknowledge that the princess might encourage girls to feel good about their selves, they argue that the idealized figure generates a false sense of self-confidence not at all grounded in genuine accomplishments. By reinforcing the unrealistic assumption that power can only be had through magnificent clothing, fabulous wealth, and gorgeous looks, the princess fosters damaging self-scrutiny and a diminishing sense of self. One mother reported that her six-year-old daughter complained that Ariel had a prettier voice and that she wanted her skin to be as light as Snow White’s.vii

The commercialized princess culture that has alarmed some parents, however, has simply charmed others. Among traditionalists there are those who perceive princess fantasies as perfectly “normal” for girls and a “natural” form of feminine socialization. James C. Dobson’s Bringing Up Girls: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Women and John Croyle’s Raising a Princess: Eight Essential Virtues to Teach Your Daughter promote the princess as an ideal for parents and girls to work toward. These authors along with many other adults prefer innocence to the unsavory, and the fresh-faced princess to the in-your-face teen queen. Many take great pleasure in seeing a little girl dressed in a ball gown instead of sweatpants, curtsying instead of climbing, and sipping tea instead of chugging beer. “In a world where Britney goes pantyless in public and Nicole drives drunk,” explained one mother, “a little princess idolatry seems a harmless thing indeed.”viii

Still other adults believe that anything that gives girls a sense of strength is a good thing.ix Third-wave feminist activist Rachel Simmons argues that, “Any arena that allows [girls] access to playfulness and protects them from sexualizing themselves before they are ready” should be applauded not condemned.x Many experts and activists agree that “princess power” provides girls with useful skills in a sexist world.xi Pointing to the power and proficiencies of Mulan, Belle, and Mia, feminist critic Naomi Wolf recently advised parents and critics not worry about Disney Princesses who are “heroines of their own lives.” “Don’t worry if your 5-year-old girl insists on a pink frilly princess dress. It doesn’t mean she wants to subside into froth; it just means, sensibly enough for her, that she wants to take over the world.”xii

Avidly pursuing the princess across many disciplinary fields and over the decades, are a wide variety of scholars. Folklorists and feminists in the 1970s and 1980s examined patriarchal literary and cultural practices that shaped the figure of ← xii | xiii → the princess in narratives that date back to ancient civilizations around the world. Since the 1990s, feminist, Marxist, poststructuralist, and cultural studies perspectives have informed critical treatments of Disney by children’s literature scholars and others, as evidenced by the wide range of scholarly literature referenced by the contributors in this anthology.xiii

Despite the proliferation of essays in academic journals and articles in the mass media, however, there are no scholarly collections on the princess. Of course, there are books about Disney (e.g., The Mouse That Roared and From Mouse to Mermaid), and scholarly documentaries, too (e.g., the Media Education Foundation’s Mickey Mouse Monopoly, directed by New York University professor Chyng Sun)—yet none is dedicated to the princesses that have generated billions for the global media giant. Disney Princesses do appear in the occasional piece published in girls’ culture anthologies (e.g., Growing Up Girls), yet no collection has focused exclusive attention on the mediated figures that have played a leading role in girls’ everyday lives and in constructions of girlhood for centuries. The lack of a critical text hampers attempts to scrutinize and theorize a mass culture phenomenon, especially one of likely interest to students of girlhood studies, women’s studies, and media studies for whom the princess figured in their girlhoods and into young womanhood.

This is the first scholarly collection, then, to place at the center of inquiry the princess, a figure that is neither as uniform nor as immutable as popularly imagined. In fact, as the essays in this collection make clear, there is not one princess but instead a multitude of different princesses. Illustrating the broad range of princesses, this collection includes the genuine and the imagined, constructed and performed princesses—from Snow White and Princess Sissi to Jasmine and the Jewish American Princess. These princesses, along with many others, are not nearly as innocent and innocuous as we might assume. As many essays in this collection make clear, princesses of different genders, classes, races, ethnicities, ages, nationalities, sexualities, and other cultural markers have been deployed to deliver the ideas, attitudes, institutions, and practices of experts, educators, employers, and other adults who produce knowledge, construct truths, define social relations, constitute girls’ subjectivities, and establish social power over girls. Yet princesses are discursive as well as disruptive figures: they also serve the interests of girls and young women in the process of expanding their autonomy and exercising their authority. The many diverse princesses who typically embody a range of notions about what it means to be a girl have provided girls with opportunities to create their own meanings as they negotiate the conflicts and contradictions inherent to girlhood. Rather than becoming passive recipients of the ideals, beliefs, and behaviors encoded in the iconic princess, generations of playful girls and young women have played princess in order to maneuver between gendered expectations and more daring identities. ← xiii | xiv →

Making sense of a diversity of princesses in the US and around the world necessitates a variety of perspectives for students and scholars, as well as parents, teachers, media critics, and journalists. The contributors to this multi-disciplinary endeavor hail from Australia, Austria, Canada, Ecuador, Germany, India, Portugal, Romania, and the United States. In addition to providing global perspectives, these international experts also draw upon different disciplinary habits and scholarly practices. Whether they are in traditional departments (history and English, communications/media studies, and gender and women’s studies) or in post-disciplinary programs in visual studies, literacy, culture, and language education, the dozen contributors provide multi-generational and multi-disciplinary understanding of the many princess cultures examined here.

Across generations and genders, and imaginations and identities, princesses have performed cultural work, that is, transmitting the culturally constructed values, principles, attitudes, products, symbols, and practices—language, dress, rituals, social habits, songs, etc.—of distinct princess cultures. And, like the princess herself, princess cultures are anything but “uniform,” “timeless,” “natural,” “universal,” “transcendent,” insulated, and insignificant. Instead, they are extraordinarily diverse, ephemeral, and shifting. Those that are more hegemonic than harmless seek to maintain social order, enforce ideals (especially about gender), and reinforce power relations (such as that between the princess and the prince). But princess cultures can be more fluid.

Providing the thematic framework of this multi-generational, interdisciplinary, and international study of the princess culture phenomenon,

diverse princessly domains are intricately imbricated with other cultures and subcultures from the traditional to the dominant. Intersecting with varieties of children’s cultures (girls’, boys’, peer), national cultures, performance cultures, and royal cultures, some princess cultures cooperate and even collude where others—especially as they compete for dominance—occasionally collide.

Princess Cultures and Children’s Cultures


XXII, 288
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (August)
role model peer culture gender, disney
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XXI, 288 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Miriam Forman-Brunell (Volume editor) Rebecca C. Hains (Volume editor)

Miriam Forman-Brunell is Professor of History at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of Made to Play House: Dolls and the Commercialization of American Girlhood (1993/8). Her recent publications include Babysitters: An American History (2009) and The Girls’ History and Culture Readers (2011). Rebecca C. Hains is Associate Professor of Communications and Assistant Director of the Center for Childhood and Youth Studies at Salem State University. She is the author of Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life (2012) and The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years (2015).


Title: Princess Cultures
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313 pages