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Princess Cultures

Mediating Girls’ Imaginations and Identities


Miriam Forman-Brunell and Rebecca C. Hains

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.
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Chapter Ten: If I Were a Belle: Performers’ Negotiations of Feminism, Gender, and Race in Princess Culture



For most of Disney’s history, movies such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella were part of Disney’s panoply of family films. The films’ title characters were beloved by children and parents alongside other iconic Disney characters, such as Pinocchio and Bambi. In 2000, however, executives in Disney’s consumer products division changed their marketing strategy, grouping feature film princesses into a separate, unified, gendered line. This new Disney Princess brand successfully positioned three- to five-year-old girls as an audience for all things princess: The Princess brand is now worth far more than the sum of its parts. Today, preschoolers avidly consume Disney Princess films, dolls, dress-up clothes, and other toys, prompting a surge in other brands’ princess-themed products for young girls (Orenstein 2011).

In the years before and after the Disney Princess launch, Disney films’ representations of gender and race have been subjects of scholarly critique (Baker-Sperry and Grauerholz 2003; Beres 1999; Do Rozario 2004; Dundes and Dundes 2000; England, Descartes, and Collier-Meek 2011; Giroux 1998; Pewewardy 1996/97; Stone 1975; Trites 1991; Tucker 2009; Wiltz 2009). Within this literature, however, a gap exists: Professional performers’ work portraying princesses has been overlooked. Hundreds of women have played Disney Princesses in stage shows at Disney parks, on cruise ships, and in ice shows, as well as in the Broadway musical versions of Beauty and the Beast and The Little ← 209 | 210 → Mermaid. Disney also provides opportunities for women to perform as princesses in unscripted...

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