The Princess Body Image Issue

Big-shot director James Cameron recently made some controversial comments regarding the recent Wonder Woman movie, referring to her as "an objectified icon" and calling the movie "a step backwards." He used this as an excuse to pat himself on the back for his character Sarah Conner from the Terminator movies. James Cameron is notoriously full of himself, so it's no surprise to see him bring down another movie in order to promote one of his own. His comments rubbed many people the wrong way, including Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, who retorted with:
"James Cameron's inability to understand what Wonder Woman is, or stands unsurprising as...he is not a woman...If women have to always be hard, tough and troubled to be strong, and we aren't free to be multidimensional or celebrate an icon of women everywhere because she is attractive and loving, then we haven't come very far have we. There is no right and wrong kind of powerful woman."
Former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter was quick to back her up. Does our warrior princess's perfect figure somehow prevent her from being a feminist icon? Is this an issue that all princess characters have?

I feel that this issue is more relevant to live-action princesses than animated ones. In my Disney Princess post, I discussed how animated princesses are caricatures of the perfect woman. A caricature is an exaggeration, so it's no surprise that cartoon characters have impossibly skinny waists and hair that never gets frizzy in the wind. That's not to say that people have never complained about cartoon princess body image, though. Barbie in particular is a big favorite for haters to vent about. Many people felt that the doll's unrealistic proportions would little give girls a complex about their own bodies when they got older. Mattel responded to this by releasing their Fashionistas collection a little while ago, which features the classic doll in all different shapes, sizes, and colors.

Back to the topic at hand, does Princess Diana of Themyscira have a body issue image that detracts from the film? Her backstory involves Queen Hippolyta sculpting her out of clay, being brought to life by Zeus, and becoming the ultimate Amazon warrior. Therefore, the better question would be why wouldn't she have a perfectly fit body? She would be ripped from training so hard, and of course, Zeus and Hippolyta would want to sculpt the most beautiful figure they could to admire their own handiwork, if nothing else. It makes perfect sense plot-wise for Diana to be gorgeous. I would even argue that in spite of her hourglass figure, casting Gal Gadot in the role actually promotes diversity. As an Israeli native and former soldier for her country, she promotes Jewish pride, and as a native Hebrew speaker, she teaches people to respect those who don't speak English as their first language. Yes, she was a beauty pageant queen, but that is just one of her many accomplishments.

I would also argue strongly against anyone who sees princesses as sex symbols, with the exception of maybe Princess Daphne. Diana did not do anything remotely sexual in Wonder Woman. The entire story revolved around her inner and outer strength and generosity. You could take away anything else, but the entire film would fall apart without that. Fairy tale princesses are also as pure and virtuous as they come. In general, princess fashion is pretty modest. Their legs are usually completely hidden under huge skirts, and they don't go out of their way to seek attention. Yes, they are all strikingly beautiful, but that does not define them. In many cases, it is their beauty that puts them in constant danger due to other people's jealousy. It can be a blessing or a curse, depending on the situation.

Is it a problem that all princesses have the same basic body type, even though they're diverse in every other possible way? Probably. That is where princess parodies come into play, giving us an opportunity to question this norm. Princess Fiona from Shrek is a great example of body positivity. As an ogre(ss), she transforms from her perfect princess form into one that is plus-sized and green. She is extremely self-conscious about this form and does everything she can to hide it from Shrek, even while knowing that he is an ogre himself. When he finally does discover her true form, he assures her that she is still beautiful, and she remains an ogre because she has finally accepted who she is. The Shrek movies are fantastic examples of a princess who doesn't fit the cookie cutter mold. Even though Disney had already included a lot of diversity in their line, they have yet to promote a princess with a different body type.

Aside from Shrek, there are few Hollywood features that show us princesses can come in other shapes and sizes. In that respect, James Cameron actually makes a good point. There are, however, several books with that theme. The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye is about a princess who was given a "gift" by a fairy godmother to be ordinary. Her family is shocked when she grows up looking frumpy and plump and partakes in outdoor activities that are not considered fit for a princess, unlike her delicate swan-like sisters who are obsessed with their own beauty. Fairest by Gail Carson Levine is a retelling of "Snow White" in which Aza is very unhappy with her appearance. She has a lovely singing voice, but the one thing she covets more than anything is to be beautiful until she ultimately learns to love herself the way she is.

Wonder Woman's beauty does not in any way detract from the historical significance of the movie. It is still the first major comic book movie starring a female superhero, and Diana is still selfless and empowering. However, there is a problem with body type variety for princess characters in general. An upcoming movie called Snow White and the Red Shoes may address this issue, but the only trailer released so far comes off as highly offensive. There is also a live-action Barbie movie that recently cast Anne Hathaway in the title role, replacing Amy Schumer that is not connected with the animated Barbie films. It will be about a human Barbie who looks and acts differently than the other Barbie clones in her world and therefore doesn't fit in. Maybe like the Fashionistas line, this is meant to address complaints people have made about the Barbie line. Disney has yet to release plans for a body positive princess.


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