Do Princesses Encourage Vanity?

One of the most common criticisms that princesses get from adults is that they encourage little girls to be vain. It's a separate issue from body image because it's about their delicate features and not their shape. In fairy tales, there is always an emphasis on the princess character's striking beauty. She is fair-skinned and raven-haired with big eyes and glittering jewels. Take for instance the '90s board game "Pretty Pretty Princess," in which the goal is to have all of the jewelry in the game and win the jewel-studded crown in order to become the princess. As we all know, being a princess is not just about jewelry. Newer Disney Princess movies tend to place more emphasis on inner beauty than many of the older ones.

Fairest is a book by Gail Carson Levine about a girl named Aza who wishes more than anything to be beautiful. It is a twist on the classic "Snow White" tale, changing her defining trait from physical beauty to a beautiful singing voice. Her story demonstrates that not everyone sees beauty the same way. The form that she perceives as ugly is seen as beautiful to the gnomes, and she loses the type of beauty that they admire when uses magic to become conventionally beautiful. A similar story is The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye, about a princess who is granted a gift by a fairy godmother to be ordinary. This allows her to go on many adventures instead of sitting around in the palace all day waiting for her prince.

Beauty is not usually something that princesses seek because it is granted to them at birth. Though stories like "Beauty and the Beast" place more of an emphasis on inner beauty, the theme of princesses being synonymous with outer beauty is still present. The thing that makes Belle beautiful, though, is that she doesn't care about being beautiful. She simply is. This small discrepancy is the saving grace that prevents princesses from teaching little girls to be vain. They are told that as long as they are beautiful on the inside, their outer beauty will shine through.

Of course, there are some princesses who do obsess over their looks, but they must have other redeeming qualities to make up for it. Sofia stands out from her sister Amber because she doesn't care about crowns and dresses, having grown up as a peasant in the village. When Sofia first arrives at the castle, Amber tries to teach her that being a princess is all about jewels and gowns and supernatural things, but she soon learns that Sofia may have more to teach her than she realizes. Princess Gwenevere from Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders complains quite a bit about messing up her clothes and hair when she goes on adventures and wanting to go shopping new dresses. These are usually comedic moments that contrast her devotion to her friends and leadership skills. Her obsession with fashion is far from the most interesting thing about her.

Plenty of princesses also stand out for their complete disregard of what they look like. In the song "There's Only One Ariel" from the "Songs From the Sea" album, Ariel's sisters sing about how different Ariel is for not wanting to dress up in shells and pearls like they do. They are often preening and trying to keep track of their combs and accessories in the series as well while Ariel is off somewhere on an adventure. It was very intentional that Ariel's sisters all have accessories in their hair while her long red locks flow free. The same thing applies to Merida, who refuses to have her hair restricted by a hood. Even Mulan, who dresses as a boy and goes to war is grouped with the Disney Princesses for her free spirit and complete lack of vanity.

In short, no, I do not think that princesses encourage vanity in little girls. If anything, they discourage it. They allow girls to feel beautiful by being themselves, not by obsessing over their looks. Princesses are naturally beautiful, but that is only a small part of what makes them so sought after by princes and villains alike. It is their spirit and inner beauty that makes them special. It shines through in every song and every act of kindness they perform. That is what little girls see when they look at a princess.


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