Does Race Determine Which Princess You Can Dress As?

Halloween is just around the corner. Did anyone go to any fun Halloween parties this weekend? Who's your favorite princess to cosplay as? Halloween is the one time of year that people can pretend to be someone else and to look and feel different from their everyday life. I dressed up as Emma Swan from Once Upon a Time this year. For me, Emma is a makes me feel empowered because she is more assertive than I am and has survived through many hardships in her past. It's fun to dress up in unique costumes once a year, especially if you've always wished you could be a princess. Recently, certain articles have been popping up on social media claiming that dressing as a princess who is a different race than you or your child is "cultural appropriation" and therefore wrong. As you can probably guess, I am of the dissenting opinion on this not only because I think kids should be able to dress as whatever they want for Halloween, but also because I believe that it goes against everything that princesses stand for.

Pictured above is a screenshot from an episode of Elena of Avalor that aired a few months ago called "My Fair Naomi." In this episode, Elena's friend Naomi, who happens to be white, reveals that she has never had a birthday party because her parents were always away on voyages at sea. As a result, Elena and her cousin Esteban decide to throw Naomi a quinceañera for her next birthday. For those unfamiliar with the term, a quinceañera is a big coming-of-age ceremony for Latina girls celebrating their 15th birthday. It's very princess-like, complete with ballgowns, tulle, tiaras, and glitter. Naomi points out that because she isn't Avaloran (the show's equivalent to Latina), she can't partake in the tradition. Elena, however, insists on throwing her one anyway because Naomi lives in Avalor now. Is this cultural appropriation? Why didn't we get a bunch of angry articles after this episode aired about Disney portraying a white girl partaking in a beloved Latina tradition? Was Naomi offending her Latina friends by letting them allow her to partake in their tradition?

I can't read minds, but my theory is that since Elena of Avalor is a show on Disney Junior that parents can plop their kids in front of while they go in the next room, they probably don't pay as much attention to it as they would a Hollywood blockbuster like Moana. Parents seem to know very little about the princesses they are telling their children they can't dress up as. Take this article on on for example. The author claims that her daughter "demanded" her to take her to see Frozen and Moana and promptly decided she wanted to be Elsa for Halloween this year and Moana next year. Instead of talking to her daughter about why she felt inspired or influenced by these characters and their roles in the movie, the mother proceeded to explain that dressing as Elsa would make it look like all princesses have to be blonde and white. She tried showing her daughter a photoshopped image of Elsa she found on Google as "proof" that Elsa could have brown hair, which of course did not work because it wasn't what Elsa looked like the movie. The article goes on to explain that dressing as Moana could be construed as disrespectful to Polynesians because Moana is Polynesian and dressing as people from their culture is the same as making fun of it, even though the girl in question clearly loved the character and demonstrated no notated respect toward the culture.

The problem here is that the mother in the article does not seem to see these characters beyond their race. Instead of having a discussion about how Elsa ran away and abandoned her responsibilities and why that was wrong or how Moana wanted to be a leader like her father but saw things in a different way and what that would mean for her family and future, she instead diminished both characters to their skin and hair colors as if nothing else about them mattered. Her daughter ultimately decided to be Mickey Mouse next Halloween after being heavily lectured that dressing as Moana is wrong because she's not Polynesian. To me, this goes against everything that princesses stand for. Over the past decade, Disney has introduced more and more diversity their Disney Princess line, and until now, no one has complained about it. The Little Mermaid animated series from the '90s encouraged acceptance of those who are different than you with numerous episodes about Ariel befriending outcasts and fighting segregation prejudice. That's what the song "In Harmony" was all about. Also, have I mentioned recently what an awesome character Tiana is?

Telling a little girl that she can't pretend to be a princess she admires who has a different skin color or background than her is extremely harmful. It purveys the message that you shouldn't look past someone's appearance and encourages segregation. Seeing princesses from different cultural backgrounds coming together to share similar ideas of love and acceptance is beautiful. Just because a little girl relates better to a princess from a different culture than one from her own is not a reason to shun her. It is a reason to celebrate her open-mindedness and to continue encouraging her to for the beauty that lies within instead of judging people by their outward appearance.


AnmlBri said…
On the note of Elena throwing Naomi a Quincañera, that isn’t cultural appropriation because Elena clearly invited Naomi to take part in an aspect of Avalorian/Latin culture. Appropriation is taking an element from a culture that isn’t your own and using it disrespectfully or out of context, or taking an element of that culture and benefitting from it in some way that people of that culture wouldn’t due to existing prejudices. For example, a white fashion designer putting white models in Native American headdresses and profiting through sales of those looks. Permission, context, and respect are the keys,

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