Exploring one woman’s relationship with Disney’s original princess. (Photo Credit: Corduroy Graphics/Canva)
American culture is infatuated with the Disney Princesses. We love them, we critique them, we turn them into stickers, lunchboxes, and themed cocktails. If you’re a woman between the age of 15 and 35, you’ve probably been bombarded with tons of clickbaity articles like The Disney Princesses Reimagined as Modern Day Career Women.
There is no question that princess culture has impacted each of us in some way, for better or for worse. From both observation and personal experience, I have determined that girls tend to identify strongly with at least one of these Disney girls from a very young age. These attachments formed from the tender age of two or three can carry into our adult lives.
As I thought more about my semi-obsessive relationship with my “chosen” princess (Cinderella), I realized there have to be other young women out there like me. Girls who not only dressed up as these characters for multiple Halloweens, but also retained a connection with their animated gal that colors the way they view femininity, career paths, and lifestyles.
In other words, we are the modern day Disney princesses.
In this series I’m revisiting these characters with someone who claims them as their own. Each month, I’ll rewatch a Disney Princess movie with one of my friends and discuss their obsession with the character, and the way their identities and lives reflect the princess and her story. Welcome to Princess Friends.
“Surprisingly, This Movie Didn’t Turn me Off of Apples”
My cousin, Anne, is a lot like Snow White. She grew up in various houses in the woods full of animals, she loves singing, and she has two younger brothers that arguably caused as much chaos as all seven Dwarfs combined.
Now in her mid 20’s, Anne is a therapist who specializes in counseling people who struggle with eating disorders, substance abuse, and self-esteem issues. We sat down virtually to rewatch the movie she loved as a child, using Groupwatch and a Facebook video chat.
“The thing that initially attracted me to Snow White was the animals” she commented during the scene when Snow White emerges from the scary part of the forest and is accosted by the world’s cutest forest creatures. Her love for the character and movie was reinforced by a stint living in Germany, though by that point, she already had a costume sewn by our grandmother and multiple themed toys.
“If you told me the witch rows on a rowboat out of her castle and climbs through the weeds, I wouldn’t believe you”
Of course, we don’t always remember every detail from the movies we loved as children. One thing Anne and I latched onto from the start was Snow White’s mental state throughout the film.
“Wow, she’s just having a panic attack in the middle of the woods.” With a Masters in Applied Clinical Psychology, Anne is definitely qualified to assess the mental state of this animated princess, “She’s repressing a lot of trauma and dealing with it by cleaning.”
This comment led into a viewing-long discussion about the domesticity that Snow White settles into from the first moment we see her on screen. At the top, we see her dressed in rags, washing the cobblestones around the wishing well, forced into servitude by her evil stepmother. Later in the film, even though she’s been given a new, more princessy outfit, she immediately becomes the dwarves’ caretaker, washing their house from top to bottom and cooking dinner.
“Is That a Healthy Way for a Girl to Grow Up?”
Immediately following the happily ever after, I asked Anne if she had any final thoughts about rewatching her beloved princess flick, “There’s not a lot of love interest. She’s mainly focused on survival…is that a healthy way for a girl to grow up?”
Looking back on Snow White’s actions throughout the film, we noted how often she pushes through her feelings. After finding the animals and Dwarfs, she is rarely fazed by anything that happens to her, and doesn’t process the actual horrors she survived prior to her trip through the forest. In fact, she apologizes to the animals following her death-defying run from the almost-murderous huntsman.
I’m not saying that it’s bad to have an optimistic outlook on an otherwise dismal situation (looking at you, Miss Rona) but it is also important that we don’t suppress our feelings. A few days after our screening, I asked Anne to share a little more about her relationship with her own emotional life, and whether she has ever felt pressure to stay positive all the time, “I grew up luckily with a loving family who was okay with me showing them my anxieties and fears and not thinking I would be judged”, she said, “But to the world, I continue to feel like I have to have it all together. I experience urges to have ‘Snow White positivity’ at work, where I think I have to be on top of all my shit constantly and cannot show stress.”
It is interesting to note that as a young girl, Anne was encouraged and supported when it came to her mental health, however as an adult professional there was suddenly the expectation to keep a cheerful attitude even in the face of stress and adversity.
A Modern Day Snow White
My cousin, Anne, is a lot like Snow White. She is kind and optimistic, and she makes friends wherever she goes. She has devoted her life to helping people work through their personal traumas. But unlike Snow White she actively works to slow down when she is stressed out. She requires that strangers earn her trust. And, in her words she’s “way more into reading and books than [Snow White] is ever portrayed”.
Is Anne a modern day Snow White? Perhaps not. Though her identity is not tied to this fictional princess, she appreciates the fond memories provided by this classic film and understands that there is far more complexity to this character (and herself) than meets the eye.