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Reimagining our favourite Disney princesses for the modern age

Posted by
Megan Murray
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Disney princesses

These animated icons have been given a refreshing update for 21st century audiences.

We’re the first to admit we’ve still got a soft spot for Disney. As children, we adored singing along to the iconic soundtracks of Pocahontas and Mulan. Even as adults, we’re pretty tempted by the prospect of a Disney stationery collaboration.

But there are undeniably some problematic themes at the heart of these much-loved films and characters. Not only are many of the storylines worryingly misogynistic (let’s not forget that Ariel literally gave up her voice for the chance to win over a man, while Snow White depicted the ultimate housewife stereotype), but the characters also lack diversity.

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Out of the 11 main Disney princesses, an overwhelming seven are white. In fact, it wasn’t until 2009’s The Princess and the Frog that audiences finally got a black princess on their screens in the form of Tiana. Which, considering the first Disney princess film was released in 1937, is not great.

So as much as we hold on to these nostalgic figures of our childhoods, we’re also champions of new versions that are more inclusive and more fitting of the modern world. From a BAME Belle reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, to a Snow White who suffers with acne, we’ve picked out some of the best Instagram re-imaginings of Disney princesses that show how these women would look in the 21st century.

Disney princesses through a body positive lens

It’s no secret that the Disney princesses were created with a restrictive aesthetic in mind. Although all the princesses come from different cultures and have different stories, their body shapes and sizes hardly differ. Not only are they all very slim but they mirror the stereotypically femme physique of a small waist and bigger hips and bust with slim legs and arms, as well as being physically able bodied.

This lack of diversity in body shape sends a message that this size is the only acceptable one, and it doesn’t reflect the reality of women all over the world. But more than that, the princesses also all adhere to traditional beauty standards with a lack of awareness around things that affect us all (think acne and facial hair).

Brazilian artist Marcela Sabiá has addressed this in her own series of body positive Disney princess drawings, explaining why each princess would be just as amazing if she was in a wheelchair or had facial scarring, for example. Here’s our favourite picks of her creations. 

Politically aware Disney princesses 

From Beauty and the Beast to Cinderella, Disney fairy tales have one thing in common; the princess always gets her happy-ever-after. But, in 2019, things are very different - particularly in the current political climate.  

In a bid to highlight the stark realities faced by women in the USA in the wake of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidency, illustrator Martiza Lugo teamed up with writer Danielle Sepulveres to create a series of thought-provoking images. Each one features a Disney princess as she visits with her doctor or gynaecologist to discuss a range of women’s health issues that have worsened since Trump was voted in. 

It’s interesting to see Disney figures being used in this way, to highlight political issues and to think that if they had been politically aware when we were growing up how that would have shaped our understanding of world issues. 

How Disney princesses would look if they were modernised 

We’re used to thinking of Disney princesses in flowing gowns, glass slippers and elbow length gloves, so seeing them in the on-trend fashions of the moment brings them into a whole new light. 

We love that illustrator @dariart.art works on creating a new look and style for each princess based on her original costume, and although these images don’t pack a political punch as such, the introduction of tech like mobile phones and laptops is visually arresting as a symbol of the modern world in comparison to the usual old-fashioned aesthetic.

It’s also interesting that the artist has referenced the trends that are dominating the zeitgeist right now, like increasing popularity of yoga and wellbeing, which is shown in Jasmine’s picture.

The lack of diversity and representation of black culture in Disney princesses

It’s well known that Disney stories, and particularly Disney princesses, have always lacked diversity. The majority of central female characters in Disney films are white, with many of them having fair colouring. 

Artist and teacher Davian Chester specialises in drawing “black beauty” and has redesigned many of the white Disney princesses as black women, highlighting the lack of black influences in the Disney stories but also showing off how incredible those princesses could have potentially look if they had belonged to a wider range of cultures. 

Chester also makes some poignant real-world references in his illustrations, such as drawing Belle holding Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a book about overcoming racism and trauma. 

Images: Instagram 

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Megan Murray

Megan Murray is a digital journalist for stylist.co.uk, who enjoys writing about London happenings, beautiful places, delicious morsels and generally spreading sparkle wherever she can.

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