Who knows if it’s the childhood nostalgia, a shared love of Disney music, or the realization as grown-ups that Disney Princesses didn’t actually have it all, but we remain endlessly intrigued by Disney’s leading ladies, what they’ve taught us, and most recently where, oh where, they would be today.
Not long ago, SNL featured the Real Housewives of Disney, a sketch starring a lush of a Cinderella with a gay Prince Charming for a husband and an image-obsessed Belle releasing her latest hot jam. A few months ago, one incredibly talented vocalist’s interpretation of what happened “After Ever After” went viral, which includes Ariel being a victim of a BP oil spill and Jasmine searching for Aladdin who has been taken captive as a terrorist suspect. While each of these interpretations was poking fun at how these princesses would do in modern day scenarios, they aren’t the only ones to suggest that things didn’t turn out as happily ever after for these princesses as we’d like to believe.
This idea has also become an increasingly popular motif in photography. Dina Goldstein offers a particularly interesting interpretation of what happened to our beloved princesses in her Fallen Princesses series. Having grown up unexposed to fairytales, Goldstein first became familiar with Disney’s Princesses when her three-year-old daughter first became fascinated with them. During this time period, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and she began to wonder “what a Princess would look like if she had to battle a disease, struggle financially or deal with aging.”
In displaying how each Princess would deal with challenges that “all modern women face,” whether she intended to or not, Goldstein highlights how much the gendered stereotypes perpetuated by these stories can negatively affect women’s lives. When these Princesses fall victim to the real-life societal expectations of their gender, they do not stand a chance at happiness – and as a self-described “fierce realist,” Goldstein appears to be implying that neither do we.
Even the least vain of the Princesses is not immune from the pressure to adhere to modern day standards of beauty. While she was able to fall in love with the Beast for whom he was on the inside, life in the real-world has taught her that he may not be able to do the same. As she struggles to maintain an impossible standard as a means to be happy, her inability to achieve it is more likely to make her miserable.
Pocahontas is arguably the most empowered of the Princesses, obviously not in terms of the violence and colonization that she faced of her land and her people, but in her choice to not follow John Smith to England she chooses her own path – which unlike any of the others does not involve a man. Yet here she is portrayed as a single cat-lady, mimicking how modern-day independent and unmarried women continue to be portrayed today.
Beauty does not end up being the key to happiness for the fairest of them all – and apparently neither is her marriage. With four children and no helpful husband or dwarves to be found, Snowy takes on all of childbearing responsibilities on her own. While I wouldn’t go as far to suggest that Goldstein is implying that no marriage can result in a happy ending, she is demonstrating that an unequal one often does not.
Some may view the Fallen Princesses as overly pessimistic, Goldstein maintains that it is has a dark and realistic sense of humor. While there is nothing wrong, or necessarily anti-feminist, with sharing the happily ever after dream of a loving happy partnership the formula suggested by these fairytales as the only pathway to that ending has proven to result in anything but. Rather than perpetuating the message that beauty and marriage are the keys to happiness, Goldstein shows us how ultimately, and almost laughably, untrue that has been for modern day women and princesses alike.
To view Goldstein’s entire Fallen Princesses series, see here: http://www.fallenprincesses.com/