Meet the Princesses Who Didn’t Get a Happily Ever After

The fairy tale redux is everywhere: Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel, Once Upon A Time, Beastly, and that other Snow White with Julia Roberts, they’re almost as popular as the incessant superhero origin story film (almost, but not quite — nothing beats that other ridiculous franchise).

These stories all attempt a smarter, sexier, more badass version of their original inspiration, but what most of these stories lack is a sense of realism*, both in the actions and personalities of the main, princess character, and in the happily ever after ending. Regardless of the princesses tight leather pants and proficiency with a sword, invariably she must still end up with a great guy (or two) and a castle.

Finally, an artist is willing to tackle the sticky world of sexism and ridiculous love stories that these new versions all still utilize. Vancouver photographer, Dina Goldstein, noticed the lack of strong female characters and sugar-coated endings when her 3-year old daughter started going through a ‘princess phase’ at the same time Goldstein’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. These two events created an image for her, one where, “Disney[s] perfect princesses [were] juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting the women around me, such as illness, addiction, and self-image” (go here to see the photographs).

Goldstein’s photographs do just that, showing the princesses in their most familiar costumes, of course their Disney ones, in conflict with their gritty, much-darker setting. What would happen if Snow White’s prince charming turned out to be a lazy father? Or Beauty went in for some botox? Or Cinderella had a drinking problem? It’s a jarring image, seeing a beloved and iconic childhood character thrust into our own lonely and painful world.

The commentary, while perhaps uncomfortable, is incredibly effective, highlighting our society's constantly conflicting messages to women, (“Be yourself! Just make sure to be beautiful while doing it!”). Goldstein isn’t out to crusade against happy endings, just the way society and entertainment educates our children about true love, the future, and our own part in that future. Goldstein is arguing against the more passive characters often featured in Disney’s earlier fairy tale films they’re need to be rescued by a man and taken off into a happy life. Subsequently, Goldstein’s princesses are more vulnerable, easier to relate to, and more human; of course, within that humanity is where viewers can finally see a stronger, more poignant side of a familiar, and usually more unreachable, face.

And the passive princess characters and sexism inherent within that is an issue people care about enough to change. For example, changes were made during the recent internet kerfuffle about Merida and her changed appearance. When Disney proposed changing her from the young, tomboy version (the only Disney princess to not end up with a man at the end of the movie) into a slimmer, sexier version, articles were written and petitions signed to keep Merida as she was meant to be, “to give young girls a better, stronger role model, a more attainable role model; something of substance, not just a pretty face that waits around for romance." The more stylized version of Merida has since been taken down.

These darker, sadder, undeniably more human princesses that Goldstein presents to us will hopefully not be seen as an attack on Disney, but rather as the powerful continuation of a conversation. Building up stronger, more varied female role models whose stories don’t always end the same is an important facet of sharing female stories and educating women.

Note: The original versions of many of these fairy tales are actually very dark and rarely have a happy ending; rather, it’s only been the past hundred years (and most notably the Disney versions of those stories) that added on true love and copious amounts of wealth.


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Rachel Redfern

"Rachel is a traveler and teacher who spent the last few years living in Asia. Now back in her native California, she focuses on writing about media, culture, and feminism. While a big fan of campy 80's movies and eccentric sci-fi, she's become a cable acolyte, spending most of her time watching HBO, AMC, and Showtime. For good stories about bungee jumping and lions, follow her @RachelRedfern2.

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