What can modern girls learn from Disney princesses?

By Cherry Wilson
BBC News

Image source, Disney

A slim figure, housework skills, and the need to be rescued by a man are some of the attributes often associated with Disney princesses.

But behind the clichés, the characters can also demonstrate determination, compassion, ambition - and fearlessness.

The England women's football team believes the traits of Disney princesses are exactly what you need to be come a successful player.

The Football Association (FA) has joined with Disney on a campaign that focuses on the character's strong attributes - to encourage more young females into football.

Striker Nikita Parris said: "My favourite Disney princess is Ariel from The Little Mermaid because she was fearless.

"I was the same when it came to playing football with the boys in my home town. I had to be determined in order to make it."

Captain Steph Houghton added: "Being brave, being strong and being kind are all important attributes when it comes to building a successful team.

"They are all qualities that girls can learn from Disney princesses."

But can modern girls pick up anything from the likes of Disney's 80-year-old Snow White - who cleans up after a bunch of men and needs a prince to save her?

Image source, Disney
Image caption,
England striker Nikita Parris says Ariel's fearless character was an inspiration

Current Miss England Stephanie Hill, 22, thinks they can.

She dresses up as Disney princesses for children at Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice near Sheffield.

She believes Disney princesses, both old and modern, can be positive role models for young women.

"I think the more vintage Disney princesses that are scrutinised, like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, who people depict as waiting for success to come to them, can be inspirational.

"In the end they had similar drive. They wanted a better life and it just so happened male figures came into that.

"The famous quote is Cinderella didn't ask for a prince, she asked for a night off and a dress.

"Every single Disney princess has had to go through trouble to get where they want to be.

"They show the struggle and that you can get through the other side with enough work and support and a positive can-do attitude."

Image source, Bluebell Wood Children's Hospice
Image caption,
Stephanie, who dresses up as Cinderella to visit children, believes princesses are an inspiration

Over the years, Disney has moved away from depicting its princesses as delicate and demure.

The late 1980s saw an ambitious mermaid Ariel defy her dad to achieve her dream of becoming a human - even if she did sacrifice her voice for a man.

Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Jasmine in Aladdin had an independent streak, while Mulan showed women could fight just as well as men - if not better.

In 2009, Tiana became Disney's first black princess and 2012's Merida from Brave showed off an adventurous spirit and a love of archery.

Despite not being official Disney princesses, Frozen's Elsa and Anna have been praised for putting sisterhood at the heart of their happiness.

And Disney's newest female heroine Moana was depicted with an average body type and without a love interest.

Image source, Disney
Image caption,
Disney's latest female heroine Moana is considered a positive role model

Suzie Longstaff, headteacher of the all-girls Putney High School in south-west London, has done assemblies about empowering girls through Disney princesses.

She says: "Disney have come a long away, and my two children have grown up with Elsa and Anna and Moana and Ariel. They are all so much better female role models.

"They have traits that the FA is extolling, and any way we can empower girls to believe in themselves through role modelling they recognise and enjoy is fantastic.

"My five-year-old is permanently dressed as Moana at the moment. I think she is a great strong girl who can stand up for herself."

However, Mrs Longstaff thinks some of the older Disney princesses do not portray strong female characteristics.

"I said to the girls at school that the one role model I wish my girls wouldn't dress up as is Cinderella.

"She sits around for years for her prince to come along and in this day and age we can't encourage girls to do that. They must go out and stand up for themselves.

"Disney and the FA are on the road but there is a long way to go to completely equalise the perception of female and male role models as well as diversity."

Image source, Disney
Image caption,
Disney's Princess Tiana's ambition was to open her own restaurant

Disney appears to be keen to move away from focusing on the stereotypes of what makes a princess.

Last year it launched a ten-point checklist of what it takes to be a Disney princess - and it didn't include the need to wear a tiara or a ball gown.

Instead, they included being honest, trying your best and never giving up.

Siobhan Corria, head of inclusion for charity Action for Children, says there is a role for the more modern Disney princesses in inspiring young women.

However, she believes there are more contemporary role models girls can aspire to.

"I think that more recent Disney characters that don't fit gender stereotypes are inspirational for young girls in terms of achieving things," she says.

"It's good to see Disney keep up with the changing times.

"But I'd prefer organisations like Disney to really be shattering the gender stereotypes as much as possible and give both genders non-traditional roles as a way of inspiring people."