By Laura R., a loveisrespect advocate
Most of us have grown up watching Disney movies, and the Disney princess movies are a particularly important part of that franchise. There’s nothing more nostalgic than re-watching these films, and it’s common for us to idealize Disney princess relationships as THE perfect fairytale relationships. However, fairytales are typically not based in reality. The iconic Disney princess movies can portray some toxic, unhealthy, and downright abusive ideals about what romantic relationships should look like. Let’s examine some of those relationships and talk about the unhealthy behaviors going on in these movies.
The very first Disney princesses—Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty—are all iconic, but are definitely portrayed in problematic ways. To begin with, let’s discuss how Snow White just sang one song with a random prince that showed up in her backyard and decided he was the “the one.” We know that healthy relationships are based on building up trust and respect, and which can take some time. It’s also not okay that the prince kisses her while she’s asleep, as people that are asleep cannot give consent. It’s not romantic to be intimate with someone who cannot give consent, and that can actually be considered sexual assault. We see a similar lack of consent in Sleeping Beauty, whose prince also kisses her while she is asleep.
The portrayal of Cinderella also portrays some problematic romantic themes. Cinderella meets the prince once, has one dance with him, and then decides to get married to him when he finds her again at the end of the movie. You cannot know whether someone will be a healthy or trustworthy partner after only hanging out with them once. There’s also a recurring theme of these princes “saving” the princesses from abusive and hostile households. We know it’s not uncommon for abusers to promise to “save” a partner from a hostile home, only to then inflict abuse upon their partner.
Alright, we’ve talked about some of the more traditional princesses, so now let’s take a look at some of the more modern ones. First up, The Little Mermaid. Ariel is a feisty teenager, who wants to know what life is like on dry land, where humans live. Unfortunately, her relationship with Eric is full of unhealthy ideals. Ariel never says a single word to Eric before deciding that it’s worth giving up her mermaid heritage and relationship with her family to be with him. While there’s nothing wrong with having a crush on someone you haven’t spoken with before, it’s definitely not healthy to give up your life and your family just to be with them! Even though Eric is a dashing and charming prince, we know it’s common for unhealthy and abusive partners to pressure their partners into moving away from their support systems for them, and abuse can thrive in isolation. There’s also the whole issue around Ariel and Eric bonding with each other even though Ariel has no voice, and can’t communicate with Eric. Being able to build a healthy relationship with someone is based on supportive and open communication, whether that’s through verbally speaking, ASL or other forms of communication, it’s extremely hard to build up that healthy relationship with someone if we can’t communicate in some way with them. Lastly, of course, after the movie is over, Ariel and Eric get married, despite having only known each other for a few days.
Another popular Disney princess is Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Belle stands out among the princesses as having a deep desire for knowledge and for her love of reading. She’s awesome in that regard, but unfortunately her relationship with the Beast has some seriously unhealthy and abusive themes. First off, Beast imprisons Belle when she first stumbles onto his castle. Holding someone against their will like that is definitely abusive and controlling behavior! Beast and Belle don’t get along at all in the beginning, and Beast even lashes out and yells at her. We know that yelling and screaming at a partner are emotionally abusive behaviors.
Then there’s the whole issue surrounding Beast progressively becoming more kind towards Belle as he starts to realize how caring and nice she is. This is also problematic since we know that we can’t change someone, no matter how nice or understanding we are towards them. Abusers won’t change if we just show them enough kindness, and it’s unhealthy to think that we can change a partner this way. A lot of Disney princess movies have a theme of “you’re not my type, but you will become my type,” and this can be an issue since we’re never obligated to stick with someone to see if they’ll change or become better—and doing so can be unhealthy.
Movies like The Princess and the Frog exhibit a similar theme, since Tiana is initially annoyed with Prince Naveen’s laidback and carefree manner, and the two don’t really get along at all at the start of the movie. It’s ok to know that you don’t get along with someone and be open and honest about not wanting to be with them. We all have the right to set boundaries about who we want or don’t want to date.
Aladdin is another popular Disney movie that is considered a classic, and Jasmine is very vocal about not wanting to be seen as just a prize and possession for her future husband. Jasmine’s pretty progressive in that regard, but unfortunately her relationship with Aladdin also has some clear issues. Throughout most of the movie, Aladdin has disguised himself as a prince so that he can meet with Jasmine, and she remains unaware of his true background. We know that this is really unhealthy, since it’s never ok to lie and manipulate your partner into believing that you are someone that you’re really not. Healthy relationships are based on trust and being open and honest with your partner. If you feel like you can’t be your true self around your partner, then this might be a sign that the relationship isn’t for you.
Of course, it’s still totally fine to enjoy the Disney princess movies—they are classics after all! However, it’s important to be able to recognize that popular media, like these movies, often perpetuates unhealthy and abusive ideals when it comes to romance and relationships. No matter what, everyone deserves to be able to live happily ever after in a safe and healthy relationship.
If you’d like to talk about the health of your (real life) relationship, reach out to one of our advocates today. Call us at 1-866-331-9474, chat at www.loveisrespect.org, or text LOVEIS to 22522. We’re here 24/7.