It’s never been easier to relate to Rapunzel… locked inside, working from home and asking, “when will our lives begin?” But aside from Rapunzel’s inventive use of a frying pan, there are a lot of lessons we can learn from the Disney princesses who populated many of our imaginations for at least the first 8 or 9 years of our lives. Here’s a look at 4 of these “Bright young women, sick o’ swimming, ready to stand”, and what we can learn from them as women.
“I can’t believe I did this!… BEST DAY EVER!” – Rapunzel
A master at filling her time, we can learn a lot from Rapunzel’s relentless optimism, even in the face of mundanity and loneliness. Locked in a tower for most of her life, her creativity and focus on her dreams is what keeps her going. She doesn’t let her separation from the outside world stop her from having the courage to pursue her curiosities and adventure beyond her tower. When she leaves to see the floating lanterns, she shows us that comfort zones are made to be broken. She sees the best in people, from Flynn Rider to the “bad guys” in the tavern, thanks to her kindness and warmth. Above all, we can learn from her growing faith in herself, as she proves that she’s far from as “fragile as a flower.”
Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
“It’s not right for a woman to read. Soon as she starts getting ideas, and thinking…” – Gaston
Though her name means ‘beauty’, Belle teaches us that what’s really important is more than just skin-deep. She doesn’t let people like Gaston, who drastically underestimate her intelligence, stop her from dreaming of adventure and wanting “much more that this provincial life”. Her selflessness and determination to use her brains for good are inspiring; she helps her father with his inventions, and even teaches a girl to read, despite it going against the expectations of a woman’s role. Turning the ‘damsel in distress’ trope on its head, Belle saves her father. Perhaps most poignantly, she teaches the Beast that he’s worth loving, even if he doesn’t look like a prince. Her passionate, even rebellious drive to see people for who they are is something we can all take inspiration from.
Tiana (The Princess and the Frog)
“Fairy tales can come true. You gotta make them happen, it all depends on you.” – Tiana
Tiana is super independent and knows that dreaming alone won’t get her what she wants. Her passion and determination mean that even when she’s knocked down, she stands right back up again. Her friendship with Prince Naveen teaches her that we can’t always live in the future; leaning on our friends and being able to enjoy the present is important too. Her biggest lesson, that life’s too short to live it alone, no doubt resonates with many hardworking women today. As modern feminists, we can also admire Tiana’s effort to make the real world visible to Naveen – the world of those born without the privilege of wealth and royalty. Her practicality and resilience, even when she’s under a spell, are qualities we all can look up to.
“Maybe I didn’t go for my father. Maybe what I really wanted was to prove I could do things right, so when I looked in the mirror, I’d see someone worthwhile.” – Mulan
Mulan teaches us not to let others define who we are. Even though she is taught that being an honourable woman means being marriageable and bearing sons, Mulan shows us that gender is performative. By wearing armour, chopping her hair and being as strong as the other soldiers, she not only passes as a man, but saves China. We can learn from Mulan’s refusal to be boxed; she brings honour to her family by choosing them over her patriarchal “duty”. She refuses to get caught in an honour-shame dynamic that tells her she needs to be the “perfect” man or woman to be worthwhile. Even though people stop listening to her as a female, she never stops proving that we, as women, are stronger than we know.
From having the courage to venture into the unknown, to the intelligence and strength to chase their dreams no matter what stands in their way, it’s fair to say there’s a reason why these women were the heroines of so many of our childhoods. And there’s nothing stopping us from finding inspiration in them as adults. If there’s one thing we can take away from the lessons they teach, it’s that princesses can be lifelong role models who sit in our imaginations, daring us to have ambition and faith in ourselves.
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