A Whole Not So New World: a less than radical reinterpretation of princesses

When I happened across this image on my Google Reader, I couldn’t help but click through. Impressed with how “Snowy” ironically contrasted the cartoonish/iconic Disney outfits with a domestic scene out of the Feminine Mystique, I found myself at “Fallen Princesses” project by Dina Goldstein at JPG Magazine.

Cool, must be a subversive look at Disney Princesses just in time for recent Pixar discussions and the first Black princess. But no…

“Cinder 3,” which re-imagines Cinderella, perhaps a has-been now drinking alone in a dive bar, surrounded by truckers and empty pitchers of beer. Alright, there’s nothing really bringing irony back to the Cinderella tale unless I’m missing something, just a far less-than-happily-after ending for one of the best-known fairytales, I guess I can get behind that.

But things really start to go downhill with “Not So Little Riding Hood.”

Brenda, a commenter, sarcastically noted:

“Excellent, let’s reinforce the stereotype that fat people gobble huge quantities of burgers and sodas.”

Unfortunately, the other commenters at JPG don’t see her point and consequently shut her down and insult her. Goldstein says the photo is her “personal comment on today’s fast food society.” And yet personal comment is that fast food society is a personal issue, as the photograph only pictures an individual isolated from the myriad of all the other economic, environmental, and political factors that contribute to our “fast food society.” Plus the title is patronizing.

uhhh…and then there’s Jasmin.

There’s really no place to start with this, the fact that the first thing “Arabian” conjures up is terrorism, the romanticizing/trivializing of war, pink camo and cleavage, and basically contributing to the already fucked up depictions of women in the Middle East. And finally….did your camera break? What’s with the shoddy Photoshop job?

Of course, Goldstein didn’t set out to do a feminist photo project, she simply “began to imagine Disney’s perfect Princesses juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me, such as illness, addiction and self-image issues.” (I’m conjecturing sexy suicide bombing is another one of those issues).

I think it’s powerful to rewrite stories passed down over centuries (and maybe transformed into multimillion dollar franchises in the meantime), especially when it comes to fairytales, which often have women as defenseless victims in need of a prince (as I’m sure anyone reading this is well aware!) But Disney’s messed with our minds enough as it is, and it’s just a little disappointing to see art that fails to challenge the sexism behind the stores, which is a large part of the lore, such as this work which just depicts women in kind of pathetic situations without any sort of subversion.

What are your thoughts? How would you like to have seen these princesses and fairytale ladies reinterpreted?

The Project: Fallen Princesses

by Kjerstin Johnson
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Kjerstin Johnson is a writer and editor in Portland, Oregon. She is the former editor in chief of Bitch. She tweets at @kajerstin

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20 Comments Have Been Posted

This is a little difficult.

This is a little difficult. I think, really, that the Snow White reinterpretation was fairly well done - though the metaphor would've been better served were there seven small children.

Cinderella could have been better interpreted as being behind the bar scrubbing glasses while Prince Charming is gambling away the last of their fortune.

Little Red Riding Hood was... beyond insulting. If the body image issues were to be the focus, it would've been done better in a different setting all together and <i>without</i> the fast food. Given that Little Red Riding Hood was never actually a princess or anything, I think it would've been a fantastic twist had she become an animal rights activist since the woodcutter axed the wolf that had eaten her grandmother. (Am I remembering this one right? The Disney brainwashing is taking over.)

Jasmin... she's a tough one all around. None of the princess stories ever sit well with me. (I recently threw out our copies that my daughters had been watching.) I think especially so in the case of Jasmin. For a young girl so obsessed with marrying for love, she certainly fell quick for Aladdin, the first young-ish suitor to come along. (And really? Even my four year old picked up on Ali being Aladdin the first go round. "Did you think I was stupid?" No one had to think it, dear.) And no worries on changing the law to say that she doesn't <i>have</i> to get married, let's not think about the futures of <i>her</i> possible daughters, as long as she can marry Aladdin, the fairy tale is fulfilled. The only twist I could think of adding to the end would be that for someone who fell in love so quickly, it all turns around to where <i>she's</i> actually in a position of power (or perhaps signing divorce papers) while Aladdin's off carousing with some other woman. Or something.

The photographer tried for real life issues, but fell short. It seemed like she got caught up in putting everything on such a broad scale not only did it fall flat, it viciously jabbed at stereotypes. She should've stuck with better issues - dealing with significant others who have addiction problems, marriages gone sour, affairs, taking up causes that may not be the popular opinion. It started off really rather well with Snow White, and then went downhill from there, for me.

Throwing out all the Disney

Throwing out all the Disney stuff seems a bit reactionary to me. It parallels fundamentalists burning books they don't agree with. Censoring a child's intake only hides the problem, it would be better to have sat down and talked with your daughters about what their feelings were, and to explore that there are paths beyond the fairy tale formula, and that they don't need to be rescued or cared for by a prince charming. What did they like, did they not like other things? After all feminism is about choice. As long as the stay at home mom doesn't criticize me for having a career, I won't pretend to know what's "best" for her either.

It was a bit reactionary on

It was a bit reactionary on my part, for sure. I should also explain that my girls are 2 and 4 and I also didn't appreciate the attitude I was getting in mimicry of the movies, either. (Throwing them out was the <i>least</i> of what I wanted to do.) I think when they're a little older and can comprehend the subjects a bit better, it's something to reintroduce and explain. You bringing that up did bring to light that no, I don't want to censor their exposure and I appreciate what you said. They have their princess play times now on the playground with friends, which is the ultimate in comedy for me, as my four year old usually turns around and winds up dueling with the "prince" who's come to rescue her from the "monster." I would never criticize a career woman, having previously been in the Navy and still dealing with moments of desperately missing my career. I'm thrilled for women who are making their way in their careers and love what they do. I'm usually fearful of being criticized for having feminist views but having chosen to stay home. But I'm digressing - thank you for bringing that to light, and I appreciate the advice.

SNL did an Aladdin parody

SNL did an Aladdin parody skit in the spirit of your suggestion. They didn't pick up on the role reversal part, rather a Jasmin and Aladdin who got married too quickly, are now unhappy, but can't get divorced because the economy is bad and they have kids. Pretty funny.

As for Cinderella...how about a botoxed Cinderella railing on the hired help in her stately mansion, Prince Charming in the corner, brandy in hand?...maybe with a title like "Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them." It would appeal to the silent but underserved majority of sardonic little girls.

Speaking of Stereotypes...

LinLori, I really liked your comment and think you raise interesting points, right up until here:

"The only twist I could think of adding to the end would be that for someone who fell in love so quickly, it all turns around to where she's actually in a position of power (or perhaps signing divorce papers) while Aladdin's off carousing with some other woman. Or something."

Really? Because the stereotype of the Arab man who is unfaithful and/or has a "harem" of other women isn't prevelant enough?

I'm with you on this one

How about Jasmin trying to keep her child from playing in a field of landmines? or Little Red's myspace profile being found by a pervy wolf pedophile? there are so many reimaginings of these characters in current circumstances that would've been more effective and not just using stereotypes to keep women down in a different way.


"Little Red's myspace profile being found by a pervy wolf pedophile" Sad, but a bit hilarious.

Chilean report


Reading about this project made me remember a recent exhibition we had in Chile last January. The photographer's idea (her name is Javiera Eyzaguirre) was to show violence against women through several reenactments of fairy tales. All the woman portrayed are well-known chilean actresses, and, while I think the photos are best understood with additional info (Tinkerbell, for example, has been burned by the fireflies, and I'm yet to find out what happened to Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood), I think you will enjoy them.

(Flash required)

I've just discovered your magazine and I really like it. I suspected I would right from it's name, haha. Keep up the good work!

Why a terrorist?

I posted on this yesterday, and have gotten a whole range of responses in comments. I do have issues with the Little Red Riding Hood image, but not really with the others. First, I don't see the Jasmine pic as necessarily depicting her as a terrorist, although some of my commenters did. I guess I don't get why she would have to be a terrorist, and I'm not sure what the markers of a terrorist are that are suposed to be present here. I do see it as making the point that nobody, princess or not, is immune from was when they live in a volatile region. And this, combined with my interpretation of the entire project as a commentary on the fact that princesses are by default not equipped to cope with reality, is what influences my take on the photos.

Obviously not all of the

Obviously not all of the photos implied "realism" since you have the Little Red Riding Hood one being so distorted so Jasmine's being distorted is keeping with the pattern. You are right now though, when you look up images of Rambo this Jasmine is definitely in that pose (including bare shoulders) and that is a U.S. special forces patch she is sporting too.


The picture of "Belle" really freaked me out, but "Rapunzel" touched a bit of my heart.

"Alright, there's nothing really bringing irony back to the Cinderella tale unless I'm missing something, just a far less-than-happily-after ending for one of the best-known fairytales, I guess I can get behind that." I completely agree. For the most part, the circumstances that the princesses find themselves in seem to be randomly choosen instead of deliberately thought out.

I think the photographer didn't maintain fluidity throughout the work; in my humbled opinion, I would like the photos to share a common thread. I would like the circumstances to maintain either the ironic, but somewhat realistic, humor (little red riding hood) or the gritty reality that a well known princess would have to face (Belle).

Instead of a drunk Cinderella, I would prefer a Cinderella peddling her shoes to pay for her expensive drug habit.

This is my first post :)

little red riding hood isn't

little red riding hood isn't even a princess. there isn't even a prince in her story, it's a hunter!

Two things

...that I (specifically call out as) hate here.

One, that the Jasmine photo is the only one that references race, as in calling out a stereotype about the model's race. Seems like the more obvious trope for this would have been Snow White (an accident with bleaching creams? Melanoma scare?), but it bugs that the Jasmine shot is the only one to go down that road.

Two, the photographer's comments on the project just make it worse:
"In all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The '...happily ever after' is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues."

Right, just keep reducing the brown woman to a one-noter—because princesses struggle with being terrorists, too? What exactly is the moral of this story?? And the bit about the "realistic outcome"...puh-lease.

Brown + Armed =/= Terrorist

I really don't get why everyone insists that Jasmin is a terrorist. If she were white, then standing in the middle of a war zone holding a gun would not make her a terrorist, and she'd probably be interpreted as a soldier fighting for the freedom of others or to establish democracy or something. Just because you're armed and brown, doesn't mean you're a terrorist.

I think the point of the photo is that if you live in a war-torn region, you cannot help but be impacted by it, princess or no. So her part of the world is the one that's currently war-torn. How is noting this fact racist?

Totally agree!

You're right. That assumption is absolutely racist.

Judging by her pink shaded

Judging by her pink shaded camo, which is used by some special forces in Iraq, and her patch, it looks like she is even an American soldier.

Disproving the Assumed 'Happy Ending?'

Yeah... I think the main problem here is that the photographer assumed too much from the beginning. I mean, who says any of these women (if we're going to think of them as real, live people with problems rather than fairy-tale princesses) were happy in the first place? Giving them more sad, sordid endings doesn't really do much but cause confusion and degrade the women in the photos. This version of the Disney characters doesn't really achieve the contrast that was supposedly sought. I'm not saying that the images have to be positive to be P.C. and feminist-friendly. It's just... kind of hard to imagine fictional characters ripped from their highly fantastic realms. It would have been really interesting if the photographer had gone for the angle of disproving that 'happy ending,' or heck, maybe tried to subvert he 'damsel in distress' archetype.

As far as suggestions go, maybe Cinderella could have been depicted in a out-of-control courtroom trying to win back her daddy's inheritance from her stepmother and sisters? That would be funny... if <i>funny</i> is what we're trying to do here. As with anything, one's motive is the most important detail.

The mythology

But isn't "princesses are happy and carefree" a part of the cultural mythology?

Growing up on Disney

Sure, definitely, once their prince comes to save them. I don't know. I'm only 22 years old. I grew up watching these movies, and I can see what the photographer was trying to do. It's just, all of the stories alluded to here go by the Western, comedic style of story telling (except for maybe Little Red). Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, happy ending with marriage. So, until that ending, all isn't exactly well. I think the problem is that we don't really know how it goes after that. I mean, are we to assume everything works out great after vows are exchanged, that heterosexual marriage is a one-way ticket to happiness? (That's what I like about the Snow White photo, actually.) I guess one could look at some of the photos in this series as double negatives. For example, Belle, the <I>beauty</I> in "Beauty and the Beast," getting plastic surgery to maintain her looks is great, because the idea that you have to be beautiful to get into such a fairytale is rubbish.

All that being said, I take back my earlier assertion that the photog didn't at all achieve "the angle of disproving that 'happy ending,' or heck, maybe tried to subvert he 'damsel in distress' archetype." I see the said subversion in there, in some shots. I just agree with other posters that some of the photos in the series could have been more creative in tackling women's issues.

I never understand the beef

I never understand the beef with Disney princesses...
I guess it's hard to explain to toddlers WHY these pictures are unrealistic. And as for romanticizing the damsel in distress...how empowered was the average woman or princess (rich, but still not valued or powerful enough to make her own decisions or rule the kingdom without a man) trapped in the 19th century?
If we know when the original stories we written, how can we be surprised that the damsels featured are, in fact, damsels in distress?

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