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Disney’s “Sofia the First” still tells kids to be pretty princesses

By January 12, 2012 6 Comments

Disney is adding a new member to their popular princess lineup, and she’s aimed directly at the youngest generation. Sofia, the title character of an upcoming TV movie (and series), “Sofia the First”, brings something new to the Disney table: she’s the first Disney princess who’s also a kid.

While I can’t find any sources that cite Sofia’s exact age, she is visibly younger than any of Disney’s past main characters, who have always been at least old enough to be getting married to their princes. According to Disney, the age difference is an attempt to appeal to the younger girls that make up their core audience. Sofia’s targeted demographic is the age 2-7 crowd.

At first, this move seems like a step in the right direction. It’s great that Disney is trying to relate to young girls by creating a character who is more like them. Sofia even comes from a “commoner” background—she doesn’t become a princess until her mother marries the king.

However, these are superficial differences. Sofia still looks like a shrunken version of a Belle or an Ariel—thin, white, pretty, and royal. Disney claims: “Although Sofia will have plenty of pretty dresses and sparkly shoes, our stories will show Sofia, and our viewers, that what makes a real princess is what’s inside, not what’s outside. That the inner character of kindness, generosity, loyalty, honesty and grace make you special, not the dress you wear.”

Well, that’s nice, except that what actually makes a “real princess” is being born into (or marrying into) a specific family. Teaching girls that all those great qualities are associated with royalty doesn’t seem that helpful when the viewers are unlikely to ever become princesses themselves.

And shrinking down the princess aesthetic into a pint-size package creates its own problems. At least when the princesses were adults, kids could aspire to look like Jasmine when they were older. Having Sofia be a child tells kids that they should look like this right now—tiny waist, poofy dress, and all.

In the past, About-Face has covered the way that young girls are told they must become concerned with looks as they grow up. The solution is not to tell even younger girls that they must be concerned with their looks as soon as possible, by presenting them with impossibly pretty role models.

So although Disney is trumpeting this as a bold new move, they haven’t changed much at all—and what they have changed might do more harm than good.