By Kendall Silwonuk
Don’t tell me there’s nothing inspiring about Disney princesses. Don’t tell me Disney princesses are weak, don’t tell me they sit at home and wallow. Don’t tell me Disney princesses can't kick butt: I know better.
Last month, 37,000 princesses ran a collective 285,900 miles in three days. Their ages ranged from 16 to 85, they came from numerous states and countries, they represented every body type and experience level, and most importantly, they all wore the costume of a Disney princess. (There were a few male participants, chasing their girlfriends with running shoes glass slippers in hand).
I was lucky enough to participate in the runDisney Princess Half Marathon for the third year in a row last month, and that is how I know that princesses truly are incredible. The rush of adrenaline you feel when surrounded by thousands of other women who decided that they could wake up at 3am and run 13.1 miles in a dress? Unforgettable.
Some can argue that traditional Disney princesses don’t represent modern feminist values. I know that’s not the case. I have seen the inspiration which thousands of women can take from these princesses. They see in them strength, courage, and endurance. Then average women (like me) use this to motivate their run.
I am not a runner; I struggle to force myself out of bed and up the small hill to Yates each morning. But I am not unique in the crowd of women at the Princess Half. Most participants I talked to run a half marathon once a year—this one. There is something about the Princess Half Marathon which inspires many of us to do something we would never normally try. The princesses we run behind give us strength.
The Walt Disney Company is not perfect, and their princess movies have received some criticism, but characters are becoming more like these women I run with each year. “Moana” (2016), released last summer, tells the story of a young princess who ventures out alone on the sea to save her entire island. Disney’s campaign, #DreamBigPrincess, features the stories of young women who follow their dreams. This newer Disney branding seeks specifically to inspire girls and women.
In their newest release, “Beauty and the Beast” (2017), the traditional story is altered; Belle invents so that she does not have to do normal, traditionally female household chores. Disney cast feminist activist Emma Watson to play the title character. Along with revolutionizing the role of Belle, Watson serves as a Goodwill Ambassador to the UN, and advocates for the UN HeForShe campaign, and started a global feminist bookclub.
In 2018, Disney will release “A Wrinkle in Time”. Ava Duvernay, an extremely accomplished producer and director, is directing this movie. She will be the first woman of color to direct a film with a budget over $100 million. The film stars Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, and Reese Witherspoon, three well-known feminist activists.
Disney movies are bringing powerful women to audiences in the coming years, and this is so important to the millions of women who watch their movies. But that doesn’t mean women cannot draw inspiration from the classic princesses. I have seen thousands of strong women come together thanks to Disney, and this movie-loving audience will always be the real Disney princesses I look up to.