Who Wants to be a Princess Anyway?

She sits as close to the television as she can, not wanting to miss a moment.  She watches the prince lean down and place a kiss onto the lips of the princess.  It’s so simple, so easy. The princess is a being of beautiful perfection that falls in love with the prince and has all of her wishes come true. The little girl knows that she wants to be a princess too and live happily ever after with her own prince charming.

The Role Models

Disney Princess Royal Court

Fairytales, myths and popular cultural stories are often used by children to make sense of the world they find themselves living in. Disney, one of the world’s largest media corporations, is probably one of the main contributors to the way in which most children understand the world; every person from the age of one to ninety-one has been influenced by the media mogul. One of Disney’s top selling and most influential characters are their princesses. As to date there are eleven notable Disney princesses (Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, and sometimes Mulan) that serve as role models for millions of little girls. These princesses contribute to our culture’s preconceived notions of beauty and the gendered norms of femininity. They teach us that to be feminine we must be beautiful, delicate, and docile and in order to obtain our ‘happily ever after’ we must not only be feminine but also fall in love.

Teaching Machines

Disney’s Take on “Exotic”

Cultural views of gender are expressed and maintained through a number of ways. One way in which this is done is through the cognitive development theory. According to Dr. Julia T. Wood in her book Gendered Lives; the cognitive development theory focuses on our use of role models who we base our behaviors and identities on. “The significance of [Disney’s animated princess films] operate on many registers, but one of the most persuasive is the role they play as the new “teaching machines.”” Through their story lines and characters the princess films reinforce female gender norms and culture’s preconceived notions of beauty, working to define this for a variety of young girls as thin, delicate, and mostly white. Although there are multiracial princesses, they all adhere to western culture’s white ideal of beauty. Jasmine, of the 1992 Disney classic Aladdin, is Arabian,  only her skin tone is darker  for the Middle Eastern setting.  Her features maintain many white features, such as a delicate nose and small mouth.  By continuously using white ideals of beauty on their princesses, Disney is forcing even girls of other cultural backgrounds to adhere to the ‘thin is beautiful’ ideal to mimic their role models.

Thin Is (unfortunately) In 

These princesses are not only acting as role models of culture’s gender norms for young girls, they are also using nonverbal communication within gendered media to further the ideal that thin is beautiful and anything that does not fit this representation is ugly. Dr. Julia T. Wood in Gendered Lives states that gendered media can both communicate and resist dominant ideologies of gender, sexuality and race. Through media the “cultural view of women as dependent, ornamental objects who exist to look good, to please men, to care for children, and to be sexually desirable and available” is continuously repeated

Research from Beauty and Thinness Messages in Children’s Media: a Content Analysis  suggests that media exposure also, “significantly influence[s] body dissatisfaction and the development of eating disorder symptomatology in our society.”This article argued that children are particularly susceptible to media messages and are more likely to perceive the “imagery surrounding thinness and fatness on television and other media as real rather than artificial.” In many of the princess movies there is an emphasis on physical attractiveness (aka thin) which is associated with sociability, kindness, happiness or success; on the other hand, characters that are more over weight are depicted as evil, unattractive, unfriendly and cruel. For example, in The Little Mermaid the villain, Ursula, is portrayed as an unattractive, obese octopus. As children and young adolescents are exposed to more and more images of thin bodies research shows there is a positive correlation between this and the desire for a thinner body.

It’s a Fatal Attraction

Love at First Sight is Just Fatal Attraction

The emphasis on appearance and beauty encompasses much of female’s lives; we are taught that beauty will take us far in life, especially in regards to intimate personal relationships. In Gendered Lives, Dr. Julia T. Wood defines a personal relationship as a relationship where both partners depend on each other for affection and material assistance. The ideal that physical appearance is a key determinate of personal relationships is especially reinforced by the Disney princess movies; which, in many movies, took only a matter of minutes for couples to fall in love at first sight. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel fell in love with Eric at first sight, while he fell in love with her voice. In Pocahontas, the title character and John Smith fell in love based on appearances, as they did not speak the same language. It’s amazing that all they had to do was “listen with your heart and you will understand,”  and suddenly the Native-American princess and the English settler can speak the same language.  The fact that love at first sight is a cornerstone on which relationships are built in these films, encourage the belief that physical appearance is the most important thing when entering an intimate relationship.

It’s All About the Happily Ever After

The image of beauty and perfection that the Disney princesses portray have influenced young girls from Snow White’s creation in 1937 and even past the creation of the last princess, Merida, in 2012. Although we would like to think that many of these princesses are strong role models, they in fact embody gendered norms that represent women as lesser.  As Freud notes, “female symbols are those that suggest the possibility of either entry or entrapment.” If we look closely into the lives of the princesses, Rapunzel is locked in a tower, Snow White is sent out to be murdered, and Aurora is put to sleep. These heroines have their freedom severely restricted at a time in life when the adolescents who see them as role models are discovering independence and increased agency. Even more progressive heroines like Ariel, Jasmine and Belle “still live in male-dominated worlds, and ultimately find fulfillment through their romantic relationships with [their] Prince Charming.”

Merida, the Black Sheep

merida makeover

Merida Isn’t the One That Needs a Make-over!

But, there is one princess who gives us hope. Merida, the last princess in a long line of Disney heroines, defies preconceived notions of feminine gender roles. She is a princess with “a strong will, a stubborn streak and a lot to learn.”  She is not obsessed with her looks nor is she fawning over a prince charming. She is fighting her own battles and doing it on her own terms. She is the role model for young girls that Disney fans have been waiting for. It has taken time but, we are glad that she is here.  Although Disney tried to give her a make-over and change her appearance–   “she’s thinner, her eyes are wider and … Is that miracle anti-frizz solution she’s using?” — many fans petitioned against this. If anyone needs a make-over its the over sexualized princesses we already have. In a world where girls are continuously told to be thinner, more delicate and docile, it is refreshing to met a princess that’s fine just the way she is.

How Safe Is Your Campus?

The music is loud, the lights are bright, and the bodies all around make her warm. She’s been dancing against this tall form all night, so it doesn’t surprise her when he asks her to leave the party with him. She doesn’t know how many drinks she’s had and she can barely stand on her own two feet without assistance, but she agrees and they leave. In the morning she wakes with a migraine, in an unfamiliar dorm with the guy from the night before in bed beside her. Images from the night slowly start to invade her mind: the screams to stop, the pain and above all, the confusion. She quickly dresses and leaves, never looking back.

Rape Statistics

Who’s the 1 in 10?

Sit down outside on your campus lawn and look around. Of the 1,000 women you see, 35 will report being raped during the academic year. But, there could be more than just that estimated 35.  According to the National Institute of Justice, less than 5% of completed or attempted rapes against college women are reported to law enforcement. Everyday a woman is sexually assaulted and everyday many go unreported.  That ranges anywhere from unwanted kissing all the way to intercourse. To break this statistic down into something imaginable, for every 10 women in your class, at least one has been, or will be, sexually assaulted.

Isn’t College About Having Fun?

The four years of life that many dedicate to college is supposed to be filled with fun and new experiences. Students want to go out without the ever present eye of their parents watching over them. It is a time to go out, drink, party, and enjoy youth. But it seems those happy times with friends, can contribute to the very thing we wish to avoid. In the study Correlates of Rape while intoxicated in a National Sample of College Women researchers found that one in twenty women, about 4.7%, reported being raped in college since the beginning of the year—that spans a length of seven months. Of those raped, nearly three quarters happened while the victims were so intoxicated they were unable to consent or refuse. As students are pressured by peers to go out and party, their likelihood of assault increases.

How Do You Define The Confusion?

We Deserve a Rape Free Campus!

Gender violence is the physical, verbal, emotional, sexual and visual brutality inflicted disproportionately on members of one sex. One form of gendered violence is sexual assault.  Sexual assault, as defined by Dr. Julia T. Wood in Gendered Lives, is any sexual activity that occurs without informed consent. For there to be informed consent, the person must be of legal age, of sound mind, and say yes. Informed consent is not established by merely not saying no. Sexual assault includes rape and other forced sexual activities with strangers; sex coerced by friends or dates; forced sex between husband and wife or those in a committed relationship; incest; pedophilia; and sexual slavery. Sexual assault is highly prevalent on college campuses. College students are at risk for attack because of their easily followed routines, high alcohol consumption and the tendency for students to feel safer on campuses than outside them.  Due to the fact that both women and men of college age “tend not to judge forced intercourse as rape if it occurs with an acquaintance or friend and is not “violent”– meaning that physical force or injury was not involved besides the actual rape itself” incidents of assault may go largely unreported, especially when alcohol is involved (Wood, 287).

It’s Not as Clear Cut as You Think

Wouldn’t You Feel Worthless Too?

Many students that report sexual assault and rape turn to their campus authorities, which many times include an honor board court. These honor courts are not courts of law and many times punishment issued to an assailant does not fit the crime. At UVA an assailant was not expelled from school and instead told to stay away from his victim. When a school’s academic honor code calls for automatic expulsion if violated, the mere slap on the wrist that this assailant received only makes the victim seem worthless.Another incident when a school’s honor court did not issue just punishment was the case of UNC student Landen Gambill who made headlines, in March of this year, for being threatened with expulsion for “intimidating” her alleged rapist. After the UNC Honor Court used blaming the victim techniques— questioning the validity of Gambill’s story because she did not immediately leave her boyfriend (the assailant) and was clinically depressed— and dismissed the case, Gambill filed a federal complaint. This resulted in UNC stating that she had violated the school’s honor code by creating a disruptive, intimidating environment for her alleged attacker (who, I might add, she never named once).

UNC student Landen Gambill

Although many schools are showing their lack of protection for students, there are many federal laws that are helping students to find justice. One such law is the newly enacted Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act that requires colleges to inform victims of their rights, options and resources after an attack. Every two minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted. It is important that we stay conscious of our actions and surroundings. We need to educate ourselves and others about predatory behaviors, alcohol use and knowing where to draw the line.

I Don’t Want To Be a Barbie Doll!

She looks at the perfect miniature feature with intrigue and delight. Smiling, she traces the perfectly made up face and starts to change the doll’s clothes. As the clothes come off, she looks at the doll analyzing it: perfect breasts, a tiny waist, flat stomach, wide hips, and long thin legs. Lowering the doll, she looks at herself: short, chubby and a flat chest. Instantly she wants to change, to look more like her doll, to look more perfect.

Little Girls Playing with Barbie


Everyday, females are bombarded with our culture’s perception of what is classified as ‘beautiful.’ Tall, thin, and usually white, figures overflow in media and consumer products. We cannot look left or right without seeing figures that epitomize western culture’s view that ‘thin is beautiful.’ We are socialized into this view at an early age; from the time we receive our first Barbie doll, we are contributing and participating in our culture’s preconceived notions of beauty. We are taught that thin is the preferred look and that Barbie is a representation of the perfection we should strive for.

valeria lukyanova living barbie photos v magazine

The “Living Barbie” Valeria Lukyanova


But, Barbie is a doll, has anyone ever considered what it would take to be a real life Barbie? Ukrainian Model Valeria Lukyanova  sure has.  Lukyanova became an online phenomenon last year when photos of her doll-like features and Barbie proportions swept over the internet. Through her look, which she attributes to only one cosmetic surgery (breast implants) coupled with dieting and exercising, Lukyanova demonstrates how some women will go to extremes to achieve what they perceive as the perfect body.


Cultural views of gender are expressed in nonverbal messages that help to communicate individuals’ gender identities. One way this is done is through artifacts. Artifacts, as defined by Dr. Julia T. Wood in Gendered Lives, is a personal object that influences the way in which we see ourselves and helps us to better express our gender identities. Even as babies we are given artifacts that help define our identities: from the pink and blue blankets that nurses wrap us in upon birth, to the color our parents paint our walls, to the toys they buy, and down to the clothes we wear, artifacts are all around us. They act as messages that our culture uses to establish which gender norms are perceived as appropriate for which sex. While toys designed for boys invite competition and active play, toys given to girls encourage nurturing and detail to appearance. Toys, such as the Barbie doll, give the message that girls are supposed to pay particular attention to their looks. It acts as an example by which little girls are supposed to model themselves; they should have nice clothes, wear make-up, and portray culture’s thin ideal of beauty.

The Scary Reality of a Real-Life Barbie Doll


The image of perfection that Barbie portrays has been influencing the ideal of beauty since her creation. Now, however, we are proving just how wrong Barbie’s idea of beauty is.  The question we should ask, despite the looks of Valeria Lukyanova, is a Barbie body really possible? The answer is no. As Galia Slayen demonstrates, Barbie’s six foot tall 110 pound figure with a 39” bust, 18” waist, 33” hips and size 3 foot is just not realistically possible.

If Barbie was real she’d have a BMI of 16.24 (which fits the weight for anorexia) and would have to walk on all fours due to her proportions.  With two Barbie dolls sold every second around the world, targeting young girls ages 3-12, the ideals of beauty that our culture forces upon young girls will grow into more and more women with eating disorders and health problems. Barbie is promoting an “unhealthy beauty obsession” says protesters outside of Berlin’s ‘Barbie Dreamhouse’ – “[The] commercial monster Mattel …[has] turned a piece of plastic into a god for millions of girls from all over the world who now seek only to imitate plastic shapes…”  As times change and our culture evolves we can only hope that one day all forms of beauty will be considered beautiful and that females will not have to conform to preconceived notions of beauty in order to see the self-worth within each one of them.

She Can Play All Right

Its game day and she’s more than ready. The team’s record is 10-2 and if they can win tonight they’re headed to States. She looks around and knows her team is just as pumped as she is. She can hear the crowd and knows its game time. Running out onto the field, helmet clutched in hand, eye black on her cheeks and pads securely in place she looks up at the lights of another Friday night on the gridiron.

Time and time again the phrase “you’re a girl” hinders females from pursuing traditionally masculine activities, football ranking highest on that list. Females are continuously halted from participating in male sports because they are perceived as too fragile, too weak, because they will cause a sexual scandal, or simply because they are a girl. Eleven year-old Caroline Pla is one such girl that was forced into not playing football simply because of her sex.



Although women are encouraged not to participate in the sport, their attention to it is highly valued. Women are allowed to watch and enjoy football but for them to participate well, that’s just not women’s work. Jacqueline McDowell and Spencer Schattner note in their article Football, it’s a Man’s Game: Insult and Gendered Discourse in the Gender Bowl that “ for women to compete with and against men on what is referred to as the gridiron of American football is both to challenge traditional constructions of American masculinity and to question the extent to which democratic ideals of full participation are realized in the American public sphere.”

To the Boys, Her Role Is Simple: Teammate

The notion of gender and the role it plays in society contribute heavily to the notion that women can’t play football. Gender, as defined by Dr. Julia T. Wood in Gendered Lives,is a cultural ideal that changes over time and varies across cultures. It is not stagnant or permanent. Although subject to change, the ideal that women are fragile and docile creatures while men are aggressive and tough is a gender norm that has resonated within our culture for some time.  Because men are viewed as the aggressive players and women as the cheerful and beautiful cheerleaders standing on the sidelines, the notion of a girl out on the field playing rough and being ‘one of the guys’ destroys society’s view of ‘normal.’


former NCAA kicker Katie Hnida

Girls aren’t just sitting by anymore though, they are not only breaking barriers they are tackling them to the ground and racing for a touchdown. Girls like Mina Johnson and Erin DiMeglio are breaking gender barriers by not only playing high school football but being stars on their teams. Johnson is a star defensive linebacker on her Southampton Academy team and DiMeglio breaks records by being Florida’s first female high school quarterback. But the play doesn’t stop there. Katie Hnida gives hope to girls all over America that they can make it big on the football field by being the first woman to score in an NCAA Division I-A game, college football’s highest level.  And if they can’t play with the boys, that’s okay, they’ll play with each other instead.  As times change and our culture continues to evolve, we can only hope that more and more girls will be able to participate in the activities and sports they want, no matter the perceived gender that goes with it.

Black and Blue and Wearing a Dress Too

Hello everyone! I am Victoria Greene, a senior—from Lynchburg, VA—English major with a concentration in Creative Writing and double minors in Psychology and Women & Gender Studies. While on the beautiful campus of Longwood University, I am involved heavily with the Cormier Honors College through my position as Student Coordinator of Programming, mentoring Honors underclassmen and as a member of the Honors Student Association. I am also a member of Psi Chi and have held two executive positions in Alpha Lambda Delta.

The experience that I have gained in the field of Communications has been amassed from a variety of places. Through my position as Student Coordinator, I have had to organize, staff, and facilitate recruiting events for the Cormier Honors College through formulating schedules, obtaining student and faculty volunteers, and conducting presentations for prospective students and their families. This past semester I worked with both the Financial Aid Department and the Office of Enrollment Management and Student Success to prepare a financial aid package and a four-year graduation plan for future lancers; these projects required me to consider both primary and secondary audiences and how to establish a voice that students would want to pay attention to yet, remained professional.

Even Tomboys know how to cook.

I have always been interested in the roles that gender identity play within not only our society but others as well. I have taken a number of classes, including sociology, sex and gender and cultural psychology that broadened my view on the way in which people rely on culture’s preconceived notions of how males and females should act and what actually defines the term male and female. I have learned from these courses and from my life in general, that more often than not, although people wish to change these notions, they themselves fall into the inescapable perceptions of gender roles. I was raised to be self-sufficient and independent; there was nothing I wasn’t taught to do from cooking and cleaning to changing a tire and a car’s oil, gender norms were not an issue. However, as I grew older I was labeled a ‘tomboy’ and was often times referred to as ‘just another one of the guys.’ I’m a girl who doesn’t mind playing rough with the boys and yet, can still wear a dress and cook like a pro. I may not personify the normal aspects of society’s gender roles but, I’m just as feminine as the girl wearing pink frills. From this course I hope to further my understanding of gender roles, identity and the part they play in shaping our world.