Snow White, the first ever Disney Princess to grace the television screen. Her beauty surpasses all others in the land and she is pursued by her evil stepmother, who will do whatever it takes to remain the most beautiful woman ever. To compound Snow’s problems, she can communicate with animals, there are seven dwarfs kind enough to take care of her, and oh, let’s not forget the handsome prince charming. After all, every girl needs her prince. Is this unrealistic or what? Firstly, there is no such thing as absolute beauty, each and every one of us is beautiful in our own rights. Secondly, the contest between a mother (step or not) and her daughter for beauty seems so…superficial. I mean, why on earth would anyone want to compete with someone who is much younger than them and thus beautiful on a different level? I mean, who comes up with this stuff? Third, I doubt there was ever any guy who could fall in love with you from hearing you sing. If that were the case I would have found my Prince Charming a long time ago.
But all jokes aside, Princess Snow is the “epitome” of the standard of beauty. In the movie, she is first described as having “lips red as the rose, hair black as ebony, skin white as snow”. This description evokes the image of a white woman, who, by the way, must be as pale as ever. This signifies that beauty is defined by having skin as “white as snow”. This reminds me of the Victorian era where white women would powder their skin to achieve that pale skin. These days, non-white women (Asian, Indian, African, Latin American, etc) bleach their skin to achieve that light-skinned look. It is interesting that even though standards of beauty have shifted to include weight, the beauty standard has not changed much. The lighter your skin and the skinnier you are, the more beautiful you are. At least that is the message society and Snow White are telling us.
Aside from beauty standards, Snow’s character displays the typical “damsel in distress” a concept from the medieval ages where knights’s raison d’etres were to save this poor girl from evil. In this case the cruel mother. Further, it is a man (or a man plus seven dwarfs) who will do this saving. Now I know we all need somebody to love, but can’t there ever be a movie about a princess who saves herself? I mean, come on! I am not a feminist but the dependency displayed by most (at least the earlier) princesses shows that women are weak and in need of saving. This and other more contemporary Disney movies perpetuate this idea that women need a man around to be validated, to be a woman. Well, excuse me, Man, but I can live my life just fine without your help.
There is one redeeming factor about Snow White and her encounter with the prince. In the first ten minutes of the movie, Snow is dressed as a scullery maid and is singing to some birds when the prince hears her and joins her in song. She runs but he insists that she stay and they sing to each other in perfect harmony. How corny. But then he recognizes how beautiful she is despite her clothes. Is Disney trying to say that beauty is only skin (or voice) deep? Perhaps. Perhaps not. At least the prince can see past her drab attire.
Wikipedia. “Damsel in distress”. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damsel_in_distress
Snow White and the seven dwarves: Part 1. From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPpvQysOuVg