A recent vacation took me to Orlando. While I was ambling down the pedestrian street of Disney Springs (a collection of shops circling a lake), I came across the Bibbidi Boddidi Boutique, a magical salon where little girls can be pampered and styled into their favorite Disney princess. Hair can be gathered up into a bun, decorated with ribbons, and sprinkled with “pixie dust.” Extensions can be woven into a glorious ponytail or allowed cascade down to resemble the flowing locks of Rapunzel, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty or Belle. I have to admit, these little girls were adorable as they twirled and giggled their way along the paths. With the flick of a magic wand, or at least with lots of hair product, they had been transformed into the adventurous, (if often beleaguered), yet ultimately always successful princesses.
But it made me wonder – what’s it like to be a black or Hispanic little girl in the magic kingdom? Maybe the “fairy godmothers in training” (stylists) are prepared to welcome girls with every type and texture of hair. But my initial impression was that only certain girls need apply. The bright pink walls are filled with lily-white examples of female glory, from Snow White to Frozen’s Anna and Elsa. There is a single African-American leading character – Princess Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2009). Could you have named her? She came on the scene long after my own children were captivated by Disney films so I had to do a bit of research.
What is the image of beauty that a dark-skinned little girl receives when light-skinned heroines are the only ones in sight?
I don’t think Disney is overtly or intentionally racist. Instead, I think that the long line-up of white princesses simply reflects the values and attitudes of a company started in the 1920’s.
Disney has some catching up to do.
I think most of us do.
It makes me wonder what messages churches (and schools, camps, youth organizations, anyone working with young people) send about who is beautiful or powerful or important. Who gets to dream of wishes coming true or a future that includes “happily ever after”?
When churches assure people “everyone is welcome,” how do we get that message across? How are we reaching out to the wide spectrum of individuals who are all part of God’s creation? Who are we leaving out or overlooking or forgetting?
At the start of racial justice training sessions offered by my denomination, we always read this passage: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them” (Genesis 1: 27).
We are invited to celebrate the inclusive Spirit of a loving God so we can live together as people created in God’s image .