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What would some of the world’s most famous female icons look like if they received the Disney treatment? Would Hillary Clinton have wide eyes and an impossible hourglass figure? Might Ruth Bader Ginsberg sit on the bench in sparkly black robes? And would it change the way we think of Belle and Cinderella?
British cartoonist David Trumble explores these questions in a series of satirical drawings depicting famous feminist role models from past and present history as Disney princesses — with big bright eyes, sparkly dresses and pearly white smiles. By highlighting the reductive nature of Disney’s depictions of princesses, the self-described feminist said his ultimate goal is to expose the absurdity of Disney’s penchant for forcing heroines of different backgrounds and personalities into a single cookie-cutter mold.
“Our children come to role models through fiction before anything else,” Trumble told TODAY.com. “We shouldn't have a heroine’s individual greatness squeezed into one archetype.”
Though his work first appeared on the Huffington Post last May, the cartoons re-emerged on the blog Women You Should Know last week, where they quickly gained more than a million page views and stirred up impassioned discussions that reverberated around the web.
Some didn't understand the satire, while others charged Trumble with not making his intent explicit enough. Several commenters shared their daughters' reactions to the drawings, with some saying their children were eager to learn more about each woman’s background.
“Sadly, (my daughter) was immediately drawn to the sparkly dresses, but on the flip side it made her ask questions about these women and she was genuinely excited to know each and every one of their back stories,” Marijayne Renny commented.
Trumble said all the new attention has been “a bit bewildering,” though he was more prepared to take the criticism in stride this time around. He doesn't mind that not everyone understood his point.
“I feel like good satire shouldn't be understood by everybody,” he said. “Some people were angry at me because they thought I was reducing the women, which was obviously the point. But if it gets children interested in these real women and what they do, is it so bad?”
He also blames some of the reaction on the Internet, where images can go viral without offering further explanation.
While Trumble said he respects everyone’s point of view and appreciates the arguments that his work has provoked, there was one criticism he especially considered. Many people took issue with Anne Frank being labeled “Holocaust Princess,” so he changed her name to “Diary Princess,” agreeing that she should be defined by her achievements rather than the suffering she endured, as the rest of the women are.
"I wanted to make it a dark satire, but in retrospect I realize that was the wrong choice," he said. "I think it's wrong to define her by her victimization."
Trumble was initially struck with the idea for the project in the wake of Disney’s controversial makeover of Princess Merida of “Brave” last May. In certain images created for her “special coronation,” the princess sported a new sultry look, complete with a cleavage-baring dress and cinched waist.
“She was designed to be an antidote of the princess model. She’s wild, athletic, unruly and not proportioned like a typical character,” Trumble said. “They homogenized her and brought her back into the mold that the creator had worked so hard to deconstruct. They took two steps back in that way.”
He isn’t the only one concerned with Disney’s treatment of femininity: A Feminist Disney blog explores many of the same issues and Meridith Viguet offers a humorous breakdown of princess proportions on DeviantArt. A few years back, The Second City Network served up a series of satirical videos offering advice for young girls from Disney princesses. Trumble said all the attention being paid to princesses is a sign of progress.
“It’s actually a very positive thing,” he said. “I don’t think the agenda should be to destroy Disney or be iconoclastic but to reach out and start this debate. Filmmakers are starting to think outside that mold, and there are a lot more exciting characters coming out of Disney. I’m a fan.”