Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tangled: A Celebration of White Femininity


Tangled is Disney's version of Rapunzel .  To be honest, I have very little idea of how this move deviates from the the fairytale we are all familiar with.  If you are interested in the preview, you can check it out here.  What struck me about the story of Rapunzel, is the celebration of her flowing long blond hair.  I think it is no accident that Rapunzel was added to the Disney stable of princesses, right after Disney finally got around to creating their first African American princess. 

As a Black woman, I know all to well how complicated the issue of hair can be.  Looking at the above image, I found that I could not see beyond her long blond hair and blue eyes.  I believe that this will also become the focal point of many girls of colour.  The standard of long flowing blond hair as the epitome of femininity necessarily excludes and challenges the idea that WOC are feminine, desired, and some cases loved and therefore, while Disney is creating an image of Rapunzel that we are accustomed to, her rebirth in a modern day context is problematic, because her body represents the celebration of White femininity. 

The world is anything but equal and this is evidenced by what bodies we choose to celebrate and what bodies we choose either to denigrate or ignore.  Each day that a little White girl turns on the television, or opens a book, she can see multiple representations of White Womanhood.  In of itself, Rapunzel is not problematic, but in a world in which natural Black kinky hair is seen as unkept and downright ugly, Rapunzel amounts to a slap in the face. It tells little girls of color that they will never be beautiful, because they were born without the characteristics that are normal to White womanhood.

The fact that Tangled is coming on the heels of the first African American princess is indeed problematic.  It makes Princess Tiana seem like an impotent token, with Rapunzel appearing to reset the standard of what princess means and even more precisely what womanhood means.


Notice, that in this so-called celebration of Black womanhood, that Tiana's hair is far from kinky.   Tiana also spends a large portion of the movie as a frog.  How is this a celebration or even ground breaking, when she is not drawn with kinky hair and is then immediately erased to become an amphibian? She does get her prince charming, but unlike Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, or Ariel, she does not go off to lead a life of leisure in a castle; she gets to own a restaurant, where she will spend her days working.  Some may say that this is a modernized fairytale, attempting to take lessons from the woman's movement, but I believe that it tells us that real luxury is the preserve of Whiteness.  Tiana is an "other" when juxtaposed to every other Disney princess and Rapunzel simply represents a return to what Disney does best, promoting the image of the fragile and extremely valuable White woman.

The Disney princess series is absolutely problematic in the harmful messages that it sends young girls, but I venture to say that its treatment of race compounds the dissonance of worth and value that little Black girls live with everyday.  I believe as women, we would all be better off if the genre simply disappeared, but if they must continue, framing them in a manner that specifically harms girls of color by celebrating Whiteness as the ultimate example of femininity must end.