The Princesses May have Fallen but the Myths they Push Still Stand Tall

Recently Dina Goldstein’s Fallen Princesses project popped up in my internet browsing, probably as a result of one of the many posts questioning and critiquing this series on some of my favorite feminists blogs. I’ve been wanting to write this post for days but have found myself unable to – simply because, like many others, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about these images and what I want to say. These images are hard to comment on, probably because there are so many of them, and each one conveys a radically different message (a message that is highly open to the viewer’s determination, no less), but I’m going to try my best.

Let’s start with the one I found most offensive: Not So Little Red Riding Hood. At first (and second, and third) glance I found this picture to be horribly fatphobic, especially after the author explained her vision of this image in the comments as a, “personal comment on today’s fast food society.” As a personal comment on today’s ‘fast food society’ this image irks me at first in the sense that it perpetuates the myth that weight is inescapably tied to the quantity and quality of the food one eats (ignoring, of course, the wide range of genetic factors that go into one’s weight.) On a more base level the inclusion of this picture into a gallery of “Fallen Fairytales” attaches a value-judgment to being fat – to be fat is to have fallen, in some way, from the standards that one is meant to adhere to. To be quite honest conflating fat with bad is just as harmful of the old fairytale adage that tells us the women who are thin and beautiful are always good and moral, because along with that belief comes the inescapable conclusion that it’s opposite, fat and ugly, are evil or bad. Far from an attempt to undo fairytale stereotypes, Dina’s artwork seems to confirm them by adopting fairy-tale values to comment on a more modern situation.

To contrast Alix Olson offers an excellent body positive re-imagining of Little Red Ridinghood (and many other fairytales) in her poem Eve’s Mouth as she writes:

“Little Red Riding Hood was walking down the trail,
she was carrying the goodies,
thought “They’ll go stale”.
So, she ate ‘em all up and that was that.
Then, she threw them all up, fear of getting fat.
‘Cause even Red Riding Hood reads magazines,
the ones prescribing diets for pre-teens.”

I’m instantly more drawn to this fairytale re-imagining than the ones done by Dina Goldstien because the values that are expressed by Alix Olson fall more in line with my own – I’m not worried about the “fast food epidemic” so much as I am worried about the epidemic of eating disorders, depression, and unhealthy eating that seems prevalent in young girls who are infected by this thin culture (that holds the same values as our fairytales: thin and beautiful is good and fat and ugly is bad, and in addition fat can never be beautiful.) The funny thing is, ultimately, I think we’re worried about the same thing: people living unhealthy lifestyles due to cultural messages. Unfortunately fat-shaming is never going to be the best way to get people to make healthy choices.

Other images by Dina Goldstien seem to follow the same formula as I try to draw meaning from them: the princesses are depicted in various situations unbefitting of their status as embodiments of all that is good and beautiful – unfortunately these pictures have a (possibly unintentional) side effect in the sense that they make these situations (like being fat) seem to be something bad. In some cases, like the image of Beauty (without her Beast) getting excessive amounts of plastic surgery, I can agree with the message – not even a princess is pretty enough to fit into our perfection-crazed society. Other messages I disagree with strongly, like the image of Snow White as an unhappy housewife – giving off the impression that women who choose to have children are generally miserable and unable to pursue fulfilling lives outside of the home. As one commenter said, “HAHA – this is great since every American girl grows up thinking she’s a princess, but in reality BAMM she’s a jaded snow white with several brats and a Ex-Prince Charming Joe Six-pack” (spelling and grammar left untouched for posterity’s sake.) While I can appreciate the irony of Snow White as a mother and “housewife” (as this image seems to imply) I think that categorizing mother as something “fallen” is problematic in the same way it is to categorize “fat” as something inherently negative.

Among the messages I strongly like and dislike there are some image that still have me scratching my head. The image of Rapunzle with cancer (the irony, of course, being that her long golden locks are now gone) bothers me in a sense that I can’t quite put a finger on. It may be one of the most poignant images of the collection,a true “reality check” but at the same time it seems disrespectful in a way as the situation almost seems to trivialize cancer through the pun of Rapunzel and her lost hair.

The final image that really struck me is that of Jasmine, of Disney invention, dressed in pink camo and standing in the middle of a desert battle-scene. Not getting into the racial implications or sub-par photoshopping, something about this photo bugs me. On one hand I actually appreciate the image of a Princess with real physical strength – on the other hand I do not appreciate the fact that this strength comes along with the knowledge that I am looking at a fallen princess, she’s not supposed to have this power, there is something wrong with it.

In the end it almost seems trivial to be critiquing these images as such, but something in me (and a few other feminist bloggers I’ve seen) just can’t seem to let this go – and its understandable. Most fairytales really do a disservice to little girls by instilling negative values like beauty (or lack of beauty) is an indicator of character and every princess ultimatley needs a prince to be happy (even if she saves herself – like Mulan – she still ends up paired off.) As adults, it would make sense for us to be seeking validation for the lives we’ve lead that may not have nessecarily included those values (in other words, proof that the values are wrong) in the same form –fairytales. I think this is why its just so painfully dissappointing when a re-imagining like this one, that holds so much potential, sends such painful mixed messages.

I understand the artist’s desire to show that real life is nothing at all like Fairytales, it continues on after the happy-ending and often does not look anything like you envisioned it would. But at the end of the day, value judgments aside, I simply wish these images were a little less depressing, and a little more empowering. Sort of like Alix Olson’s work – sure, she often leaves me feeling angry with a society that is often unfair but she also leaves me hopeful, feeling as if I have the power to use my anger and make a difference.

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  1. That’s some real crazyness!!! lol. My mum found a site with some pretty disgusting cosmetic surgery… it’s got all sorts of pics with plastic surgery gone wrong you neeeeeeed to check it out! haha

  2. MorganBoecher says:

    I have to agree with you that these photographs are worth criticizing, especially from a feminist point of view. Her interpretation of what “fallen” means is problematic in many of these cases, and she uses a schtick of familiar stereotypes rather than real creative commentary.

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