It’s time. I’m going there: Disney Princesses. Let’s be blunt here, they’re not historically accurate. They’re so not historically accurate, that it has become fashionable to recreate them as historically-accurate figures. For example, check out Claire Hummel’s depictions of historically-accurate Disney princess costumes, as featured in this blog post. Someone recently contrasted Game of Thrones with Disney, arguing that the fantasy TV series was a more accurate depiction of the day-to-day lives of women than the films, which are frequently based on *actual history*.
So, yes; the reality was more grim, if less overwhelmingly terrifying (I’m looking at you, Maleficent). However, these are children’s films. They can’t be too heavy-handed about things, can they? If that’s your argument, then maybe princesses are just a bad source of subject material overall. The happily-ever-after ideal seems to have been invented by Disney, rather than the Grimm’s, whose stories they adapted. For most women who married into royalty, your future was as a glorified baby-making-factory, with all the risks involved.
The real issue here, for historians at least, is that Disney is one of the main ways that children first get to grips with history. And it’s setting them up for a fall. Kids aren’t great at telling the difference between the real world and fairytales (which is why that whole ‘If you believe in fairies clap your hands’ ploy always seemed like the most sadistic trick to me). As they get older, the whole notion of a Disneyfied fantasy becomes a kind of escape; an Elysian daydream. It becomes even harder to remind them that there was history behind all this.
I’ve unfairly picked on the girls here, possibly because they are more iconic. However, a similar situation exists for the men, too. The flipside of this coin is the whole idea of knights in shining armour; of chivalry and courtly love. And that is just as bad.