I re-blogged a picture of a little girl, dressed as Tiana, hugging the face actress who plays Tiana at one of the Disney Parks, and noted that everyone should have their princess. And a few people have now contacted me basically going “no, only straight white people can have princesses if you stick with the classics.”
I am a folklorist, and it’s time for some Fun With Folklore.
First off, very few Princesses/fairy tale heroines who are going to become Princesses because that’s what you do are actually defined by specific physical attributes. You have Snow White, who yes, requires the “skin as white as snow” etc, but that’s to make her an alien beauty and justify the actions of her stepmother. She belongs to the Aarne-Thompson tale type 709, which is commonly referred to as “Snow White,” but which contains a hell of a lot more, including “Bella Venezia”, “Myrsina”, “Nourie Hadig” and “Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree.” All those links will take you to Wikipedia. Click them. Note that NOT ONE of those girls is defined by her appearance, beyond “incredibly beautiful.” “Nourie Hadig” is Armenian in origin; you can bet that girl was not white as snow. (Note that I do not actually care for the “Nourie Hadig” 709 variant, due to using a Roma girl as the main adversary, but that’s another story.) Any story you want to tell is going to have variants where the heroines are never described! You know why?
BECAUSE THE PEOPLE WHO WERE TELLING THESE STORIES UNDERSTOOD THAT IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR CHILDREN TO SEE THEMSELVES IN THE MIRROR OF THE TALE.
There are fairy tales about people with disabilities, ranging from the physical (missing limbs, missing eyes, missing tongues) to the emotional (girls who cannot smile, boys who cannot feel fear). There are fairy tales that end in same-sex marriage. There’s even an excellent fairy tale about gender identity, “The Princess Who Became A Prince,” in which our hero has always felt he was a boy, but tried to be a dutiful daughter, until a dragon stole a neighbor princess and he had to ride to rescue the girl in order to save the kingdom. One misaimed curse later, and wham, our new-minted prince is finally outwardly as he had been all along on the inside.
THIS IS JUST AS OLD AND TRUE AND SCHOLASTIC AS CINDERELLA AND THE OTHERS.
The “big fairy tales” of today are the ones that someone seized on as marketable. We have the power, as drivers of media, to say that we want more diversity. We want Princesses of every race, creed, and religion, and we have the folklore and fairy tales to make them real. We want our transgender Princess (although wow would the marketing be problematic). Saying “the classics” are 100% about straight white people reduces the past to a place where only straight whiteness existed, and where no other children ever needed stories. And that’s not what the past was.
Once upon a time has never stopped being right now.