Womanist Musings, November 17, 2010
Tangled is Disney’s version of Rapunzel.
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.
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.