New Version of Beauty and the Beast Revamps Girlhood

In thinking about modern American stereotypes about girlhood and gender roles, one obvious source of these ideas in our culture today is Disney and its princesses. Historically, many of the princesses like Cinderella and Snow White exhibited behaviors that helped define femininity: a dutiful and obedient manner, dependence on men, and, of course, beauty. However, modern adaptations of traditional princesses’ stories are challenging these established ideas about girlhood, as seen in the 2017 live-action remake of the movie Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson. I would like to explore the way traditional narratives like Little House on the Prairie use the concept of girlhood to mean obedience and subordination, while the new Beauty and the Beast uses girlhood to show empowerment and intelligence.

In the text of Little House on the Prairie that we read this semester, Laura’s girlhood was defined by obedience to her parents and learning feminine virtues, such as cooking, cleaning, and being selfless and moral—a “good girl”, in the words of Ma. This is a very classic interpretation of girlhood, one that earlier Disney princess stories mirrored closely. Now, in the newest version of Beauty and the Beast, Belle has undergone a few changes that reflect changing ideas about girlhood. For example, in this reincarnation of the classic tale, Belle is not just an assistant to her father the inventor—she actually creates machines herself. Further, the new and improved Belle will not wear a corset, which creates a less perfect and classically feminine physical appearance. In summary, the modifications to Beauty and the Beast offer a more modern perspective on girlhood, in which girls are not always obedient, dependent, and physically perfect, but instead can take charge and be valued for their intelligence. These ideas bring new interpretations to the meaning of “girlhood” in literature, film and popular culture.

5 thoughts on “New Version of Beauty and the Beast Revamps Girlhood”

  1. Thank you for bringing up body image and physical appearance in relation to girlhood! It’s brilliant to see that the newer models of Disney princesses are becoming crafty and defiant in the healthiest ways. As a youngster, I LOVED all the Disney princesses, their tiny waists, long, thick hair, perfect skin, and “feminine” (yet restricting) attire. Loved it! But this, I believe, contributed to a mild case of body dysmorphia. (Teen Vogue and the like being much greater offenders.) This first hand experience has shaped my belief that the images we expose our young children to are the ones that they are going to try and emulate. So choose them wisely! I’m happy to see the leading ladies of Disney are shifting gears a bit, becoming smarter, more human, and less a man’s sketch of what he thinks we should be like.

  2. This idea reminded me of the movie Frozen. In this movie, two young sisters have lost their parents and are living life all on their own. When one sister runs off, the other goes on a dangerous quest to find her. This girl is demonstrating her fearlessness and independence. Although they are wearing dresses to clearly distinguish themselves as girls, this movie shows the power of women. It show women doing things other than acting “lady like” and reserved. Just like the example in Beauty in the Beast where she is inventing things herself which is not a typical “girl” thing to do. The girls in Frozen are determined and do not just do the typical “feminine tasks.” They go on dangerous adventures and challenge the typical ideas of “feminine tasks.”

    1. This is such a good connection. It is great to see that Disney movies are changing the way they portray women. A lot of girls watch Disney movies when they are growing up, and obviously they try to take on the roles of those characters through dress up, and pretend. I think it is important to show through these new movies that girls can be anyone they want and that they are strong and can be independent without a man in their life. Disney is doing a great job in trying to change the way both boys and girls view girls in society.

  3. This is great that Beauty and the Beast is getting remade to represent a more independent, intelligent girl. I hope more disney princess movies get remade to do the same. As young girls, we may not know that these gender norms are getting embedded into us when we watch them, but I feel they definitely show up in our behavior later on. I believe movies, TV shows, and children’s literature play a big part in developing our values and ideas of the world when we are young. If more young girls grow up with movies like the new Beauty and Beast, they will more likely grow up knowing they are just as smart, strong, and capable as boys are.

  4. I loved reading this because I didn’t realize that they were changing some things in the movie! I think the changes are really important and telling of the portrayal the producers wanted to show of Belle. I believe that the corset is a really important feature because it kind of goes against what the Disney Princesses are known for. They are known for the perfect bodies–the unrealistic idea that many girls strive for. Seeing someone like Emma Watson not wearing a corset creates a realistic idea of beauty. Emma Watson is beautiful and she does not need a corset. I really like the choice of Emma Watson to play Belle–I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to play her. Especially with these changes to Belle, I think that Emma Watson represents that in her every day life as well. Emma Watson has been extremely vocal about women’s rights and gender equality across the world. I think that her impact will be very beneficial. Thank you for sharing this! Now I am even more excited to see the movie!

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