Saturday, November 21, 2009

"Fallen Princesses"

Obviously I couldn't have a Fairy Tale Week without including Dina Golstein's "Fallen Princesses" series, but I had a really hard time deciding how much should or needs to be said about the series.

Here is what Golstein had to say about her series:
These works place Fairy Tale characters in modern day scenarios. In all of the images the Princess is placed in an environment that articulates her conflict. The '...happily ever after' is replaced with a realistic outcome and addresses current issues.

The project was inspired by my observation of three-year-old girls, who were developing an interest in Disney's Fairy tales. As a new mother I have been able to get a close up look at the phenomenon of young girls fascinated with Princesses and their desire to dress up like them. The Disney versions almost always have sad beginning, with an overbearing female villain, and the end is predictably a happy one. The Prince usually saves the day and makes the victimized young beauty into a Princess.

As a young girl, growing up abroad, I was not exposed to Fairy tales. These new discoveries lead to my fascination with the origins of Fairy tales. I explored the original brothers Grimm's stories and found that they have very dark and sometimes gruesome aspects, many of which were changed by Disney. I began to imagine Disney's perfect Princesses juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me, such as illness, addiction and self-image issues.

Right off the back I should say that I think these photos are beautifully executed. I mean, they’re just gorgeous. I also think the idea is interesting, but overall I don’t think they were too well thought out. I know a lot of people adore this series, but it just isn’t doing it for me.

It’s one of those things that I loved at first glance, but once I took the time to actually think about what I was seeing I was less enthusiastic.

Part of my problem with this series is the way Golstein labeled it as “fallen.” I’m sure the title was chosen, at least in part, because it’s simple and grabs attention. But even if something like “more realistic outcomes for Disney Princesses in the modern day” was a lot longer, I don’t think it would offer the same conflict many people have with these pictures. Because (even if Golstein didn’t mean it this way), we have to wonder why being overweight of having cancer is equal to being “fallen.” There’s just a certain connotation with the word and I don’t think it best describes Golstein’s point.

The two pictures that have garnered the most attention is the one of Jasmine and Little Red Riding Hood for kind of obvious reasons. Jasmine is the one princess of color Golstein depicted and she did so in a way that highlights that in a very noticeable way. Little Red Riding Hood perpetuates the idea that fat people only eat junk food - though LRRH bothers me the most because of its title to be honest. ‘“Not So Little’ Red Riding Hood” just seems like a bad choice and it’s the only picture that doesn’t use just the character’s name for a title.

All of the pictures have something I can criticize to be honest and we have to ask ourselves why Golstein chose some of these non-Disney princesses instead of others when she specifically said, “I began to imagine Disney's perfect Princesses juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me.”

Again, I don’t understand how women dealing with issues like cancer and body issues are equatable to being “fallen.” It just bothers me for some reason. “Fallen” doesn’t equal “real.” (Okay I’ll stop nitpicking now.) Too many of these pictures don’t relate to the actually character either. Belle’s photo would make a thousand times more sense if it showed her in an abusive relationship than it does her getting plastic surgery. Sleeping Beauty would make way more sense if Aurora was awake (since that actually happened before the story ended) and in a real life situation. And I don’t even know what to say about Cinderella – it just seems off to me.

My favorite two would have to be The Little Mermaid and The Princess and the Pea because they say more about our consumerism than the princesses themselves (though The Princess and the Peas is in the same vein as Sleeping Beauty since it’s looking at the situation as if the Happily Ever After never happened instead of what might have happened afterwards). I think the message is a lot stronger in that sense then with some of the other photos.

Ultimately, I really love the conversation these images provoked if not the images themselves. Each image is beautiful, but when we look beyond our initial reaction to be mesmerized I feel like there’s nothing there. Aesthetically pleasing? Yes. A deep introspection on society and the issues women face? Not so much.

You can read more about Little Red Riding Hood’s obesity here and Jasmine’s racial stereotyping here.


  1. When I look at the Cinderella picture, my first thought is the saying, "Someday my Prince will come." Like, she's been sitting in that bar, just idly waiting for him to show up, yet he never has. None of those men that you meet in a bar are princes; they're trash. It's unrealistic to expect to just idly sit around and wait and some day your knight in shining armor will show up to save you.

    You'll end up waiting your whole life.

  2. I get what you’re saying (and I totally agree), but I still don’t think it was a cohesive choice. Cinderella got married at the end so why should she be waiting for her prince? Some of the pictures show what happened after “Happily Ever After” and others show scenarios completely different than what happened in the story. If it was one or the other, I think the project would have been stronger.

    One of the commentators on one of the sites I linked to, points out that Cinderella would have been a good character to do the scene Golstein chose for Snow White since it would be interesting if her prince charming used her as her own family did (and Snow White loved being domestic). It’s that sort of thinking that I think Golstein didn’t take the time to do. (But I still like the pics.)

  3. I totally agree with your critique of the series. Some were general statements about princesses/fairy tales in general, others specifically applied to the character featured, and there really was no cohesive statement.

    Like, Belle, who's name means "beauty," and the statement regarding the lengths that women will go to to achieve beauty in the picture. But, it doesn't really apply to Belle's character in particular.

    Snow White, I have to wonder if she was given the scnario of all the little children beacause she was surrounded by dwarfs in her story. And as you pointed out regarding Snow White and vanity, Belle's scenario would actually be better for Snow White, as Snow White's would be better for Cinderella.

    And Cinderella's scenario, like many of them, is more of a general statement regarding fairy tales than it is specific to Cinderella, and moreso attacking the idea that is perpetrated by these stories, that all women have to do is exist, and their prince will show up to save them one day.

  4. Exactly! At first it seemed great but the lack of cohesiveness really hurts the series.


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