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Disney Princess diversity: Characters changed via Tumblr, D-Tech

Disney Princess diversity, mostly non-existent in films and dolls, is evolving with people using Tumblr and 'D-Tech' to change characters' features to make images and dolls look like little girls of all ethnicities.

By Guest blogger / August 16, 2012

Using Tumblr and 'D-Tech' to enhance Disney Princess diversity, people change characters' features in images and dolls to look like little girls of all ethnicities. In this 2010 file photo, girls dressed as Princess Tiana from "The Princess and the Frog" await her arrival at the Disney Princess Royal Court Crowning Event in New York.

Charles Sykes/AP/File

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A couple of weeks ago, a young woman named Lauren reimagined the white Disney Princess characters as women of color, posting recolored images of them on her Tumblr blog. Her inspired designs quickly made their way around the blogosphere. 

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Guest blogger

Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a children's media culture expert. A professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University, in Salem, Mass., her research focuses on girls and media. The author of "Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life,"  she blogs about children's media and popular cultur and lives with her husband and son in Peabody, Mass.
 

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Responses ranged from supportive (“I love this!“) to perplexed (“This was done because…?"); from grateful to critical (including requests for more inclusivity); and, sadly, from defensive to exclusionary (people of color “should come up with their own princesses and heroes“) and clearly racist.

I wrote a little about the Disney Princess franchise and race earlier this year, when I noticed that in the Disney Store’s 2012 redesign of their Disney Princess dolls, Disney westernized Mulan’s dress and lightened Pocahontas’s skin. So when the Huffington Post Live asked me to be their expert guest on a segment called “Black and Brown Princesses” about the reimagined Disney Princess characters from Lauren’s Tumblr, I was happy to oblige.

Although I have my criticisms of the Disney Princess franchise in general, I do think it’s important for young girls to see characters on screen and elsewhere in popular culture that look like them. I’ve been doing academic research on the Disney Princess phenomenon for a while now, and I’ve heard about the heartbreaks caused by Disney’s predominant whiteness: The little black girl who came home from first grade in tears because her classmates said she couldn’t be a princess. Their reason? She wasn’t white. (This was pre-Tiana.) The little Latina girl who would brush and brush her tightly curled hair, completely frustrated that she couldn’t smooth it out so that she would look more like a princess. (New princess Merida is the only one without silky smooth straight hair.)

While conducting field research for my book, "Growing Up With Girl Power," I also saw firsthand how important diversity in dolls and other products is to pre-adolescent African-American girls. For example, the racial diversity of Bratz dolls was really important to the African-American girls in my study. For them, the diversity was often much more important than the dolls’ skimpy fashions, which have resulted in a lot of negative publicity for the brand. The girls also cared tremendously about whether popular characters like Dora the Explorer and those from "The Proud Family" were represented on toys and other products with the same skin tone as they had on television. (I remember that a beach towel depicting Dora with the wrong skin tone had been a serious affront.)

As these girls and I talked and talked about how few characters looked like them, I found myself remembering being a young girl and wanting nothing more than a doll that had brown hair and brown eyes, like me. Unfortunately, in the late 1970s/early 1980s, these were almost impossible to find, as my mother can attest: She had to hunt high and low to find a single brown-haired doll whose eyes were brown, not blue. When I shared this memory with the girls, they were surprised. “How rude!” one said.

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