British artist David Trumble recognizes there are good and bad role models in fiction. So he sat down and started thinking about real-life female examples in history. Combined with the traditional style of Disney princesses, he illustrated courageous women — including Harriet Tubman, Hillary Clinton and Anne Frank — dressed as princesses from fairy tales.
"It got me thinking about (how) role models for women are perceived these days, and how society still can't seem to get its head around how to market them to the younger generation," Trumble wrote at Huffington Post, after the controversy surrounding the "princessification" of Merida, the tomboy princess in "Brave."
"I drew this picture because I wanted to analyze how unnecessary it is to collapse a heroine into one specific mold, to give them all the same sparkly fashion, the same tiny figures, and the same homogenized plastic smile," he told Women You Should Know.
Trumble said he didn't think there was anything wrong with princesses, but that girls should have more options when it comes to archetypes they could emulate.
"Some didn't understand the satire, while others charged Trumble with not making his intent explicit enough," Danika Fears of Today News said. "Several commenters shared their daughters' reactions to the drawings, with some saying their children were eager to learn more about each woman’s background. He also blames some of the reaction on the Internet, where images can go viral without offering further explanation."
"Interestingly," Rebecca Hains of the Christan Science Monitor said, "a few commenters have written that when their daughters walked past their computers and glimpsed these images, the girls were drawn to them. When the girls started asking questions about the people depicted, some commenters said they took advantage of the opportunity to teach their daughters about these important women. From a media studies and parenting perspective, this intrigues me."
Noah Berlatsky at the Atlantic said that in many ways the great outfits accentuated the fabulousness of the women wearing them. Gloria Steinem as a disco princess makes her even more appealing. He says there is a universal discomfort about feminine things — such as sparkles and frills — because they are thought to trivialize things.
"But, as it turns out, making Gloria Steinem a princess is not silly and artificial," Berlasky argued in the Atlantic. "Instead, it is awesome. Which suggests, first of all, that femininity is, or can be, awesome. It can be smart, or fierce, or courageous, just like masculinity can. ... Gloss them as cynically as you will, but if you put stars on Malala Yousafzai's dress, those stars mean hope. He shows that princesses, like girls (and maybe the occasional boy, as well), can do anything — and sparkle while doing it."