Halloween has come and gone, and with it that most terrifying of Halloween costumes: princesses. Angst about the ubiquitous, frivolous, artificial, beauty-obsessed femininity of Disney princesses is year-round, but is perhaps especially intense at this time of year, and that may be why David Trumble's anti-Disney-Princess satire—a gallery of 10 inspiring female heroes, from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Harriet Tubman to Malala Yousafzai, reimagined as princesses—is making the rounds on the web again after first appearing last May.
Trumble was initially responding to Disney’s “girlification” of Merida from Brave in their princess marketing. Trumble started thinking of great female role models, and wondering, as he put it, "How many of these women would be improved by a few extra sparkles?" The point here is supposed to be that, contrary to what Disney might be suggesting, strong, inspiring women—female role models—don't need to be princesses, and that turning them into princesses trivializes them. Heroes don't need sparkles, and sparkles distract from the heroines. In fact, though, Trumble's drawings don't so much satirize princesses as, rather wonderfully, validate them.
In some cases the satire works. Turning Anne Frank into "The Holocaust Princess" (later changed to "Diary Princess")* is, baldly tasteless, as Trumble intends. The princess narrative of wealth, prestige, and gutsy triumph sits very uncomfortably next to the persecution and mass tragedy of the Holocaust. The cute, sparkly, flowery dress and big-eyed cheer comes across as inappropriate, ghoulish irony; her blank cheer almost seems to mock Frank's real life. Disney stories of spunky girl power overcoming evil fall painfully flat in the face of the gas chambers.
But while the princess iconography may not work for Frank, it works fine in other instances—like Gloria Steinem, reimagined as the “Trailblazer Princess." Trumble draws Steinem as a full-on glam '70s disco princess, with giant, clunky round glasses; flaring pants spangled with stars; a crazy, amazing purple belt; and hands eloquently positioned for disco-dancing or karate-chopping. She looks cool, confident, and super-fabulous. I have trouble imagining that Steinem herself (who was, after all, a fan of Wonder Woman) wouldn't find it thoroughly appealing. This princess isn't a satire or a trivialization. She's a tribute.