Why the Internet Obsesses Over Disney Princesses

Cristen Conger

Cinderella remixed with handsome facial hair. Buzzfeed

The Disney Princess franchise is huge. As in, bigger than Star Wars huge. In 2001, Disney began licensing spin-off princess products, and the pink and purple lineup was so immediately successful that the company conducts little market research to figure out what will sell because when it comes to princessey stuff, little girls pretty much want all of it. And today, with 11 Disney Princesses in the lineup -- Ariel, Aurora, Belle, Cinderella, Jasmine, Merida, Mulan, Pocahontas, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Tiana -- there are more merchandising opportunities than ever before, and Disney Princess is making (even more) money hand over fist to the tune of $3 billion annually, thanks to that enchanting who's who of animated heroines whose cinematic history stretches back to Snow White's 1937 debut. And one quirky fact about the DPs: although they're often displayed together, Disney Princesses never make eye contact with each other. That way, the company maintains a distinction among the characters to not diminish the value of their respective stories and films.

The massive appeal of the Disney Princesses to young girls isn't lost on me. When I was kid, while "The Little Mermaid" featured my preferred soundtrack, Belle from "Beauty in the Beast" was my favorite princess because she had brown hair and enjoyed reading just like me. I didn't necessarily aspire to be like Belle, but if I had spotted her signature yellow gown in a big box store, you bet I would've wanted to prance around in it.

These days, what I don't get so much are the endless Disney Princess remixes that Internet-loving adults can't seem to get enough of.


We might like to think we've outgrown kids' stuff like that, but then Buzzfeed Photoshops some beards on the lovely ladies, and they're viral again, and I can't help but wonder why. Speaking to The New York Times in 2006 about girls' princess craze, Miriam Forman-Brunell, a historian at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said, "Historically, princess worship has emerged during periods of uncertainty and profound social change." Do these endless iterations of the Disney Princesses therefore symbolize that we Millennials, the now-adults who grew up with Ariel, Jasmine, Belle and Pocohontas, derive comfort subconsciously from that "profound social change" in staring at Cinderalla twerking like Miley Cyrus? Probably not. A sounder business bet is that it's just more proof that Disney created a franchise so remarkably successful that it's even become a self-regenerating meme among people well outside of its target demographic.

When everyone on the Internet starts talking about the same thing for a brief period of time, we say it's gone viral. Considering how everyone on the Internet continually talks about the Disney Princesses, courtesy of these endless remixes and reimaginings, the fairytale protagonists have gone well beyond viral. Both online and offline, they're practically epidemical.

STREAM: "Are Disney Princesses good role models?"

[audio http://podcasts.howstuffworks.com/hsw/podcasts/smnty/2009-12-14-smnty-disney-princesses.mp3]