We're taking a small step away from weddings & parties today to venture into the world of Disney princesses - having a 5 year old little girl who loves playing dress-up, singing songs and dancing (mostly on her daddy's feet!), it's fair to say I have gotten to know the Disney princesses quite well! (On occasion, I've even found myself role playing as the prince!) My personal favourite princess tale is Frozen, which is built on strong sisterly love, strength and sheer girl power. Not to mention the awesome, reach-for-the-hairbrush anthem that is 'Let It Go'. When I saw these portraits of the princesses imagined as real women, I just had to share with you! But it also got me thinking about the ever-present debate of whether the much-admired princesses make good or bad role models for little girls... I know mums who won't let a single piece of princess paraphanalia enter the toy box for fear of their daughters growing up expecting a princely marriage to fulfil them, as well as others who have decorated their little girls' bedrooms in pink princess stuff from top to bottom. Rather conveniently, I sit comfortably on the fence. My little one does love princesses. She dresses up, sings the songs and reads the stories. She also plays sports, dreams of different careers (albeit ones that change daily!), has travelled to some really great places, is not afraid to get her hands dirty, feels proud and confident in her heritage and is very independent (ahem, bossy!)  We've all heard the criticisms of the Disney princesses, but for now let's explore some positives that you can draw from six of the most loved below:

{Images of the princesses as real women by artist Jirka Väätäinen, created using photo manipulation & digital painting}

Mulan is undoubtably one of the most inspirational Disney princesses for many reasons - she completely defies gender stereotypes by secretly taking her father's place in the army. She's a great role model for young girls, showing respect and an incredible sense of what is right. She doesn't wear a big poofy pink dress and teeter around in high heels, she is a warrior with natural beauty and confidence. She is strong, brave and independent while also displaying a softer vulnerable side which we can relate to. Far from the damsel-in-distress, Mulan teaches that girls can pursue any dream, defy any stereotype and be whatever they want to be. In a man's world, her intellegence, strength and determination make her a great soldier. Overall, her story is not one of salvation via a prince - it's Mulan who saves China and brings honour to her family.

Pocahontas is a particularly strong Disney heroine, who comes across as spiritual, sporty and very strong-willed. Pocahontas  doesn't want to be married for the sake of companionship and having someone to provide for her. She wants to go her own way on the path to self discovery. She falls in love with John Smith, seeing past their difference in skin colour. Pocahontas is courageous and accepting, seeing both perspectives of a violent war. She eventually achieves peace by bravely standing up for what she believes in. In the end, she does not return to England with John Smith, but makes the difficult decision to forsake love and stay with her people. She is not willing to sacrifice her home, her friends and her family.

Tiana was the first ever black princess, and while this alone is a great thing, there is so much more to her which should not be overlooked. Possibly the most hard working princess of all, she chooses to work 2 exhausting jobs with serious determination to fund her dream of having her own restaurant. She's as ambitious as they come, and the first princess to have a real, career related goal, which she fully intends to reach. She doesn't sit around, dreaming of a prince and waiting for opportunity to knock at her door - she truly earns all that she accomplishes. She comes to love Naveen and in the end, she gets her prince and the restaurant, showing younger generations that women can have both the loving, commited career and a successful, independent career.

Jasmine was the first princess who was not the star of the movie - Aladdin was. Jasmine is confident and strong, standing up for herself and with a resolute desire NOT to marry a prince. Jasmine has lived all her life within the confines of the palace of Agrabah, so naturally she wishes to break free. Her father wants to see her married off, but Jasmine is not one to be forced into a marriage. In fact, she states that if she ever marries, she wants it to be for love and not status. Instead of having a collection of cute animal groupies like squirrels and rabbits, Jasmine spends her days with a strong tiger named Rajah. She was the first ever non-white princess, and still she remains the sole representative of the Middle East among Disney Princesses.

Belle is a well-loved and popular Disney princess. She is beautiful, but does not come across as being aware of this in the film. Belle is adament she won't give in to what her community expects of her, and she sees the shallow side of Gaston, the bachelor about town and refuses to marry him... She wants more from life than to be just someone's wife, and is arguably the first princess to seek an adventure. Belle's resolve is tested when her father is in danger, and she doesn't hesitate to get on her horse and save him, even giving up her own freedom to spend the rest of her life in a dungeon, so he could be free. Belle sees beyond her captor the Beast's rough exterior, forgives him and allows him a chance to show her his heart.

Of all the princesses, Cinderella, who inspired generations with her rags-to-riches story, seems to polarize oppinion the most as to whether she is a positive or negative role model. While it may be true that her only apparent ambition was to fall in love, and that she did not empower herself to change her situation, but was rescued by her fairy Godmother, there are also some positive points to note: She works extremely hard, appreciates the little that she does have, never gives up and manages to see the good in people, even when they continuously oppress her.

About the images - Helinski-based artist and graphic designer Jirka Väätäinen began this stunning collection of princess portraits with an interpretation of The Little Mermaid's Ursula in April 2011 while studying graphic design at the Arts University College at Bournemouth, and has since transfored 17 Disney characters using photo-manipulation and digital painting.  Visit Jirka Väätäinen's blog for more...

Whatever your stance on the princesses, let's make sure we raise our little girls to believe in themselves and strive for amazing things... If you have 3 minutes to spare, watch this inspring video about 3 of the most dangerous words you can tell your daughter...


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