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Some Thoughts About My Thesis

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I'm finally at the point where I'm done with writing and editing, and all that's left of my master's thesis is printing, binding, and signing. I've had several people ask for a little insight into what exactly I've been working on for the past year, and so now I'm sharing a few bits and pieces from an introductory document--my bibliographic essay. If I jumped from one section to another, I separated it with a little manual page break [--]. This means so much to me; I hope you enjoy.



I have always closely identified with the Disney Princesses. Before I could read, I had the Disney book version of Cinderella memorized. A spunky little toddler, I’d sit down with the upside-down book clutched to my chest and recite the tale to my parents as much as possible. The interest became an obsession when I renounced my given name and began responding only to the name “Cinderella.” There was a pointed princess hat with sequins and colorful tulle that adorned one of the posts of my curly brass bed, and “make believe” time was often some version of Sleeping Beauty.
I went to a small, private school for first through twelfth grade. I was part of a number of teams, but it was my high school cross-country girl’s team that really changed my life and has stuck with me into early adulthood. Five of us in the top ten or so became friends through our training, and after numerous races and summer camps, we all truly became the best of friends.
“The Princess Club” began, like many things in high school, with the Prom. I wore a yellow dress and went with a boy who ended up ignoring me all night, so my friends tried to make me feel better by very quickly remarking that I looked like Belle, but my date acted like a Beast. And just like that, I evolved from the three year old who wanted to be Cinderella into the sixteen year old who suddenly needed to identify strongly with Belle from Beauty and the Beast.
The rest of the girls assumed roles of their own—our blonde, down-to-earth friend was Cinderella, our long-haired, spunky friend became Ariel, our friend who was working several after-school jobs and took a lot of naps was Sleeping Beauty, and with a very Disneyfied treatment of race, our Filipino friend took the only non-white princess available and happily became Jasmine. All of us have collections of cards and notes from one another, adorned with stickers of our respective princesses, and I still receive Princess Belle birthday cards in the mail, even from friends of my parents. My high school friends and I were outgoing and fun, but we were exclusive. We’ve stayed friends over the last six or seven years, but it hasn’t been without unnecessary drama, and a few of us aren’t as close as we used to be.
So, when it came time to choose a topic for my thesis, I knew that I wanted to do something regarding Disney’s Princesses and the idea of friendship. I had taken a course on Anthropomorphism in Children’s Literature the summer before and was noticing that all Disney characters, especially the Princesses, have anthropomorphized animal friends. Instead of sweet and charming, I found the animal friends to be disturbing because they did nothing for the story except for helping each princess triumph over the opposing evil force so that they could win the love of their prince. Without them, though, the Princess would just sing and dance through the film until eventually, she married a strange man. 
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I finally decided that what disturbed me most about the idea of friendship in Disney’s Princess films was not the animal friends, but the fact that almost any of them could have been a female human friend, and weren’t. It might sound odd, but I still feel frustrated that Flounder in The Little Mermaid could have so easily just been another little mermaid, but instead was a male, anthropomorphized fish. A mermaid friend had the potential to bring something special to Ariel’s life before the Prince; Flounder was an animal who seemed human-like, but could be left without much thought on her wedding day. So that’s what I was thinking about when I started this paper.
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I knew that I wanted to examine the absence of friendship and how that made for an unrealistic and strange world, but it wasn’t until I connected the Disney films to Mean Girls that I realized that this wasn’t just a strange quirk; it was a real-life problem.
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The more I connected the Disney films with Mean Girls, the more I understood what I was trying to say: that I was finding these connections for a reason, and that young girls very well may start out on the path of the innocent little Princess in their youth, but if they don’t learn how to make and keep friends, they end up acting like Mean Girls in high school and college. I discovered that it was not just the absence of friendship that I wanted to discus in my thesis, but the addition of conflict between women as well. I decided to focus on the Disney Princess films that not only portrayed a young girl with no female friends, but who also encounters an evil female antagonist—that is, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid.
            --
           I am almost twenty-four years old and have had friendships my entire life, but the past year of working on this thesis has really made a profound impact on the way I see and react to the people around me. There were parallels between my work and my life that lined up in ways that really made me think. I always just believed that my issues with my past friends never had anything to do with me; that they were caused because my friends had their own issues which made our friendship too difficult. My friends thought they were princesses, and that was the problem—but I’m embarrassed to say that it never really occurred to me just how “princess-y” it was for me to even think that in the first place.
More than anything, I have learned—from both writing my thesis and from talking to other women about it—that I have something to offer to my generation, as well as the next ones. I learned that almost every young woman has at least one friendship that fell apart and really broke her heart, and that deep down, female friendship actually is important to us. I learned to trust other women, and that not doing so was not just ridiculous, but harmful. Most importantly, I learned that this is not some huge, impossible-to-solve cultural problem, but one with a solution. And finally, my thesis taught me that there is still so much hope for us.

27 comments:

  1. Wow. Incredible.

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  2. Well said. I can sooo relate. Congrats on finishing your thesis, hope to read more on this from you soon. :)

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  3. Wow. This is so awesome. I wish I could read your thesis!

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  4. I'm pretty much psyched about your thesis. It's brilliant, and original, and something that REALLY needs to be heard!!! What degree are you graduating with?

    I seriously read and loved this whole post!
    http://insunshineandshadowsmew.blogspot.com/

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  5. Wow what an amazing topic to look into! The role Disney has in shaping ideas, even in early childhood is so interesting.. once you brush off the nutbags and their subliminal sex messages in Disney lectures ;)
    All the best with your submission
    Courtney x

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  6. Wow. This is so interesting! I think about the subject of Disney Princesses quite often and it's great to see your passion for it. As I get older, I realize more and more how my past friendships have affected my life and how many of those people aren't friends of mine today. It's such a beautifully complex subject matter. I commend you on all the research and work you've done! Thanks so much for sharing!

    And I agree there is plenty of hope for the future!

    www.coralscountry.blogspot.com

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  7. this is actually fascinating! I never thought of it like that. I feel that everyone is always quick to point out the lack of independence/dependence on men that these princesses have, but no one ever mentions the lack of female friendships. I wonder if as children, this did have an effect on how we viewed our peers.

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  8. Wow, this is awesome - thanks for sharing it! The anthropomorphism factor is one that I've come up against with the princesses - something about it just doesn't sit right - but I've never really seen it fleshed out like this! Super interesting!

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  9. Congratulations! It really is such an empowering piece. I can taste a margarita as I read this. #ursula #princess #media #woman

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  10. this is such a big deal!! i'm so excited that it's almost finished! however, i still believe you should include some kind of epilogue with the instructions to your accompanying master thesis drinking game. i mean, professors like to imbibe too!!

    CupcakesOMG!

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  11. Wow! You are so talented! This post is so well written and such a unique subject that never really gets discussed! Especially among women. Love it. The correlation with the Disney princesses is so interesting as well, I can tell this thought is going to be lingering in my mind now! Awesome!

    xo

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  12. love this. You're such a smarty pants. I bet it feels so good to share something that's been a giant part of your life the past however many months.

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  13. This is so impressive. I completely love it. You're truly amazing. Thank you so much for sharing!

    smileyius.blogspot.com

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  14. Wow... that was incredible to read and to think about. You are an amazing writer and the connections you have made really forced me to see those films and Disney differently. This post definitely spiked my interest but left me wanting to hear more,hope you post more about this topic in the near future. <3

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  15. Wow. This is beyond impressive. I would have never thought to make that connection. Again, your writing is so eloquent, you leave the reader wanting more and more. I'm sure the rest of the thesis is just as beautiful. Congratulations dear!

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  16. Thank you so much, everyone! I'm trying to respond to every comment but some email addresses aren't attached. I just want you all to know how much your kind words mean to me!

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  17. This is something I've always been interested in as well. I was in high school when "Mean Girls" came out and the movie was so similar to my life (and still is now, even at the age of 23). I think it's really smart to see the connection between female friendships and Disney princesses as well.

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  18. Wow, this is so awesome. You are an amazing writer and thinker. Congratulations on everything with the thesis!!

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  19. From a fellow english major - I loved it. It was a pleasure to read something both intelligent and eloquent. Well done! xxxx

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  20. Congratulations Megan! It must feel great to have accomplished this. I'd love to read a follow up piece in ten-fifteen years about those female friendships.

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  21. Now I want to read your whole thesis! I am not even kidding...It sounds like you uncovered some important things and made connections that most of us don't even consider.

    Your topic sounds very unique, but really, necessary!

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  22. This is such a cool idea for a thesis! It's so interesting! Congratulations on getting your thesis almost-done

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  23. Hmm. I think this ate my comment! I got an error message? Not sure what happened there ;) I wanted to say congratulations!! You're amazing and I hope you celebrate like crazy because you deserve it <3 xoxo! eliza

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  24. Congrats on being almost done. I love these posts. Keep it coming! :)

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  25. I loved your blog.... A different and unique idea to work on. If you'd like an external editing of your thesis, visit www.schoolassists.com.

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  26. You are so smart to be so young. I love how your mind works. Like all the other comments, I would love to read your thesis.

    When Melissa was a little girl, I wanted to make sure she understood that she didn't need anyone to rescue her. I used to read to her from a book of modernized fairy tales. Where Goldilocks stood her ground, Cinderella didn't marry the prince, etc. Recently I found out that she doesn't remember these stories-but I think she remembered the message.

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  27. Oh my goodness, I never thought I'd be sitting here wanting to actually read an entire thesis, but yours makes me want to read more! And I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog - Betsy referred me over here after I posted a couple recipes, and I'm loving your blog!

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