If Parents Bought Princesses Who Weren’t White, Disney Might Actually Make More
So Disney has bumped up the release date for Moana, their story about a Polynesian princess, to 2016; but here’s the thing: if no one buys Moana dolls and dresses, I’m not optimistic about when we’ll next get a princess who doesn’t look like she stepped out of a Aryan Youth poster. Disney princess merchandise sells like hotcakes – or it does if the princess in question looks a particular way. The whiter she is, the more money people will spend buying wigs, costumes, and accessories for their own precious little princesses, so as it turns out, “Who’s the fairest of them all?” is kind of a loaded question.
A brave soul named Jody Sieradzki counted up all the money spent on Disney princesses in Ebay transactions during the past year and a half, and put them into the above graph, where the size of the pink bubble represents the amount of money spent. The results are stark, if not exactly surprising. Of course, the princesses from juggernaut franchise Frozen are still crushing the competition, but an overall trend is definitely there: the fairer the face, the bigger the bucks.
The princess with the least Ebay spending was an exception: Belle from Beauty and the Beast was the subject of a mere $6,667 of spending (maybe parents are finally catching on to the whole stench of Stockholm Syndrome that pervades one of my favorite Disney films). But the two princesses of color, Jasmine from Aladdin and Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, aren’t far behind Belle, and neither of them come anywhere close to the cool $3,397,816 spent on Elsa gear. (Based on the over-the-top stories I’ve heard about desperate parents frantically snapping up Frozen merch, that $3 million was probably spent on a single Elsa costume set.) I don’t think you can chalk it up to how old the movies are, since Snow White and Cinderella are still selling well; nor to how good they were. (Unpopular opinion time: I would way rather watch The Princess and the Frog again than Frozen. I may be Queen Grumps of No-funsville, bu I just do not get the Frozen hoopla.)
Of course, as a Science Mom, I’m obligated to point out that this graph only shows a strong correlation between a princess’s skin color and her popularity; it doesn’t prove that poor sales are caused by her appearance. And since this graph is based on Ebay sales, it depends on how much merchandise of each princess was already out there. If Disney didn’t make any Tiana toys in the first place, there weren’t any to be resold–which is of course a problem on its own. Disney exists to make craploads of money, so if people were interested in buying Tiana stuff, Disney would certainly be interested in making it.
I want more awesome Disney princess role models for my daughter (and my son), and I want a lot more of them not to look exactly like her. Little girls of color need heroines to identify with, and little white kids like my daughter (especially those like my daughter, who lives in Whitey-whitesville, Wisconsin) need to learn that people who look different from them can be heroes and heroines too. By the year 2016, my daughter should be old enough to play with and enjoy a Moana doll – if I can find one out there to buy for her in the first place, that is.