The American Dream in The Princess and the Frog

For my final project, my goal was to explore the way modern fairy tales, in the form of Disney princess films, deal with the idea of class mobility. I discuss how the Disney princesses fall into two categories: they’re either born royal (wealthy and privileged), or end the story royal without putting in too much work. The only exception is Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, who works hard as a waitress to save money to reach her goal of opening a restaurant. This subscribes exactly to the American dream – the idea that working hard enough will lead to prosperity, regardless of race, class, age, sex, or any other extenuating circumstances. However, that dream never comes true for most people, so I wanted to explore what role it plays within the Disney universe and how it is falsely perpetuated by films like The Princess and the Frog.

I decided on an audio podcast as the medium for my project, partially just because I like podcasts, but also because I thought it would be a good way to explain complicated ideas in a relatively concise way. In the piece, I used mostly just my own voice along with a few audio clips from other sources to sum up my argument that this film fails to deal with class or race in a meaningful way by never addressing either topic head on. Despite Disney trying to catch up to the real world by finally including a black princess, by making Tiana the only princess who ever really works and never examining why exactly she has to work so hard, the film actually encourages the harmful idea that poor people (often people of color) may just not be trying hard enough.


Breaux, Richard. “After 75 Years of Magic: Disney Answers Its Critics, Rewrites African American History, and Cashes in on Its Racist past.” Journal of African American Studies, vol. 14, no. 4, Dec. 2010, pp. 398-416.

Gregory, Sarita. “Disney’s Second Line: New Orleans, Racial Masquerade, and the Reproduction of Whiteness in the Princess and the Frog.” Journal of African American Studies, vol. 14, no. 4, Dec. 2010, pp. 432-449.

National: Defining the American Dream | The New York Times. Prod. Shayla Harris and Katharine Q. Seelye. YouTube. 7 May 2009. Web. <;.

The Princess and the Frog. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Walt Disney Pictures, 2009.

The Rapunzel Complex: Fighting Gender and Beauty Ideals Through Hair


I created an Instagram account entitled the Rapunzel Complex (@rapunzelcomplex) to create a communal space for individuals who do not conform to traditional, gendered beauty ideals to find solace and strength in the stories of their peers. To accomplish this, I conducted a series of interviews (similar to the Humans of New York interviews) with individuals whose hairstyles willfully reject gendered expectations of how individuals should style their hair (ex. Women should have long hair and men should have short hair). In turn, this project created a space to educate, share, and normalize rejections of gender and beauty ideals in a radicalizing, feminist world.


In using Instagram as the platform for the interviews, the stories and experiences of real people could be injected into the everyday life of the project’s followers. This project was able to take a visual component of society (beauty) and display images which did not look like the other images which may appear in an Instagram user’s feed.The interview and picture posts were effective in normalizing the content of the project, and in publishing these interviews in a public sphere, these interviews of people who do not conform to gender ideas became a part of everyday discourse, normalizing the subject and showing how these transgressions are acceptable and encouraged.


As indicated by the title of the Instagram, this project was based upon the story of Rapunzel and the importance of her hair within her life. In nearly every variation of the tale which was encountered, Rapunzel is described as a long, fair-haired (i.e. blonde) girl, and it is this image upon which traditional beauty ideals seem bound. This project, through the interviews and pictures of men and women who do not adhere to typical, societal beauty ideals, critiques the idea of gendered beauty constructed through the Rapunzel tale. These participants rejected traditional standards, choosing to instead embrace their natural hair, grow out their hair if they were male, cut or even shave their hair if they were female, or treat their hair in ways which did not align with traditional ideas of beauty presented in Rapunzel.


Works Cited:
Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. The Annotated Brothers Grimm. Ed. Maria Tatar. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company; Bct edition, 2012. Print.
Into the Woods. Dir. James Lapine. Perf. Bernadette Peters. Image Entertainment, 1989.
Sexton, Anne. “Rapunzel.” Transformations. Boston, Mass. ; New York, N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin, 2001, pp. 35-42. Print.

Additional sources can be found in individual posts on the Instagram. These sources are merely the ones which framed the course of the project.

Interpreting Fairy Tales Through Tarot



In this creative project, I created ten tarot cards from the 21 major arcana. In a traditional tarot deck, there are 78 cards consisting of four suits – Cups, Pentacles, Swords, and Wands. These suits are called the minor arcana; the major arcana illustrate human consciousness, holding meanings that can help one interpret life events or stages by reading into their significance. I chose to recreate the cards of Temperance, The Devil, The Moon, The Empress, Strength, Death, The Magician, Tower, Judgment, and The Hermit. Each card is an abstract collage made from magazine cutouts, paint, and ink that alludes to a fairy tale or character that is relevant to the meaning of that particular tarot card.

Three of the cards I have related to “Little Red Riding Hood” tales. These include Temperance, The Devil, and The Moon. The Temperance card is symbolic of balance and patience, reminding me of Hayley in Hard Candy and her role as both predator and prey in her plan. The Devil represents a trickster figure, very indicative of the wolf when he disguises himself as the grandmother. Further, The Moon I interpreted as the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” as a whole, with its allusion to an unstable situation.

Two of the cards, Death and The Hermit, are representative of The Beast and Belle. The Death card symbolizes a new change or beginning, similar to The Beast’s transformation of the self. For The Hermit card, I chose Belle because she has a strong desire to understand things around her.

The Tower and Judgment cards allude to the Bluebeard narratives for because of the sudden and unexpected discovery and lessons to be learned from this finding. Snow White I depicted as The Empress, a card regarding all things feminine including beauty and nature, which she is sometimes compared with. The Strength tarot card is symbolic of the Cinderella for its aspects of patience and maturity in difficult situations. Lastly, The Little Mermaid is The Magician, using her creative power to accomplish her goal of seeing the human world.

Vivisection: Anatomy of a Princess



At first glance, Anatomy of a Princess is a storybook depiction of a princess in a fairytale forest, featuring bright colors and a variety of textures that might attract a child. The subject of the piece is a pale princess wearing a white dress, surrounded by a halo of golden hair in a twilight forest. Upon closer inspection, the princess figure has several panels that swing open to reveal hidden details. Her dress, representing the social construct of virginity, swings aside to reveal the nude female form of indeterminate age. Her body is divided into panels, which revel her internal components. Her skull opens to  a void filled with an oversized ring, critiquing the prominence of the marriage plot in fairytales. Her throat and chest opens to reveal a spine made of ribbon and an undersized heart, indicating a weak will and stunted emotional development. Her torso conceals a stomach pinched with chains to fit within her small frame, and a treasure chest in place of a womb. These “organs” symbolically represent the socio-political conditions that fairytales are built upon, many of them indicative of the systematic oppression women. The act of vivisecting the smiling princess encourages the viewer to coldly analyze even beloved fairytales for the ugly social realities that formed our childhood bedtime stories.

The broad concept of this project rests upon undermining the innocent simplicity of fairytales and revealing the complex, ugly sociopolitical ideas espoused by these stories. The piece is composed of flat paper shapes layered atop one another, reflecting the flat characters and simple plots that typical fairytales. However, the paper princess is not a whole figure, but a composite of incongruous elements. Similarly, the simple plots and moral messages coded within these stories are composed of centuries of ingrained ideas regarding gender, morality, and sexuality.

‘Immaculate’ – Subversive Illustrations of Fairy Tale Children



Within many classic fairy tales, there exists the common trope of the most perfect, beautiful female characters who are forced to allow their own defilement and oftentimes even welcome their own death in the name of altruism and compassionate self-sacrifice. Examples of this are demonstrated in characters like Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid, who chooses to turn into sea foam rather than slay her prince, as well as in Disney’s Belle, who is quick to barter her own imprisonment with the Beast in exchange for her father’s freedom. As noble and enduring as these self-sacrificing heroines are, however, they are also a perpetuation of an inherently harmful idea rooted within the crux of the ideal femininity: the necessity of self-effacement and obedience in adherence to impossible societal standards.

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