That's Enough, Disney Girls


Once upon a time, the Disney Channel was a cable option that provided goofy fare like Dumbo’s Circus, Donald Duck Presents, and The House At Pooh Corner. But then the 90’s came. And everything changed.

Originally envisioned (and still touted) as a children’s programming network, the Disney Channel, much like it’s mall twin, The Disney Store, set out to recreate the Disney Experience at home: you could get your fill of your favorite Disney characters without hoofing it down to Florida or out to California for a big vacation. Movies like The Shaggy Dog and television shows like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet played on the channel, which didn’t rely on original programming as much as it’s tremendously awesome competitor, Nickelodeon, did in the 1980’s, turning out some of the most creative and weird children’s programs of all time.

And so, in order to connect with “the kids”, the Disney Channel dropped Ozzie and Harriet and set out to make new stars. The first steps, of course, were shows like Kids Incorporated and The New Mickey Mouse Club or MMC, the former of which gave us Fergie, Jennifer Love Hewitt, and Mario Lopez, and the latter of which gave us, as we all know, Britney, Christina, Justin, Ryan Gosling, and Keri Russell.

By 2000, Disney had become a star-making machine, with former Mouseketeers running around in shiny pants and singing Max Martin-penned songs all over the globe. Disney had the power to create major stars in a way it hadn’t since the days of Annette Funicello and Hayley Mills. And this, sadly, is what brings us to the problem we face today: the unending string of Disney Girls.

If the revival began with Stacy Ferguson, it currently rests with Selena Gomez, the up-and-comer whom all of you already hate for taking on the role of Beezus Quimby in the upcoming Beezus and Ramona adaptation. We’re supposed to be interested in and excited for Selena Gomez: she’s the next big thing! But Selena Gomez, dude, I am telling you right now. You need to run. Run far, far away.

For what becomes of a Disney Girl? Let’s break it down, shall we?

  • Step 1: The Fresh Faced Sweetheart Remember this kid? It’s Lindsay Lohan, circa 1997. When The Parent Trap was released, Lohan was praised by Roger Ebert as having a “sunny charm.” Of course we all know what happened to Lindsay Lohan, sadly. The New York Post called one of her later films, I Know Who Killed Me: “A sleazy, inept and worthless piece of torture porn.” Of course you don’t go from “sunny charm” to “torture porn” without going through a few steps first. Like, say, Step 2.
  • Step 2: But What I Really Want To Be Is A Singer Acting is like, totes cool, but every real Disney Girl wants to be (or, in the interest of cross-promotion, is groomed to be) a rock star, too. Like, say, Hilary Duff, who went from starring as adorable Lizzie McGuire to having a sugar-pop, non-offensive musical career that spawned the theme song to Laguna Beach. Yet here lies the trap of a Disney Girl: while it is cool to be a sugar pop star at the age of 15, by the time one is 18 or so, the need to express the “I’m not a little kid anymore” sentiment comes out, and you end up separating yourself from the teen world completely by posing for Maxim. Or, in the case of Vanessa Hudgens, you get caught sending nude photos of yourself to your boyfriend over your cell phone. Voila! Instant “adult” cred.
  • Step 3: Scandal= Maturity Here’s where the Disney Girl curse kicks in. Because the public views these young women as wholesome little angels, the only way they seem to feel it possible to break their Disney image (or, rather, their Disney contracts) and move on is to either a. get caught naked, b. get caught with drugsthat “aren’t really” their drugs, Lohan style, c. get caught in a racist photo or a creepy-ass photo with one’s father in Vanity Fair ala Miley Cyrus, d. Pose for Maxim like Hilary Duff, e. Change one’s name to Fergie, have a crystal meth binge, and sing about one’s humps and lady lumps, f. Become Britney Spears, g. Make the “Dirrty” video, like Christina Aguilera, and so on and so forth. The sense of independence, of owning one’s sexuality, of adulthood; these things all come at a great price for Disney Girls. It’s a weird and sad pattern: an exaggerated version of what many women go through- you’re expected to be sweet, and then BAM! you’re a sex object.
  • Step 4: Replaced The ultimate freedom for any Disney Girl, really, is the sense that there is someone else waiting to take their place. Miley Cyrus’ recent spat of unwholesome behavior may be due to the fact that she’s almost done being Hannah Montana, and that her role as America’s Tweenage Sweetheart is coming to an end: someone else will come along (most likely Selena Gomez) to fill the role of Super Role Model, to drone on and on in typical Disney bullshit style about the importance of virginity and making dreams come true. Will Miley end up coked up in an LA bathroom or on the cover of FHM? One never knows. But the pattern is pretty clear.

I know this is an incredibly long post, but I want to point something out here: we, as a society, allow this pattern to keep happening. We allow young women to take on the role of America’s Role Model, and then act shocked and horrified when they crack under the pressure or screw up as they enter the awkwardness of their late teens. We buy these stupid records, we take our kids, nieces, etc. to see these stupid movies, we buy into this image of the girl who has everything, and then we celebrate a bit when she falls on her face, knowing that another fresh faced sweetheart will be there, waiting in the wings. And honestly, with Miley Cyrus posing for racist pics, Hilary Duff taking shots at Faye Dunaway’s face, Lindsay’s life being plagued with drug and family problems, Britney still trying to pull herself together after years of mental and physical problems, perhaps something needs to be done about the Disney Girl Role Model System, for as it stands, it’s a big ol’ FAIL.

Let me be clear, though: these women have all made some pretty serious mistakes, but the Disney set up is the real problem here- the “isn’t she an adorable, inoffensive virgin who dresses like a 25 year old” image they have their starlets project, knowing full well how it’s turned out in the past.

Interestingly enough, Disney Boys don’t seem to fall to the same fate: Timberlake has admitted to doing drugs but keeps it private, Gosling is a respected actor, and the Jonas Brothers, I imagine, much like the Hanson brothers, will fade away, keeping their hardcore fans. And perhaps the reason for this is because the public expects boys to grow up, sleep around, party, and screw up, while the girls are expected to remain pure as the driven snow until they marry Prince Charming and sell the baby pictures to USWeekly.

Is there anything we can do about it? Maybe not. As long as there are 12 year old girls and crack Disney marketing teams, it’s a hard battle to fight. But in the end, maybe it’s time we stop paying so much attention to the Disney Girls. Every one we prop up ends up falling on her face. If young girls in this country need decent role models, perhaps we should start looking at ourselves, instead of the television set.

Roger Ebert: Parent Trap Review [Chicago Sun-Times]
I Know Who Killed Me Review[New York Post]
Miley Cyrus Denies Pulling Racist Pose{The Guardian]
Hilary Duff Poses For Maxim[Scandalist]
Vanessa Hudgens Scandal Can’t Stop High School 2 Musical Reign [MTV]
Drugs Connected To Lindsay Lohan Photo Crash [People]

Earlier: Ramona The Best: Why Does Hollywood Have To Ruin Everything?
Miley Cyrus Is Not The Innocent Victim That Disney Makes Her Out To Be
What’s The Allure Of Everything Disney?

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