The growing popularity of Disney princesses since the introduction of Snow White to popular culture in 1937 has been steady. While most Disney princesses have been based on fairytales from the Brothers Grimm, works from other authors or historical fiction, Disney has stamped its “happily ever after” on these characters and stories to make them appeal to young viewers. The reality that these princesses are often role models for children has been highly controversial for decades. However, recognition of potential mental health disorders affecting Disney princesses can help reduce the stigma and empower children struggling with similar issues to realize they are not alone.
Ariel, the protagonist of 1989’s “The Little Mermaid,” struggles with symptoms indicative of disposophobia, otherwise known as hoarding disorder. Disposophobia affects approximately 5 percent of the population and is now recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a mental health disorder. This is characterized by difficulty in throwing things away, placing high emotional value on large quantities of old or useless possessions that have little or no monetary value. Individuals struggling with disposophobia believe these items will be worth something or be needed in the future. Some individuals struggling with disposophobia are aware of their irrational attachments to items, as Ariel appeared to be, while others are somewhat delusional about the presence of the disorder.
1991’s “Beauty and the Beast” stars Belle, a young woman who trades her freedom for the release of her father from the castle of the Beast. She develops affection for the Beast, despite the reality of the hostage situation, suggesting the onset of Stockholm syndrome. This is characterized by an individual’s irrational positive feelings toward a captor. The term was coined after a 1973 bank robbery in which hostages developed feelings of empathy and affection for the robber who held them in the bank for days. As Dr. Frank Ochberg, a PTSD and trauma expert, states, “[Hostages] experience a type of infantilisation where, like a child, they are unable to eat, speak or go to the toilet without permission.” This encourages dependence and gratitude for any small showing of humanity, such as letting someone use the restroom. Though it might very well be true love between Belle and the Beast, her behaviors and evolution of feelings toward the Beast are symptoms that correspond to Stockholm syndrome.
“Cinderella complex” is a term coined in 1981 by Colette Dowling referring to the state in which women struggle with independence and femininity. This is similar to Dependent Personality Disorder, which is believed to affect approximately 0.5 percent of the population. Dowling explains, “The Cinderella complex leads to inappropriate or ineffectual behavior on the job, to anxiety about success, to the fear that independence will lead to loss of femininity.” The name stems from the 1950 Disney film “Cinderella,” in which the title character exhibits strong dependence on Prince Charming. Prior to being rescued by Prince Charming, Cinderella is resigned to a life as her wicked stepmother’s servant.
Disney’s 1959 film “Sleeping Beauty” features Aurora, a princess who is cursed to prick her finger on a spinning wheel on her sixteenth birthday. Despite the efforts of her parents and three fairy godmothers, this omen comes true and she falls into a deep sleep that can only be broken by true love’s kiss. For this reason, the term “Sleeping Beauty syndrome” often refers to Kleine-Levin syndrome (KLS), which is characterized by cyclical periods of excessive sleep, changes in behavior and general disorientation.
Though the National Sleep Foundation reports that nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population struggles with hypersomnia on occasion, KLS is an extremely rare neurological disorder that only affects an estimated 1,000 individuals worldwide. KLS most often presents itself in adolescence and the cause is unknown. The cyclical episodes of hypersomnia associated with KLS can last anywhere from a few days to a few months, a time during which individuals sleep all day and all night except to eat or use the restroom. They require constant monitoring and are unable to go to school or work during an episode, experiencing a range of symptoms including paranoia, apathy, binge eating and a childlike mindset. In between cycles, these individuals do not present symptoms and are typically otherwise healthy individuals, similar to Princess Aurora once she was awoken by true love’s kiss.
Humanizing and reducing the stigma of mental health disorders is part of a worldwide movement to encourage individuals struggling to come forward and seek treatment. If you or your child is struggling with any of these disorders exhibited by or otherwise associated with Disney princesses, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that specializes in the treatment of adolescents and teenagers struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer