Fed up with superficial stories about damsels in distress, a mother creates a positive alternative for children.
She decided to create a new book series called the Guardian Princesses, about a diverse group of women who protect the environment and model compassion and self-reliance.
In their quest to redefine beauty standards, Shigematsu says, the designers and illustrators welcome feedback from readers about how their characters should look. Though they still have the giant twinkly eyes, tiny chins, small noses, poreless skin, and luscious manes of the traditional Disney cartoons, the Guardian Princesses were deliberately designed to range from size 2 to 14, and the group is racially and culturally diverse—steps in the right direction. Fronting a multi-billion dollar brand, Disney Princesses have enraged feminists for decades. Setsu Shigematsu, a Southern California mother and professor of media and communications at the University of California, Riverside, was fed up with this outdated cast of characters. The Guardian Princesses were born when Shigematsu decided to write an alternative princess story for her daughter’s fifth birthday party.


Though they still have the giant twinkly eyes, tiny chins, small noses, poreless skin, and luscious manes of the traditional Disney cartoons, the Guardian Princesses were deliberately designed to range from size 2 to 14, and the group is racially and culturally diverse.
In her quest to redefine beauty standards, Shigematsu says she welcomes feedback from readers about how the characters should look.
One way the Guardian Princess series aims to market itself is that it's written in accordance with Common Core, the educational standards currently held by 45 states, which gives it more of a chance of succeeding in elementary school classrooms. Many boys jumped up and enthusiastically exclaimed they wanted to join the Guardian Princesses.
The Guardian Princess series is fighting against a still-strong tide: in May, when Pixar redesigned Merida, the star of Brave, they made her waist smaller and her hair bigger.
But instead of banning princesses from her family altogether, she decided to create a new book series called the Guardian Princesses, about a diverse group of women who protect the environment and model compassion and self-reliance. After an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from her daughter and other mothers, she decided to turn it into a series with anime-inspired illustrations, which she is self-publishing, and which will be available this month.


Which raises some questions: Will there ever be a story about a princess with acne, or oversized ears, or even glasses? Incidentally, animators often reserve that formula for villains, like Maleficent or the witch in Snow White. And in a world where traditional gender roles are becoming increasingly less defined and restrictive, Shigematsu says, "I believe that the Guardian Princesses will appeal to girls and boys.
The messages their stories deliver are often sexist (the Little Mermaid has to sacrifice her ability to speak in order to get with Prince Charming?). Efforts like Shigematsu's to turn the princess archetype on its head are still sorely needed, and can only help in promoting a healthier body image and allowing a more diverse range of women to see themselves reflected positively in the media.



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