Graphic Disney Princess Photography Raises Awareness for Social Issues

Disney princesses have long been used in art as a symbol of ‘happily ever after’, but a New York photography student has taken this to a new level. The likes of Ariel, Belle and Cinderella live in perfect lands, but what happens when we pull them out of our children’s bedtime stories and place them in modern society?

This is the question posed by 20-year-old Shannon Dermody. She used a Disney princess theme to shoot photographs representing contemporary social issues, such as domestic violence, pollution, police brutality, rape, heroin abuse, tobacco addiction, suicide and alcoholism.

I tied in fantasy with real issues to show that these can happen to anyone . . . People need to realize this is happening in the world, even if it doesn’t affect you.”

Belle’s relationship with the Beast in this image represents domestic violence (source: Shannon Dermody Photography)
Ariel represents the impact of pollution on sea-life and waterways (source: Shannon Dermody Photography)

Dermody is a student at the Antonelli Institute near Philadelphia. Her inspiration was drawn from a drawing she saw of a princess beaten up. The caption read “when did he stop treating you like a princess?”. This was an impact which hit her hard; an impact she wanted to create through photography.

The images have had a positive reception, with many ex-addicts reaching out to Dermody via social media to thank her for sharing awareness of these modern issues (which are becoming increasingly common) and for making them feel “less alone“.

A mild negative feedback loop occurred, with Dermody criticised for a lack of diversity in models and for including police brutality as a social issue, as well as the ‘disturbing’ nature of the images. She isn’t worried, however, concluding that art is supposed to make people feel a certain way and some respondents just don’t know how to express that. Dermody hopes to become an art therapist after college.

I think it’s brilliant that she has used fairytales which traditionally fall into the ‘white picket fence’ category of perfect, to explore ideas about these social issues and reduce the stigma surrounding them. Drop any thoughts in the comments!


2 thoughts on “Graphic Disney Princess Photography Raises Awareness for Social Issues

  1. Clever use of long-standing symbols to emphasise contemporary issues.

    Disney Princesses irk me. You know, for the typical reason – helpless female who needs to be rescued by a prince.

    On the other hand, Alice in Wonderland shows a young girl finding her own way through an intimidating reality. It’s timeless – my favourite disney movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true, Elsa from Frozen is a similar character. Rather than be a useless woman needing a man to save her, both the protagonists are strong, independent and tell the tale for themselves.


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