“Oh, your name’s Jazmin? Like the princess?” Yes, that’s me. Affectionately nicknamed by my mother, reinforced by my doting grandparents and resentfully referred to by the ex-boyfriends who insist I have high maintenance tendencies. I am Princess Jazmin. Nice to meet you.
It’s all Disney’s fault, of course. The phonetic spelling of my name is often overlooked to align me with Jasmine, Princess of Agrabah – the real star of Aladdin and coolest member of the Disney sisterhood, by the way. It’s a resemblance I’ve always been more than happy to claim. But it’s only recently that I’ve realised what might’ve drawn me to this particular brand of fictional female royalty as a kid – on a level that goes a little deeper than tiaras and pretty dresses.
Have you ever noticed that loads of Disney princesses don’t have fathers? And if they do, they never have straightforward relationships. Disney daddy issues are A Thing. Thanks in part to PG ratings and invariably young protagonists, these girls don’t quite conform to society's most prevalent image of "woman with dad drama" (the weeping, boozy and hyper-sexualised damsel in distress who actively pursues crap men to mask that lingering sense of abandonment). But the films do manage to normalise a complicated dynamic that, even now, still struggles to be seen as anything other than debilitatingly tragic. In the real world, if someone's absent father is brought up in conversation, it's met with automatic pity and presumptuous apologies for the struggling single mother and her heartbroken daughter. Looking back, Disney presented single parenthood and difficult family relationships as unremarkably commonplace. It made me feel better about my own daddy baggage.
Disney presented single parenthood and difficult family relationships as unremarkably commonplace. It made me feel better about my own daddy baggage.
My story is also unremarkable. I don’t know my biological father and didn’t recognise that something had been missing until things didn’t work out with my stepdad. Needless to say, it was shit. Like most ten-year-old girls, I was too young, too impressionable and too vulnerable to bear the weight of how this new dynamic would come to affect my grown-up life. Later on I cried, I drank and have found myself blaming some of the awful men I’ve slept with while subconsciously trying to fulfil the role of that girl, but over the years I'd also unknowingly built up a belief in good, old-fashioned Disney magic and Walt’s world, where not having a dad around really didn’t matter.
Now that you’ve had a moment to flip through the encyclopaedia of Disney Princesses, your Twitter fingers are probably itching to tell me about the ones who had totally functional relationships with their alive and well dads, or that my beloved Princess Jasmine is one of those exceptions to the rule. But what if I told you that those princesses without a paternal presence were never depicted as needing one. Speaking from my own experience, I'm sure that having a dad there would have been nice and all, but being without one never got in the way of the leading lady's happily ever after. Not really. And the fate of those who did have living, breathing, overbearing fathers was certainly never better.
Cinderella’s dad died when she was young, as did Tiana’s in Princess and the Frog. The resilience and work ethic that’s normally attributed to male characters was transferred to them in their fathers' absence. They were put down, they toiled, they had a helping hand from a fairy godmother and voodoo priestess respectively and by the time the end credits came around they were on to bigger and better things in spite of what could have been a woe-is-me-without-my-daddy story. Tiana did it better, but Cinders did her best with some helpful rodents and a guy with a bit of a foot fetish.
Mulan's dad was around, but she impersonated a man in his honour, went to war with nothing but a dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy and still managed to save China...
Snow White is a little trickier to unravel because there's a lot that we really don't want to unpick from resigning yourself to a life as an adolescent minder for seven emotionally unstable dwarfs. Little Mermaid Ariel knew her destiny wasn't attached to King Triton, and Belle felt the same about her father, Maurice the inventor. My girl Jasmine repeatedly defied the wishes of her narrow-minded father who was desperate for her to marry a prince and sure, Mulan's dad was very much around too, but she impersonated a man in his honour, went to war with nothing but a dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy and still managed to save China, re-writing the gender rules in the process. She's swinging from a higher branch.
The point is, having and relying on a nuclear family was not a prerequisite for being a Disney princess. I'll not go so far as to suggest that the princess prototype isn't exceptionally flawed in other ways – tiny waists, giant eyes and a royal wedding as the only plausible happy end point is not the dream we're clutching for here – but the low key progressive message I did take away from the animated films that defined our childhoods, was that you're not the sum of your parents.
Whether they had a mum, an evil witch, a trio of fairies or a widowed father, our princesses followed their own paths in spite of the baggage each and every Disney dad dumped on their daughters backs. They all carried it with them, some better than others (I still struggle with Belle choosing to stay with the Beast, too), but the load got lighter the sooner they stopped being defined by it. So when one dad never showed up and the other disappeared, I came to understand that, if I wanted to, I could decide how much my daddy issues played out in the Princess Jazmin narrative. It's safe to say that this stage of my story, it doesn't even make the subplot.