This is what a Princess Looks Like: Fictional Edition

The other day, I heard a story about a little girl who didn’t understand how Leia from Star Wars could be a princess if she wasn’t wearing a pink dress. This got me thinking about princesses and how we look at them in our society. When I searched “princess” in Google images, almost every single picture was of princesses from Disney films. I challenged myself to think of what other princesses look like in TV, movies, and comics. Many of them fit the classic fairy tale aesthetic, but others are portrayed quite differently.

As the documentary Miss Representation revealed, telling girls how they should look and behave can have devastating effects. I’ve discussed this concept with others, in particular how destructive it can be to make girls desire to be the Fairest of Them All like the princesses they see on TV. For example, the princesses that girls dress up as for Halloween tend to be ones focused on superficial things like beauty and out-dated etiquette (Except maybe for this little Batman Princess or these Darth Vader Princesses).

However, there are some fictional princesses who aren’t vain or weak—who are portrayed as intelligent and compassionate leaders, leaders who might become a queen someday. The list below is a few of the fictional ladies I believe break the typical princess mold in some way. I admit that some of these princesses are still not perfect examples for young girls, but they do exhibit characteristics that should be encouraged.

Leia (portrayed by Carrie Fisher) on the forest moon of Endor in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars Episodes IV, V, & VI and various novels.)
Since Leia was the inspiration for this post, I felt it was prudent to make her the first on the list. Although some might remember her just for the “slavekini” she was forced to wear in Return of the Jedi, she does wear a variety of clothing throughout the trilogy. We see her in a white dress on the Death Star, white snow appropriate clothing on Hoth, camouflage gear on the forest moon of Endor, and many more. All of these outfits, besides the bikini, cover her modestly and are efficient for the task at hand.

Moving past her appearance, we find that Leia is not only a princess, but also a member of the Imperial Senate. She is comfortable taking command in both diplomatic and military conditions. Not only can she shoot a blaster with precision, she becomes a Jedi Knight in the novels.

Adrienne with her sword and Bedelia with her hammer ready to defend themselves on the cover of Princeless #4

Princess Adrienne (Princeless)
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Princeless yet, you are really missing out. Princess Adrienne is locked in a tower by her parents so that a knight can come rescue her. Adrienne finds a sword under her bed and instead of waiting for a prince, she teams up with her dragon guardian, Sparky, and flies off to save her sisters. She initially wears armor that she finds around her tower and is later disgusted to see what options were available for female warriors (including an obvious parody of Xena’s armor). Her newfound friend, Bedelia, makes her some real armor after receiving input from Adrienne.

You may notice that Adrienne is the only princess of color on this list (unless you count the color green). Besides the few Disney princesses, I found it difficult to think of fictional women of color with the title, “princess”. I know there must be more out there, but I find it depressing that no other examples came to my mind right away.

Princess Fiona in her ogre form.

Fiona (Shrek film series)
When we first meet Fiona she looks, behaves, and speaks like the classic princess locked in a tower. As she corrects Shrek on his rescue, it becomes obvious that she is following a script from a storybook. It is not until the second day of traveling that she reveals that she is highly trained in hand-to-hand combat and perfectly okay with letting out a belch in mixed company. Later, when she finds out about her ogre form, she is ashamed of it. Ultimately she realizes it is her true form and accepts herself. In the second movie, she even becomes upset with Shrek for wishing for them to be human.

Xena (on the right, portrayed by Lucy Lawless) standing with Gabrielle (portrayed by Renée O'Connor)

Xena (Xena: Warrior Princess)
Though she is not a princess in the traditional sense, she still holds the title of Warrior Princess and that is good enough for me. I remember watching Xena when I was younger and admiring her fighting skills, especially with the chakram. Not only was she a great fighter, she was also a good friend to Gabrielle. It seems that strong female fighters are often placed among men to prove themselves. In Xena: Warrior Princess, we get to see two women work together as friends and partners.

The costume Lucy Lawless wore as Xena and the weapons she carried are iconic. The leather and metal armor do not provide the full coverage one would want on a battlefield, but they do provide her with a wide range of movement. Even Lucy Lawless said that she found the costume to be functional once she got over the shortness of the skirt. I’m not saying that it is perfect, especially since her thighs, part of her arms, and her chest are exposed, but it gives a better illusion of protection than the spandex of other female fighters.

These are only a few of the princesses that I considered for this list. Honorable mentions include The Paper Bag Princess, Wonder Woman, Princess Mononoke/San, Princess Bubblegum, and Princess Adora/She-Ra.

Join us next week for “This is What a Princess Looks Like: Nonfiction Edition”

What princesses would you add to this list? Why?


Anna Daniell
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31 responses to “This is what a Princess Looks Like: Fictional Edition”

  1. Juli Mayers says:

    Diana, Princess of the Amazons perhaps? Or even Relena Peacecraft from Gundam Wing or if you want to get really specific Mononoke Hime of the same title…. then there’s always Princesses Celestia and Luna from My Little Pony: Friendship is magic.

    And if the rule is of course non-Disney what about Anastasia from 20th Century Fox’s Animated film?

    • Anna Daniell says:

      Diana/Wonder Woman is listed under the honorable mentions and I like your other suggestions. I haven’t had a chance to watch My Little Pony: Friendship is magic yet. Would you recommend it?

  2. Alys says:

    The Paper Bag Princess, a children’s book written by Robert Munsch

    Princess Elizabeth plans on marrying Prince Ronald, who is practically perfect. However, a dragon arrives who destroys her kingdom, kidnaps Ronald, and burns all her clothes so that she has no choice but to wear a paper bag. Elizabeth follows the dragon and Ronald, and seeking to rescue her fiancé, challenges the dragon to burn forests with fire and to fly around the world. The dragon completes the tasks but after flying around the world a second time becomes tired and falls asleep. Elizabeth rescues Ronald, who is ungrateful and tells her to return when she looks more like a princess. Elizabeth realizes that she is better off without Ronald and sets off into the sunset to live her own life. (from Wikipedia, but just as I remember it)

  3. Lya says:

    Starfire, or Princess Koriand’r, originally from The New Teen Titans. What originally drew me to her was her loyalty to the other Titans, along with the joy she takes from fighting the good fight and kicking butt. And much like Xena, she of course doesn’t always wear very much, but for her personality I think it fits.

    • Anna Daniell says:

      I loved Starfire on the Teen Titans cartoon, but I’ve been really disappointed with her character in the new 52.

      • Lya says:

        Oh, I completely agree. Much of the cartoon was written and approved by Marv Wolfman, Starfire’s creator, which is why she’s so awesome in the show.

        DCnU Starfire is not an awesome princess, as I have yet to see anything that proves she doesn’t just exist as pin-up material.

  4. Mongolian Muttonchops says:

    Faris and Lenna from Final Fantasy V!

    Even though Butz (or Bartz, depending), is the “token character” of FFV, the story revolved primarily around these two: Lenna, the known princess from the beginning who is out to save the world, and Faris, her badass mofo pirate captin sister.

  5. Jules Rivera says:

    Sailor Moon was the Moon Princess, and she was a pretty good non-traditional princess. When not decked out in her lunar threads, she’s a klutz and a screw up. However, she’s still got superheroine status, and a team of all female fighters to back her up. Does she count?

  6. I nominate Ella from Ella Enchanted (the book, not the movie). She became a Princess at the end of the book… hopefully that still counts. 🙂

  7. Violet in The Princess Knight (children’s book). Second Diana/Wonder Woman. Daenerys Targaryn is fierce, but I guess not for kids so much. Winnifred/Fred in Once Upon a Mattress is pretty amusing and strong, too.

  8. Amanda says:

    I suggest some Narnian ladies: Lucy, Susan, and Aravis. Gutsy girl role models for us in the pre-title 9 generation.

  9. Joanne says:

    Babette Cole’s Princess Smartypants.

  10. Kristine says:

    The re-imagined Snow White in Once Upon A Time isn’t bad, she’s definitely more capable than her animated version.

    Azula (Avatar) is a little crazy but one hell of an antagonist for Aang + the others, plus she’s quite effective. Quite.

    And while not a princess either, Toph Bei Fong (Avatar) came from a moneyed family. I’d put her on a honourable mention list.

    • Anna Daniell says:

      I do like how Once Upon A Time has chosen to present some of the classic fairy tale characters. Fables also has some interesting versions of Snow White and other princesses.

      Azula, though not exactly a role model, is definitely an amazing character.

      Toph does have a similar role to a princess, if not the title. She is one of my favorite characters from A:TLA. Actually, I just love that whole show!

  11. Jen says:

    A few novel suggestions:

    Royesse Iselle (equivalent title to Princess) from Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion.

    The heroines of Jim C. Hines’ Princess fantasy series, starting with The Stepsister Scheme, which re-imagines Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty as kick-ass heroines.

    Princess Klia of Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner novels.

    Princess Cimorene of Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons

    • Anna Daniell says:

      Great suggestions! It looks like I have more books to add to my “To Read” list. 🙂

      Just so you know, I didn’t include princesses from novels in my post because I wanted to focus on how princesses are depicted visually along with their personalities. Even with descriptions, readers are left to their own imaginations to picture the characters. That is not saying that there aren’t fantastic princess characters in novels, as you have pointed out, they just weren’t the focus of this specific post.

  12. Joanne says:

    Elora Danan from the Shadow War trilogy (aka the book sequels to Willow).

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