On Thursday July 27th 2017, I, a grown woman, went to Disney Princess auditions.
As an adult with a Master’s degree, a full time job, a husband, and a dog whose teeth cleaning I had just paid for, I probably shouldn’t have been there.
But I was.
I was there.
And, while I was looking at the experience as something fun to do, I wouldn’t have scoffed at the offer to legitimately pretend to be a princess in the Disney Parks on my free weekends (it doesn’t work that way. You can’t be a part-time weekend princess, and Disney definitely won’t just offer it to you. I did not have this knowledge before I attended).
What I do have that no one there possessed, was the perspective of a 26-year-old woman. To many of my readers this will not sound old, but when everyone around you is under 18 , the gap starts to feel pretty wide and you start talking and feeling and looking like grandmother willow.
This, I discovered, was the first open casting call for Disney princesses that included 16 and 17 year olds. The line was abuzz with excitement—“I thought I’d have to wait at least two years to do this!!” “I drove here from Indiana!” “Really?? I came from Ohio!!”
“…You drove 20 hours alone to get here? No…you had to have come with a parent. Where are your parents?” [these thoughts occurred completely internally, as it was not yet revealed that I drove myself from my 9-5 job, in a car that I am making monthly payments on, and that my mom had not lived with me for 8 years. DID I MENTION I WAS TEN YEARS OLDER THAN EVERYONE PRESENT].
Their parents were there. They were all waiting outside, baking in the Florida heat against the concrete audition building, anxiously hopeful that their daughter will exit the facility an official princess.
Nerves were high.
Shaky voices and uneasy laughs abounded as girls desperately tried to make friends with each other in line. I say “desperately,” because every YouTube video that described how to prepare for this audition warned, “the casting directors WILL be watching you and WILL notice if you are being friendly or not. A REAL Disney princess is ALWAYS friendly.” Who can blame them?
So I became fast and very, very anxious friends with the six girls nearest to me in line.
One stood out from the rest.
She did not reveal her age, although she asked everyone to say their age, including me, before she pleaded the fifth. She was playing the long game, and I respected it.
Her eyes had a hyper-focus to them, looking at each girl with the intense precision of someone who had seen many, many princess hopefuls come and go. She asked everyone if they had been to auditions before. No one had. She proceeded to give us a run-down of how this was all going to go:
“It’s different every time, but when there’s a lot of girls like there are today, they’ll skip right to the face audition. You go into the room. You line up in rows to ten. They look at your face, and then they CUT YOU. It doesn’t matter HOW PRETTY YOU ARE. You’ve got to be what they’re LOOKING FOR. You need to not only look like the princess they’re wanting, but you need to look like ALL THE OTHER GIRLS who look like the princess they’re wanting. Like, a kid can’t see ELSA IN THE MORNING at a meet and greet, and then ELSA AT NIGHT IN A STAGE SHOW and think they look REMOTELY DIFFERENT. You just Never. Know.”
She might be the single most intense person I have ever met in my life, and I mean that as a compliment. She was FIRE. She knew her facts (not a single word she said above was false, by the way), and she was DETERMINED and COMMITTED to the process. The kind of determination and commitment I would expect to see in a CEO of a fortune 500 company.
But we weren’t in a boardroom. We were in a dark hallway with exposed duct work waiting to walk into a large dance studio, where we would be cut based on how closely we resembled, not only a princess, but the other girls who were currently playing the princesses.
If the process sounds like a losing battle for 99% of the people who tryout, it’s because it is. I do not fault the Walt Disney Company for this—it’s just smart business sense to choose girls who all resemble each other to play the exact same character—and even better if they can be transformed into multiple princesses in case some girl can’t make it in that day.
Many of the videos out there advising girls on how to dress and act at a Disney Princess Audition tell them to, “BE YOURSELF,” and “LET YOUR PERSONALITY SHINE THROUGH!” “They’re looking for more than the look…they’re looking for someone who TRULY EMBODIES the spirit of a REAL PRINCESS.”
Disney is looking for girls with common facial features, who can easily embody the personalities of the characters it has created. It is probably helpful if you’re nice and like people, because your job is to constantly interact with strangers. But mainly…mainly…you need to look like morning meet and greet Elsa.
My number was not called during the face audition. This could have been true for a variety of reasons—I have the body of a 26-year-old, which is to say that my womanly figure has been around long enough to get comfortable with what it’s bringing to the table, and that was about 25 pounds north of what everyone else was bringing (no shame). When I laugh I sometimes incidentally stick in my chin into my chest, and it creates a subsequent five additional chins, which the man assessing my appearance might have noticed. The one reason for why I was cut that I am absolutely positive was true, was that I did not look like any of the morning, afternoon, or evening Rapunzels, Elsas, or Cinderellas. My blonde white girl-ness was not at the white blonde girl level they were looking for. There is literally no reason to have been offended or upset by this, because there’s literally nothing to be done about it.
This is why, as I was leaving the audition facility and I heard the following comment, I started to feel anxious for the first time-
“Well, I wasn’t going to go to college if this worked out…but I guess now I kind of have to.”
My mind went immediately to the girl I was standing next to in line who had also been cut in the same round as me. The one who was determined, committed, and had eyes ablaze with the fire of competition. The one who, I am sure, had been to a minimum of five other Disney Princess auditions. Was she in school? Did she know that my impression of her was that of a powerful, fierce woman? Had she considered her potential as a boss at a cutthroat financial firm?
There is absolutely nothing immature, shameful, or foolish about wanting to be a Disney princess. There is also nothing immature, shameful or foolish about going after your dreams. But when your dream is to achieve something that is almost completely based on how similar you look to a group of girls who are already employed by a large entertainment company, all the effort, hard-work and preparation that would normally reward you in other careers goes completely out the window.
We still live in a world where we worship celebrities, where 12 year olds have social media profiles, and Sephora can charge 100 dollars for a mud mask that promises to be age-defying. Wanting to be a Disney Princess is relatively harmless and wholesome. The problem is that girls don’t typically show up in nervous hoards 400 deep for things like academic decathlons, because that’s still not where we are told our value is.
Our society still values, above most other things, being pretty enough to be considered a princess.
I want everyone I auditioned with to know that they are capable of being queens, and that there is no face audition required.
[Also, Minnie Mouse came to me in a vision and said that you should not delay your college applications based on your success at a Disney Princess audition. “WOMEN CAN BE ALL” she squeaked. “I know.” I said].