At the “happiest place on earth”, Disney World or Disney Land, things are not always as they seem. For example, the people who work there dressed as any of the numerous Disney characters once staged a protest over their pay. There have been arrests, riots, and even deaths that have taken place at the world’s most famous theme park, all events which directly contradict its claim of being the planet’s happiest destination.
One of the aspects of Disney World that people of all ages love are the princesses. From Snow White to Princess Jasmine, there are a total of 12 official Disney princesses, including the newest member of the group, Princess Moana, although the unofficial princesses like Elsa and Rapunzel also count for our purposes.
You would think that with all the singing, falling in love, talking to animals, and fighting for what’s right that they do, the real-life women who portray them at the theme park would be every bit as perfect. And largely, they are. It is what goes on behind the scenes at Disney World involving these princesses that brings their perfection into question.
I present to you 15 little-known facts about Disney princess life- the real Disney princess life- of the women who earn a living by pretending to be some of the most loved royalty on earth, the Disney princesses.
15. The Disney Bubble
There is apparently a thing the Disney park employees call the Disney “bubble”. This essentially means that they live in a bubble that is made up of all things Disney, even outside of work hours. Employees have mentioned that this includes doing things like listening to Disney soundtracks on their way to and from work, or even spending time at Disney World when they are off. Cast members, as they are called, will go into the park and watch the fireworks or whatever other events are going on on any given night, just to be there and be a part of the “magic”. They will get drinks at the Animal Kingdom, or stroll the streets of the Magic Kingdom on their days off. One person who was interviewed said she played her character for three years and during that time only went to the beach once. Now that is dedication!
14. Their “Shelf-Life”
One of the reasons it would suck to work at Disney World (there are many) is that you would be disposable depending on how they feel about your age (there are no strict guidelines). According to interviews given by former employees of the park, “face” employees (characters who are not disguised in a fur suit, such as Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck) have a shelf life. This means that they can age out of their position. Given that there is virtually never a princess over the age of 27, the women have less than 10 years of employability. The average age for a princess is 18-23, and the ones that are 24-26 have usually been in their position for awhile. Of course, this is due to the Disney princesses being very young (Snow White, the youngest, was only 14!). Obviously, the women portraying them must look the part. But being a Disney princess is far from the only job requiring a youthful appearance.
13. A Princess for Life
While there is that shelf life for the Disney princesses, it is far from over for them once they “age out”. They cannot work in the park anymore, but many go on to become princess trainers for the next generation of young women coming in. That way, they still get to be part of the magic, as they put it. Others work in musical theater or do princess parties, where they dress up for kids’ birthday parties as their character. There are plenty of different ways for them to continue in the princess world even after being “disapproved”, which is their term for being prohibited to go out into the park in costume. However, even though many of the women stay for as long as humanly possible, some leave Disney before they have to, and pursue other career paths.
12. Mum’s the Word
Disney demands that their employees remain very hush-hush about the inner workings of the happiest place on earth. Not wanting any of their secrets (especially regarding their workers) to get out, they insist that the princesses and other employees do not discuss even what character they are playing! This seems a little ridiculous, but it is true. Posting about your job on social media is forbidden, of course, and they take breaking the rules very seriously. As you can imagine, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media outlets are a huge problem in that respect, as people cannot seem to control themselves with it, and I would think that would especially be true when the princesses must have thousands of cute photos of themselves all dolled up that they are just dying to share.
11. Mean Girls
Some of the former princesses liken their jobs with Disney to being in high school again (and they would know, since most of them were there not so long ago). Amongst the park employees, those who play the princesses are thought of as the mean girls, a stigma which is not necessarily true but prevalent nonetheless. One former princess said, “When I worked there, I would go to the cafeteria and people would stare at me and not talk to me. Those people then would tell their friends I didn’t say hi to them and that I wasn’t friendly, but those people didn’t make an effort to talk to me either.” This same woman said that her coworkers viewed them as “b*tches”, and that the others were jealous of them. According to her, being a princess was a lot like being in a sorority. In that way, it was a good thing because some of the princesses formed very close friendships.
10. The Re-Looks
Unfortunately for the princesses, their princess-ness is reviewed by character supervisors every six months. This is not out of the ordinary in any workplace, but the evaluation these women get has everything to do with their looks, and little to do with their actual performance out in the park (although that is under close scrutiny, too). These check-ups are called “re-looks”, and their purpose is to make sure the employees’ looks have not changed too much. The managers inspect the princess’ body, skin, and overall appearance to ensure they still look just right to play their given character. It is so detailed an inspection that they even make sure their silhouette has not changed. The women sign a contract at the beginning of their employment that explicitly states the performers must attend one audition each year to “earn” their part again, in addition to the bi-annual “re-looks”.
9. Weather Girls
If you want to be a princess at Disney World, you better make damn sure you are also prepared to deal with any kind of weather- and I mean any. As we know, Disney World is open all year round, not like some theme parks. That means rain or shine, snow or heat wave, you are out there with a smile on your face and a wave worthy of a pageant queen on a float. And Disney does not give a rat’s ass about your comfort; one former princess confessed in an interview that on one particularly cold day, she was forced to stand outside in only her ball gown, which had no sleeves. The gown was supposed to have a cloak with it, but she discovered later that her bosses had hidden it, since photos with a princess in a coat or cloak sell something like 40% less than photos with a princess in her signature outfit. So while usually being a princess is the coveted job, I imagine that during the freezing months of winter, the princesses are the ones envying the fur characters, all warm and snug inside their costumes.
8. Dealing with the Creeps
Every job has its downsides, and one of the downsides for the princesses at Disney World is the creeps they sometimes have to put up with, while remaining in character at all times. They also must be smiling at all times, creep or no creep. Many jobs, especially those in the service industry, have this particular downside. Being uncomfortable is sometimes, unfortunately, just par for the course. The princesses generally say it is all worth it to make children’s dreams come true, but it is not always easy, especially having to stay professional when your instincts tell you to smack a dude. Characters like Jasmine and Pocahontas are more likely to be hit on than characters like Snow White and Elsa, simply because of the amount of clothes they are wearing.
7. The Pay
Working as a Disney princess is a dream come true for most who do it, or they would not likely put up with the high demands and abysmal pay. Even though the princesses are a staple of Disney World, and one of the main things kids love to see there, they are not paid well for their efforts. One former princess says that her starting wage was $13.50 an hour (with a top-out of $16.00), though another put it as low as $9.65. Disney only gives raises of about 15 cents per year, so even employees who have been there several years are making barely more than they were when they started. Face characters, aka the princesses, make $3.25 more per hour than the fur characters. It is called a “face premium”. This is because the fur characters do not speak, and the princesses are constantly having to improvise answers to kids’ questions, and know their princess and her story inside and out.
6. The Hiring Process
There is a rigorous hiring process to become a Disney princess, which seems a bit absurd when you consider the amount of money they make. Still, plenty of young women vie for the job. To get it, there are height requirements, size requirements, age requirements, and you must strongly resemble one of the princesses. Women must be 5’4”-5’7” to be a princess, but just 4’1”-5’2” to be a fairy, Alice, or Wendy. As far as other measurements go, it varies. The largest princess costume is a size 10, which means the woman wearing it can be a maximum of 120 pounds. The smallest is Tinkerbell’s, which is a size two to four, and for a woman that is 105 pounds at the most. That is pretty tiny. We already discussed the age thing. The audition process is long, and it involves the hiring team seeing how much you resemble a princess, sizing you up, singing, dancing, reading lines, and trying on the outfit and makeup, which in itself is quite time-consuming.
5. Some Drop Out of College
Yes, some young women want to live the magic so badly that they wind up dropping out of college, which is a pretty big deal, and a pretty big sacrifice. It is a decision that changes the course of their lives. One former princess, who played Beauty and the Beast’s Belle, did just that. She had originally wanted to be an actress, but there was little opportunity where she was from, so she auditioned to be a Disney cast member when it was announced on the radio that they were holding local auditions. She looked so much like Belle, she got the part hands down, and dropped out of college right away to take part in Disney’s relocation package, which saw her moving to Orlando. This Belle is far from the only one who has left her life behind to pursue being a Disney princess.
4. Keeping Up Appearances
Remember that six-month “re-look” we talked about? Well, in order to make sure you pass the inspection, there are a lot of things the women do to themselves. The girls do cleanses to stay fit, and obviously they engage in regular exercise as well, although many are naturally thin. The refrigerator in the break room, according to a former Belle, is full of Lean Cuisines and those sugar-free, 10-calorie Jello snacks (she also mentions that the fur characters can eat anything since they do not have to appear any certain way). The princesses often go to the gym together after work, and do workout videos with one another on break. Before going out on set each day, the girls are thoroughly inspected, and can be “disapproved” for things like acne or having gained too much weight in your arms.
3. Emotionally Taxing
Even working at the happiest place on earth is not always sunshine and rainbows, as we have seen. It can be very difficult emotionally to be a Disney princess, as well as physically. For example, princesses cannot ever be seen not smiling, so that there is never a photo taken of them not looking happy. Especially at first, smiling so long is physically painful, and according to one retired princess, it took its toll emotionally, too. Then there are the creeps, the worry about doing well enough because someone is always watching, the pressure to look perfect all the time, and the lack of decent pay. Everything considered, being a princess is not always a dream come true like little girls grow up thinking it is.
2. Watched Like a Hawk
The face characters are watched like a hawk by their superiors, because Disney is serious AF about their employees doing a perfect job. One example of this comes from the same former Belle. She says that they were required to greet 172 guests per hour, and that someone was literally standing nearby with a clicker to ensure that the number was met or exceeded. If it was not, the princess would be reprimanded. Four reprimands means you lose your job. My question is, what if it is a really slow day at Disney? This, coupled with the insane level of physical inspections the girls go through both before going out each day and every six months, and it seems like an environment that is a little too controlled. Belle says of this greeting quota, “It sucked to have a really sweet kid that’s waited in line for three hours come up all excited and have to say, ‘Ok, let’s hurry and take our photo’, and shove them out the door.”
1. Make a Wish
Of all the former Disney princesses interviewed, there seems to be a consensus among them that even with the many negative aspects of their job, it is worth it to make kids happy. This is especially true for the kids from the Make a Wish Foundation, who come to Disney World because they may not have much time left, and it is literally their dying wish to do so. One former Disney employee even told the story of a child whose parents had asked who he wanted to meet before he met Jesus. The little boy answered, “You!”, meaning the character he was there to see. And that is why they do what they do. There are many stories like this one, and no matter how much it sucks at times to play a Disney princess, I am glad they do, if only for these poor kids and their families.