Graphic Images of Disney Princesses Used To Raise Awareness

By Keri Blakinger 05/17/17

The photo series takes on issues from domestic violence to drug addiction.

snow white alcoholic
Shannon Dermody Photography used with permission from Shannon Dermody Photography

Life isn’t always happily ever after—even for princesses.

One college senior is setting the internet ablaze with a photo series offering a dark take on the storybook tales of Disney’s most popular princesses.

The graphic shots take on issues from domestic violence to drug addiction, showing what the beloved beauties might look like if they struggled with real-world issues on-screen.

“I want people to realize that these are problems going on just because it's not happening to them,” photographer Shannon Dermody told The Fix. “This can be anyone, but when you see it as something so ‘perfect,’ it hits harder.”

Merida - Addiction to Heroin

In one shot, Brave’s Merida—sporting her usual dark green dress and bouncy red hair—is shown gritting her teeth as she shoots up heroin, her trademark arrows scattered on the dirty bathroom floor beneath her. In another, Snow White is passed out surrounded by liquor bottles in a Disney-fied depiction of alcoholism.

The images—featuring Princess Jasmine, Cinderella, Ariel, Tiana, Rapunzel, Belle and Sleeping Beauty—tackle rape, pollution, police brutality, suicide and more.

Princess Jasmine - Addiction to Tobacco

The series of nine shots was part of a senior project for the 20-year-old’s camera works class at the Antonelli Institute near Philadelphia. Dermody found inspiration for her assignment in another image she’d spotted.

“I had seen a drawing of a princess who was beaten and the caption said, ‘When did he stop treating you like a princess?’ And that hit me hard,” Dermody said. “I had never seen something like that with photography and I wanted to do that. I wanted the same impact.”

And if the glut of internet comments is any measure, she seems to have succeeded. “I have had tons and tons of positive messages,” she said. “People have thanked me for making them not feel alone and that someone is aware this is happening.”

One former drug user took to Facebook to praise the Merida image. “I've been clean for four months and my life has changed for the better,” Susie Brandt wrote in a comment that garnered nearly 1,000 likes and roughly 90 replies. “I've lost so much and so many people to this disease. And this picture is so powerful. Just like addiction but this picture is powerful in a different way. I'm so thankful I don't have to live like that anymore. It reminds me of where I could be right now if I didn't get clean.”

Of course, not everyone has been complimentary. Some have criticized details in the images and others have focused on the lack of diversity in the models or the decision to include police brutality. Still others have expressed concerns about the disturbing and graphic nature of the images. But Dermody is unperturbed.

“Art is supposed to make people feel a type of way,” she said. “I have had people be very rude to me about this and it's okay. Some people don't know how to express themselves.”

Although the photos have already made a huge splash online, the graduating senior won’t find out her grade until May 20.

But whatever her professor’s feedback may be, Dermody already has plans for the future. “I want to do a mental illness photo series next,” she said. “After I graduate, I plan on continuing my schooling to be an art therapist.”

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.