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Once upon a time, Disney princesses ruled your VHS collection. Today, they\'re royalty on the Internet (see: Cinderella twerking and Snow White snapping selfies.) But what\'s it like to actually be a Disney princess at Disney World? A former Belle shared her story with Cosmopolitan.com anonymously.
Growing up, I was always the smart girl. I was valedictorian of my high school class, but deep down I always wanted to be an actress. There were no opportunities in the small town where I\'m from, until one day, when I was in college and a commercial came on the radio saying, "You could be a Disney princess!"
My best friend had just passed away two weeks before. I was in a really bad place and wanted to drop out of school anyway. I went to the audition in my hometown in flip-flops and gauchos, and I was surrounded by musical theater girls stretching and practicing dance moves. I was completely out of my league. They taught us a cheesy dance — I remember a ballet move that was like holding a beach ball. I was pretty sure I was out because I\'m a terrible dancer, but then they called my number. I was shocked.
They sent me to hair and makeup and put a Belle wig on me, then had me read the part from
when Belle is talking about her papa. I could imitate her high-pitched voice pretty easily. The casting lady was like, "OMG, that was fantastic!" She didn\'t even say that I was hired. She just went straight into, "So, typically we order contacts for our girls and make sure your roots are done." I later learned you can\'t work at Disney if your hair isn\'t "Disney standard" — part of that was no roots. They handed me a piece of paper and said, "In order to get the relocation package, you have to move to Orlando by the end of the month."
So I dropped out of college and went to Disney World. To start in any character role, you have to go through training for the "fur characters," like Goofy or Mickey. I did Chip and Dale for two weeks — and it was really exhausting. The costumes have no ventilation and you sweat out a ton of water in the Florida sun. There are certain heat indexes that allow for shorter "sets" out in the parks, but some people pass out because it\'s so hot inside the costumes.
I learned that the fur characters hated the face characters, the princesses and princes who show their real faces, because the face characters make more money. Back at home, I was working at 7-Eleven making $11.25 an hour. At Disney, when I started, it was $7.15 an hour with a face character premium of $2.50 an hour. So, $9.65 an hour — not great, but you go through a whole training where they show you all these mushy movies about Walt Disney and his life just to make you feel like, "OMG, I really love this company!" And the perks are pretty fantastic: 40 percent off at Disney stores, 50 percent off the cruises, 40 percent off food in all the parks and free passes for your friends and family. A lot of people stay for the perks.
I moved on to princess training, which was about a four-day process. I watched
with a trainer and spied on girls greeting guests as Belle in the France pavilion of Epcot. I did worksheets about Belle — "Who\'s her favorite person?" "Maurice!" Ironically, I didn\'t really like
that much as a kid; I thought it was really dark. But watching it a ton for the job, I connected to the song about how Belle wants to get out of her small town and thinks that there\'s got to be more to life — that\'s exactly the type of stuff I was writing in my journal. And she\'s the only princess that really shows that academics are a good thing and there\'s no reason to be a damsel in distress. I started to really love her.
I got a crash course in Belle makeup from the cosmetics or "cosmo" team, because the princesses have to learn to do their own makeup. They check your makeup and sign off on you before you go out "on set," which is what we called the different locations at the parks. All of the princesses sit in cosmo together getting ready. They ordered brown contacts to change my eyes and a brown wig. Some girls were jealous because I was allowed more freedom with my makeup because I already naturally looked so much like Belle. I realized why it didn\'t matter that I couldn\'t dance — everyone just kept saying, "Wow, you look just like the cartoon."
Most of the drama in cosmo happens when someone gets disapproved, or not allowed to go out on set. One girl got disapproved because her arms got too chubby. Another girl had a very bad acne breakout all over her face, and they disapproved her. Then everyone talks about whether she should or shouldn\'t have been disapproved — it\'s awkward. Some of the princesses did cleanses to stay fit; a lot the girls were naturally thin. We\'d go to the gym after work or do workout videos together during our breaks. The fur characters are running around all day so they can eat crap like funnel cakes. The refrigerator in our break room was literally Lean Cuisines and those sugar-free Jell-Os with 10 calories.
I\'d never been popular before; suddenly I was a literal princess. I was Belle for six, sometimes seven, days a week, all day, at Epcot and Magic Kingdom. Kids would line up to take pictures with me, or I\'d be part of a parade in a huge, glittering ball gown. It was prestigious to be Belle — she and Cinderella are the two top princesses at Disney.A ton of girls are hired for their roles, and they\'re stationed at the most locations. Ariel\'s a good one too, but she isn\'t in as many locations and neither is Mulan. Pocahontas and Jasmine aren\'t out very much at all. One of my friends was white, but she\'s very, very tan, and she does Pocahontas.
It was a lot of fun, but emotionally, it was tolling. You have to smile for an hour straight; you can\'t drop your smile until you go on break and are behind closed doors because Disney doesn\'t want any pictures of us not smiling. The first few weeks, my face literally hurt. But I really love kids, and it was amazing to have kids that were really into Belle coming up to me, and I would just make up this elaborate story about waking up that morning and having oatmeal with the Beast.
We couldn\'t spend too much time playing with the kids though, because we had to greet 172 guests per hour. Disney decided that was the magic number. An attendant would have a clicker to count the number of people we met, and if we went under, we would get a reprimand. If you get four reprimands, you get fired. 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. When they left the room where we greeted kids at Toontown, they went straight into a massive princess store. I think Disney felt like, "Well, we want them out of the room and into the princess store to buy some stuff."
The one time that I got really, really angry at work was one of the only days that was actually really cold in Florida — so cold you could see your breath. I had to stand in a doorway welcoming guests into a restaurant at Epcot in a sleeveless formal dress that was supposed to have a coat that came with it. I was freezing and my eyes were watering, but the location managers wouldn\'t let me go get my coat. When I went on my break to go pull the coat from the costume department, it was gone. I guess they\'d hidden it. I started bawling. I had to take pictures with kids in the freezing cold, crying. Later, I was talking to the photographers, and they told me that that restaurant sold the photos of Belle and the guests for, like, $35 — and when Belle was wearing the coat, they sell 30 percent less pictures.
Another tricky thing was the creepy dads who would whisper in my ear when their kids were taking pictures with me. They\'d say, "When the Beast goes to bed, I\'ll be waiting for you in the library." All I could think was,
I couldn\'t break character, but I would always address it and say something like, "Um, I go to bed when the Beast goes to bed." One of my friends, an Aurora from
, her skirt was unzipped and one of the dads stuck his hand in the zipper. Luckily there are petticoats underneath, but he was totally feeling her butt outside of the petticoat.
But amazing stuff happens too. My absolute favorite thing was meeting the Make-A-Wish Foundation kids. Belle would be in her village dress and ride the carousel or have breakfast with kids in their last months of life. They were so excited and amazed, and behind them were parents just falling apart. Their child is dying, but their child that\'s dying is incredibly happy at that moment. It\'s a very strange feeling — complete joy mixed with complete heartbreak. Things like that made me happy to be Belle, especially after losing my friend and being so miserable at home.
I met really good friends being a princess. We came from all over the country and had no one, so we all bonded really quickly and really strongly. My best friends were an Aurora and a Cinderella. Underneath Magic Kingdom, there\'s a really smelly concrete tunnel system — we would walk through the tunnels joking that we were like the three Mean Girls, just Cinderella, Belle, and Aurora marching down the hall.
We weren\'t finding romance at work, because most of the guys were gay. I don\'t remember any specific gay romances, but I\'m sure there were. Prince Charming might have been hooking up with Prince Eric. My roommates were gay and dancers at Animal Kingdom. We spent many nights hanging out in our apartment watching classic Disney movies like
They call it the "Disney bubble" — you listen to the soundtracks on your way to work and watch the movies at home. Even when we weren\'t working, a lot of times we\'d just go into the park and watch the fireworks or watch Tinkerbell come down from the castle. Sometimes we would go get drinks at Animal Kingdom. Looking back, I was there for three years and I went to the beach once. Disney just draws you in.
After three years as Belle, I started to feel like I was in limbo. I didn\'t finish college. I didn\'t know what I was going to do next in my life. I still wanted to be an actress, and there\'s no market in Florida. I took a trip to a bigger city for an acting intensive, and my teachers told me I could have a real shot if I moved and started auditioning. I decided to give Disney my three-week notice. I gave them notice but said I still wanted to do a few shifts every year — back then, all you had to do was work five shifts a year to keep the Disney perks.
When I came back to Florida not long after leaving to pick up a few shifts, the casting department called me and said, "We need to speak with you about your role." I went to meet with them and they asked me how things were going with my move and if I planned to stay away for a long time. I said it was going great, and I was excited to be pursuing acting. I didn\'t realize I was being baited. They had me dress up as Belle, and I came back in and they were like, "We\'ve just been noticing that your mouth is very different than all the other girls." It was the most bizarre thing ever, and it very clearly had nothing to do with my mouth. If my mouth was that big of an issue, they wouldn\'t have paid for me to move to Florida and be Belle in the first place. It was merely about the fact that I wasn\'t going to be there working every week, and they didn\'t want to dole out perks to another person like that. I got canned — and it hurt.
The shelf life of a Disney princess really depends. A lot of girls take themselves out before casting has to. People go on to work in musical theater at local playhouses or be teachers or do princess parties. Some never want to leave; as soon as they get disapproved, they just want to become a princess trainer so they still get to be part of the magic.
There\'s a little bit of bitterness for the princesses as they get older. I just got back from Florida actually, and seeing all the new girls, it sucks. People used to be that excited to see me, and cry to see me, and now it\'s these little girls who don\'t even have as much integrity as we used to have. We used to only speak words that princesses hundreds of years ago would speak. We wouldn\'t say, "Oh, those are cute shoes," or, "Oh my gosh." Princesses didn\'t say that. They would say, "Oh my goodness," or, "Oh, how wonderful."
Now that I live in a big city, it\'s a bit of culture shock. I still smile at everyone, even the guys who catcall me. I probably come across as such a naive idiot, but it\'s from being at Disney for three years, and being around people that all speak with such pep and optimism and watch Disney movies in their spare time. Smiling all day just makes you believe that everything\'s fine. It didn\'t occur to me that I would miss it as much as I do.
Nothing big has happened for me as an actress so far. I\'m also working on getting my college degree. Despite some of my issues with Disney, I\'m super glad I got to be a princess. I\'ve gone to auditions where people have been like, "I think I have a picture with you as Belle!" It blows people\'s minds when I tell them. I don\'t want people to think I\'m bragging. I say that I lived in Orlando and then they pry some more and I\'m like, "I was Belle," and they\'re like, "Oh my gosh, that\'s so cool. And weird." When I tell guys, they think it\'s really cute.
When asked to confirm details of this story, a Disney spokesperson gave the following statement: "Because so many treasured Disney stories come to life through our characters, we do our best to preserve the magic for our guests and typically don\'t share behind-the-scenes details about our theme parks."
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