While we were in the hospital with Felix for five months and Lydia stayed with grandparents, something super-annoying happened: she fell crazy in love with princesses.
I don’t know if we could have prevented it. Maybe she just finally reached the age where it was inevitable. Princesses are everywhere, smiling with their pink lips and enormous eyes, promising love and elegance to all little girls who gaze upon them.
I had worked hard to keep them out of sight and out of mind for the three years prior. Absolutely no princess stuff entered our home. Her clothes were all practical and well-made. If I got a Cinderella or Ariel in a box of hand-me-down stuff it got promptly returned or given away before she could see it. For Halloween I dressed her up as a lion or a ladybug and she loved it.
But over the months we were separated, princess culture crept into her life more and more. She showed up at the Ronald McDonald house with sparkly shoes or an Elsa-emblazoned dress. She would run to us saying, “Look at my sleeves! They’re like Sofia’s!”
As a general rule, I hate princesses. Especially Disney princesses.
Here are a few reasons why:
They’re kind of crappy role models.
Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Snow White are famous for not doing much of anything. Ariel is the worst — at sixteen, she runs away from her dad to an adult who is clearly untrustworthy so she can go be with a boy she watched on a boat for eleven seconds. They all have ridiculously unrealistic bodies (C-cup boobs and waists no wider than their boyfriends’ legs). I don’t want that for my daughter.
This collection of plastic trash can’t have cost more than 85 cents to make. (Photo credit)
Good heavens, the merchandise. If you can make a garment cheaper and uglier than you thought possible, the Disney princess franchise will find a way. If it is possible to get a princess’ face onto an item and sell it for triple what it’s worth, they will do it, whether it’s a crayon, a toothbrush, or a tiny bottle of crappy nail polish. There is no concern whatsoever for quality or durability.
I hate, hate, hate it. Just NO.
OMG. I cannot even. (Photo credit)
And while some of the princesses aren’t half bad in the movies (Jasmine and Belle are rather spunky and proactive), the way they’re represented on the posters and the board books reinforces the idea that girls and women are just for looking at. They just stand there with their hair twirled around their fingers and their ankles popped in the air.
I was once at a friend’s house and while she put her kids to bed I ended up looking through a Disney princess book. There was no action, no story; the whole book was just a series of pictures of the princesses in various passive poses. The entire text was made up of “Snow White is so sweet . . . Sleeping Beauty is so kind . . . Cinderella is so gentle.” They don’t do anything . . . they’re just there to look at and be admired for their feminine qualities. Which mostly consist in being nice to animals.
And yet . . .
You know what I did? I bought Lydia a tiara for Easter. I knew it would make her sooooo happy.
And I recently ordered a handmade Elsa dress from Etsy for her for Christmas. I can’t wait to give it to her because she is going to lose her mind.
Here are a few reasons I’m reluctantly tolerant of her princess obsession.
Elsa and Anna.
These are Lydia’s absolute favourites. No one holds a candle to Elsa in Lydia’s mind. And I can’t complain too much about these gals. Sure, they’re still insanely skinny, and that’s a problem. But they’re also complex, flawed, interesting women who defeat darkness with love. Elsa overcomes inner battles and decides to be true to who she is. Anna is quirky, clumsy, confident, and takes initiative to save her sister. They both make mistakes but they learn from them. I can get behind this dynamic sister duo.
I loved princesses as a kid, and I turned out mostly okay.
(And I grew up with the girl in the clamshell bikini who gives up her voice to be with a strange boy as my primary princess role model).
I LOVE LOVE LOVED princesses with an undying passion as a little girl. The eyelashes, the glass shoes, the glittery ball gowns, the curtsying. LOVED it. But even as a child I found their passivity annoying. (Maid Marian: “Robin! Help me! Help me!” Gag me.)
In my imaginary world, I was a princess who could sword fight and do karate. Sometimes I had to swoop in and save the man (who usually responded by proposing to me. I usually accepted). I took the qualities that I liked in my favorite male characters (Robin Hood, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle) and put them in a princess body. I was eccentric and used nunchucks and solved mysteries. I saved orphans who were left at the garbage dump and took them with me to discover magical islands. I was an active princess, with goals and ideas and talents. I also happened to look stunning in a sequined ball gown.
And in real life, I tried hard at school, loved to read and paint, and played soccer with the boys at recess. I went on to get university degrees and become a critical thinker.
So maybe the princess influence wasn’t so bad.
So while I don’t love my daughter’s adoration for princesses, I realize they won’t totally ruin her sense of self.
And I have to actively remind myself not to devalue femininity. There’s nothing inherently wrong or anti-feminist about glitter and tulle and frills. Just like my imaginary princess self, you can kick ass and have adventures in diamonds and sparkly nail polish.
I know that it’s a losing battle.
It would be impossible to completely ban princesses, even if I wanted to. Princess culture is too huge. I don’t want to make myself an enemy and I don’t want to end up making princesses the alluring forbidden fruit. And I cannot seem to get the grandparents to stop buying her princess stuff.
So I try to just bring a bit of balance to the situation — I’ll indulge her desire for a bejeweled tiara but suggest a more neutral-themed birthday cake. I’ll print out Frozen colouring pages for her to colour but follow that with a quality bedtime story about nature or family.
And so help me I am never buying her licensed merchandise.
What do you think about little girls and princess culture?