Why I’m (Reluctantly) Supportive of My Preschooler’s Princess Obsession

Why I'm (Reluctantly) Supportive of My Daughter-s Princess Obsession

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.

The merchandise.

disney purseThis 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.

princess crapOMG. 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?

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  1. I grew up (like you) with princesses – Lil “Wermaid” was my fav. I also remember absolutely LOVING playing “house” on the playground, and the little boys play the prince & I was the princess who they were saving from some dragon :sigh: those lil boys always stole my heart. Yet, I am not a passive person at ALL. Yes, in my growing up years, I wanted to be a wife & mom, but those are things you cannot control – so I didn’t wait around for prince charming, but holygoodness did I dream about him! I was still married “young” by today’s standards (23) but I had such a great single experience, pursuing things that I was interested in or passionate about. Princesses helped me get in touch with my inner feminine nature – otherwise it was all sports and tomboy-ish nature :)
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  2. I don’t have a daughter, so thankfully I’m not inundated with princess paraphernalia. But even my 3-year-old son likes Frozen and will belt out ‘Let It Go’ all day long — so the Disney tentacles are long indeed! Now he’s into superheroes and Thomas the Tank…both of which I HATE. And you’re right, it’s tough with in-laws to articulate what bothers me about those things, or to translate that into a general rule they can follow. How to explain that the whole ideology of Hodor is screwed up, or that superhero movies are loud and frenetic and don’t do any favors for my kids’ attention spans, or that certain cartoons showcase loud, boastful and ill-mannered people rather than showing gentle civility as the normal way to interact. Well, that makes me sound totally nuts! So I just suffer through the stuff at the in-laws place and we detox at home.

    I do try to console myself that I grew up on a gross, junky diet of near-24-hour TV complete with commercials and I turned out OK. I would never want it for my kids, but if it’s framed properly and contextualized, hopefully kids can inoculate themselves against it.

    • I love everything about this comment. It makes me feel less crazy! “The Disney tentacles are long indeed” — ha! My sister says all the little girls in China know all the words to Let It Go, too, so it’s world-wide.

      I have a feeling we’ll get a sense of the boy side of the equation soon enough!

  3. This reminded me so much of a post I read on Coffee + Crumbs this week: http://www.coffeeandcrumbs.net/blog/2015/10/12/in-defense-of-the-princess

    My daughter is only 18 months old and still blissfully oblivious to TV, movies, and any sort of character other than EVERY POSSIBLE cat she gleefully points out in any book we read to her. Still, I know these days are numbered and am grateful to read of how other moms are dealing with the vaguely good and demonstrably bad influence of pop, princess culture.

  4. This was just the best, you are a good Mom Kathy!

  5. I grew up with Disney, and I always identified with the guys. The girls were just loud and so annoying. I have always hated dressup and being told to act like a princess, because I am not. I may be woman, but I am not in any way like them. I have always been quiet and by myself- going through autism screening at the moment – and my fantasy was my biggest friend.
    I loved Barbies, but not because they were cute and could have all kinds of clothes – but because they were the right size to my brothers ActionMan and I could borrow them and put them in jail and have the Barbie come rescuing them. When Grandma learned she took time for me so we could sew proper Barbieclothes that fit for saving the world and I made paperweapons and everything. I loved it, and I have moments when I want to go back and be able to really play with my imagination.
    I still like Disneymovies. And I still watch them. I have a mum who´s a kid at heart so I get them for christmas from her. But there are good ones. Good princess-ones. Mulan. Brave. Princess and the frog.
    I don´t know if this all made my point.. Sorry for rambling.
    Just love your kid the best way you know how and let her be herself, she will turn out great. With you as a mum, how could she not?
    Love and greetings from Sweden

  6. When I was a little girl, I was just SURE that I was going to grow up and become a princess “in real life.” Why not? Clearly I was exactly the same as those princesses, and every bit as good! All the stuff about just being helpless and having big boobs and small waists never even entered my mind

    Thus, in order to teach your daughter that she is every bit a princess INSIDE (a daughter of the King, you know), may I suggest this princess: Merida from Brave: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/embed/video/1007639.html
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  7. My middle daughter is quite princess crazed….regardless of what I think of them…She hopes to be a mermaid some day. She draws picture upon picture upon picture of princesses. Makes lego princesses. The more sparkly and beautiful, the better. I love it about her because it’s so truly her (my oldest and youngest are completely different). I read the old fairy tales to them and sort of cringe because I hate the violence but I can’t handle the twaddly nature of the newer versions. And some day I look forward to watching the disney movies with them. I do draw the line at her being a walking disney advertisement though so thus far I’ve been pretty adamant that her princess attire will be generic brands or handmade…not disney stamped.

  8. yvonne carnegie says:

    I saw the clam shell clad 16 year old princess in theaters as a small child (Yes, I’m aging myself) I enjoyed the movie and insisted my mother purchasing it. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t understand it takes about 6 months for a movie to make it to video. As such I wound up with the Hans Christian Anderson version of the tail. Let me tell you, what a RUDE awaking I had! Even as a 5 year old, I hated how weak the character was. She sacrificed herself for a stupid guy who didn’t even know or care! Ugh!
    As the time passed beauty and the beast came out, and I find she is one of my favorites. One reason being is she saves the beast. Others being she encourages imagination, reading, free thinking. Lastly, she doesn’t marry the “handsome” popular guy.

    My preferred princessfor my daughter however will be Merida. She’s spunky, learns the messeage and also isn’t looking to just get married.
    By no means am I against marriage. I’m very happily married. However I’d like for my daughter to marry for the right reasons, not because a movie has given her the message that thats all a geenage girl should want in life

  9. I resonate with your disgust at the cheap plastic junk, and the often problematic character of the Disney princesses. My beef with them is that Disney has secularized stories that had strong Christian themes and that we’ve generally for gotten how to read these archetypal stories. G.K. Chesterton has awesome things to say in defense of fairy tales in one of the chapters of his book Orthodoxy. The stories just don’t work quite the same way in Disney’s versions.

    But I’m not anti Disney. They certainly know how to tell a story well (and beautifully). I did like the new live action Cinderella, especially. The key to Cinderella is that her power is in her kindness and it wins. Not because she kicks butt (though it certainly makes her more attractive to the Prince), but because she has the courage to do the best she can in tough circumstances. That kicks butt in a quieter way than nunchucks, but a real way. And in the end (as a Christ-follower) i hope that kindness and love will win out over nunchucks anyway. Not that I wouldn’t advocate for the freedom of any person held in slavery… And that is also part of the story. So my resolution is to read the original stories and other versions and talk to my daughter about them.

    I could go on and on. ..but I think you are doing such a wise thing guiding Lydia through this minefield with grace. We raise our kids in this world, not an ideal one, with a whole community. My Lucy will be Anna this Halloween (a whole ‘nother issue), wearing a Disney store costume bought by her grandma, probably at great expense. I’m okay with that. It’s not what I would make for her at home, but if I’m going to worry about ways I’ve screwed her up, it won’t be over this. Lol.
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  10. Melanie D. says:

    Both of my nieces are obsessed with Disney princesses, one with Ariel and the other with Rapunzel. Last Christmas I ordered second hand dolls off of Ebay for a steal. You know the ones – were played with once or twice, had their hair brushed into a ratty mess, and then ended up at the bottom of a toy box. I found a toddler doll of each one, nude but with shoes, for a steal. When they arrived, they received baths and beauty treatments, had their hair redone, and then I knitted them adorable little dresses in the colors of the original princess outfits. Ariel’s was my fave. I used super soft, fine gauge baby yarn, and knitted in the round. The skirt was turquoise and the bodice yellow, with a brightly colored fish patch on front. It was a cheap, earth-friendly compromise. I felt like a one-woman dolly rescue, and the girls loved them.

  11. I have 4 daughters, and let me tell you….All the conscious parenting of keeping princesses/Disney paraphernalia out of my home, and all that you mentioned above, hasn’t helped. 1 daughter of mine LOVES anything and everything princess, 2 are anti-princess(without actually saying those words) and 1 is indifferent. My girls are ages 6-14 and ultimately, they are who they are. I think what you’re doing is totally lovely. Embrace her interests in a healthy way without giving into the junk that the world tries to market little girls.

  12. Snow White says:

    There is nothing wrong with a child wanting to embrace feminine things. Boys and girls are only young for a few precious years. “Remember you’re the one, who can fill the world with sunshine.” If it brings a smile to your child’s face, please feel no shame is buying the most hideously flashy princess glitter purse with garish sequinned trimmed ruffles.

    By villianizing classic characters like Snow White you are inadvertently shaming generations of hardworking caregivers. With a smile and a song, Snow White singlehandedly cooked a delicious dinner and successfully ran a happy household of seven (that’s right SEVEN!) freshly cleaned men. As a mother, I only wrangle two little and one big sometimes grumpy man, but I know that all of my tireless efforts are important and not wasted on my family.

    Cinderella teaches children to always act kindly to others when faced with adversity. Even though Cinderella was treated badly, she never stopped working hard, caring for her friends, and dreaming of a better life.

    What is wrong with a happy ending? Would it be so bad if your kid grows up to be a CEO who likes pink and whistles while they work? :)

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