I am a bit disturbed that my daughters have become like most daughters across America, obsessed with all things princess.
As a parent, I went into parenting thinking that if nothing else, I would shield my girls from this, or princess mania and pink infatuation. I dressed them in browns and blues and until my second daughter came along and they discovered, through a playdate, the “glory” of Disney and pink glitter nail polish, I didn’t push, through my shopping habits, certain gender ideals or plush or plastic representations upon them.
But with time, things changed. The older they’ve gotten, I’ve come to realize that princess and pink (the official color of princess) , are everywhere.
Even if I refused to turn on the TV, they cannot be immune to it. The mint smelling sales clerk lady at our local Walmart has nicknamed them the “twin princesses.” The dance class that I considered enrolling my three-year old in last year is now called “Princesses in tights,” since I guess, “Dancers in Motion” wasn’t descriptive enough. Brushes, hand bags, and even pairs of scissors are now available in pink with sparkles, which is obviously made, my three-year old tells me, for princesses like her.
For awhile I celebrated the whole princess thing alongside them, seeing the whole princess thing as a developmental phase of normal girlhood and an opportunity to awaken the comatose girlie girl within me. And while uncomfortable with many of the ideals of princess culture in context, I forced myself to overlook those “imperfections” and swallow my squeamishness because I convinced myself that it was me who had the problem. I was too hard on Ariel and Belle. I presumed. I needed to lighten up. So, lighten up, I did. I made my first princess purchase a little over a year ago: a pair of plastic heels that I knew would be disastrous on our hardwoods. I lifted my no Disney princess policy and allowed my girls to watch musical scenes from Mulan and Cinderella on Youtube.
In the process of that, I became princess-ified. All of my old concerns ceased to matter as I began to believe more in the women-friendly themes of princess-dom. I saw the beauty and self confidence of the modern day consumer driven princess as a sign of the times, of progress among women today. But that lasted for only a few months, or until I realized that the Princess thing, as I had long assumed, was also indicative of much more and meant much more in my three and two-year old’s fresh brains.
My three year old once told me that she didn’t want to climb this twisty slide thing at the park. Her excuse for not taking the plunge? Princesses don’t do that.
“So what do princesses do then?” I asked, feeling very disturbed.
“They just wear dresses and look pretty.”
And this comes from a girl who has seen parts of the amazing stories of “princesses” who score husbands, yes, but also save China, offer a more tolerant path, involving nature and colors of the wind to European settlers, tame beasts, and overcome voodoo.
Princesses do amazing things, but perhaps those amazing things and messages are intended for their parents who are, often, left hopelessly grasping for substance in these problematic, love stories.
It’s scary, really. Or maybe not. No…that it’s so pervasive and seductive and feels compulsive, does make it scary. Every girl and her mom (and even her dad!) are “doing it,” it seems. So, why shouldn’t I?Why can’t I?
Why can’t I just suck it up and sit through the one and half hours of “Cinderella Remastered” and commentary like my three year asks? Why can’t I just celebrate the straight haired beauties in Princess land and not question why a (possibly brown?) curly haired girl, who isn’t represented as being an “unconventional,” “rugged” beauty like that red-haired girl in Disney/Pixar’s “Brave”movie, never make the cut? Why can’t I just buy the princess blow dry and clip on nail set that my two year old wants and celebrate it as just something that’s cute and harmless and good for girls?
Why can’t I just be normal?
I ask myself these questions often because as a parent, I feel like I’m often doing something wrong for denying my daughters the right to be colored pink and glazed with sparkles like their friends. Mothers (and fathers) should celebrate the little princesses in their daughters, right? We should do this because we know that our daughters are amazing, and like the girls they see on TV, “worth” the expense.” Right?
The answer to this, I think, should be “yes.” Right?
So, why is it that every ounce of me screams, “No!”
When I was growing up, I didn’t know of any princesses personally, or not in the way my daughters do at two and three. I was never really into the old-fashioned tales of blondes and brunettes who overcame mean people to get married. I did watch Jem and the Holograms and Punky Brewster and was ecstatic when my mom bought me a faux, brown horse tail from the My Little Pony series. I did like dolls, but only to the extent that I could cut their hair and fashion it in braids. I remember pink in my childhood, but I always preferred blue, red, or purple. I wasn’t a tomboy, I don’t think. I think I just felt like of all the options available to me, why not choose other things?
And perhaps that’s what my issue is with today’s princess culture. My issue is that it’s so pervasive and seductive that little girls feel like they have no other choice. It’s kind of like gang culture in that way. Or, maybe not. But kind of. Every girl knows that to be a girl is to want to aspire to Princess-dom. So, little girls are princesses, always, and filter their experiences and voices through that lens. And this is what’s so disturbing.
Also disturbing is the fact that this fascination would seem to be immune from the guidance of parents. It’s almost like there’s a whole princess world out there for girls only. Their parents must then sit on the side lines and be, willing or unwilling, spectators. This is what it, at times, feels like to me as a weary parent with my nose pressed to the sometimes foggy window of pink princess land.
But perhaps this need not be the case.
The other day, my three year old told me that when she grows up she would like to be a fire(wo)man. She told me this after a week of learning about fire rescuers who she told me “do wonderful things without wearing pink and sequins.” This may not seem like a major thing, but considering that until that day all of her imagined prospects for careers included the word “princess” in them, it was major.
This experience with me thinking outside of the princess box and teaching my daughters, through very innocent propaganda, that women can do more with their lives, hair, and nails is still new, but I think I may be on to something. I can’t, I’ve realized, create a bubble for my girls that includes everything but princesses and pink. But, as a parent, I can be another voice, offering them the possibilities for “girl” that I knew in the 80s and early 90s. I can encourage them to go down “scary” twisty slides and see the beauty in blue and they may listen because even though there is princess power, there’s also something called “parent power.” And I’ve got a whole lot of that.