On princesses and raising girls

My friend Missy wrote this great post about princesses and the new Disney movie, The Princess and the Frog. Missy writes:

The main character, Tiana, is not all about getting a prince to rescue her so they can run off to live happily ever after, like Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel or Belle.* Tiana is an entrepreneur, the girl wants to own and run her own restaurant! She works two jobs and saves up her money so she could achieve her goal. What a fabulous message to send to children! Working hard to achieve your dreams rather than waiting around to be rescued or have someone else hand you your wishes on a silver platter. This totally jives with my personal work ethic and what I want to instill in my children.

Now, it is no secret that I love Disney. I love the movies, I love the songs, I loved watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” every Sunday night growing up, and I especially love the theme parks. Nobody does magic and wonder like Disney, and I pretty much live for the day when we can take Anna to Disneyland. However, I also celebrate seeing my daughter develop a strong will and definite opinions (even at 10 months, she has them!) and I will admit that sometimes this is at odds with Disney’s message. Lots of Disney princesses spend a lot of time waiting around for Prince Charming to show up.

But if you remove the search for the perfect man from the equation, I think Disney princesses have other character traits to be valued. Snow White is kind to animals and, um, dwarfs. Cinderella: also kind to animals, and also patient and giving to her evil stepmother and stepsisters. (Don’t get me started on the negative connotation Disney has insisted on giving to stepmothers.) I guess you could argue that Cinderella is a doormat of sorts and puts up with a lot of abuse, but stay with me here. Ariel: kind to animals (I’m sensing a theme here), sassy, strong-willed. Sleeping Beauty: musical, generous, and yes, kind to animals. Jasmine and Pocahontas: not satisfied with the marriages arranged by their fathers; willing to buck that trend and go a different path (which includes kindness to animals). And my favorite feminist princess, Belle: willing to look beneath the surface and see the good in anyone. And also, kind to animals.

* And with all due respect to Missy, I don’t think Belle falls into the category of waiting around for a prince to rescue her. Heck, she’s being pursued by the village jock and she’s more interested in reading her book.

So there are certainly values to be admired in Disney heroines, and I plan to emphasize those to Anna when she is old enough to have discovered princesses and fairy tales and glitter and dress-up clothes. Still, I am very much not a fan of calling one’s child “princess” or, worse, dressing them in graphic T-shirts from the Baby Gap that say “Princess.” I just don’t think we need to raise girls with that sense of entitlement.

(And there should be such a thing as innocence. Little girl clothes are probably a subject for a whole other post… suffice it to say, girls have their whole lives to wear slinky little things you’d wear to a cocktail party. I’m a fan of dressing them in cute, age-appropriate little girl things, like jumpers and overalls and turtlenecks and things of that nature. Luckily there seems to be no shortage of cute baby girl clothes (!) but it’s really quite astounding how many sleazy clothes you can find for them as well. I’m guessing this will only get worse as Anna nears school-age.)

Long story short: I have to believe it is possible to raise a child with both a love of magic and princesses and also a strong sense of self. I think my own parents did a pretty good job of striking that balance (Exhibit A: me). Here’s hoping we can do as well!

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “On princesses and raising girls

  1. Liz

    Ok, so this has always bugged me. Belle is NOT a princess right? She’s a misunderstood bookworm who falls in love with a prince so I suppose she becomes a princess but she’d never have been one if she couldn’t see the beauty in him.

    Sorry, rant over. I can’t wait to see the new movie!

  2. True, Belle is not originally a princess – neither is Cinderella. Well, possibly her father is a lord of some kind, but she marries the Prince and becomes the Princess.

    I like this spin though – it’s seeing the beauty in people that makes you a princess.

    This may be why I always loved Princess Diana, too. She gave me hope that even if I weren’t born into royalty, I could still grow up and become a princess. (If only Prince William had taken notice of me…)

  3. First, let me say, do you remember how we played at being Princess Di EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. we got together…for years? It was so cute. You were really, really, really into her! The timing (her wedding: our youth) was perfect. And it’s interesting, since she was a real-life princess. Not sure what that means.

    Anyway, yeah. Princesses are complicated. I also love the Disney movies and Disney in general. I think my issue comes with the commercialization, which has gotten so much worse than it used to be. I get snarky about kids whose rooms/clothes/everything are from whatever-movie…and while the Disney Princesses themselves are awesomeness, the “Disney Princess” line of crap out there is total crap! I have found that they do make some very-cool princessy stuff (like a giant bathtime Ariel with color-change hair that will be a surprise from Santa because Santa can’t help herself)…it’s just hard to avoid the junk. That, and the entitlement, as you mentioned. Love of princesses seems to be turning into a bunch of girls who want their every wish catered to. And the insecurity. Who doesn’t want to look like a Disney Princess???? But to see Eryn moping around because her hair and voice aren’t like Ariel’s (seriously. she spends time on this, emotionally.) hurts me because I’d like her to have a least a few years before she starts wishing she looked like the cover of every magazine. I was in college before I stopped loving my own body, and I still wish for those days back!

    So, I get where you’re coming from, I think. And I yearn for the days of light and innocent princess-fun. You know, I just realized…I wonder if this is why fairies are gaining popularity? The fun, the girly-gorgeousness, but without a wider range of hair and waistline. And plus magic? Maybe I should pursue this?

  4. Ha, you know, I actually don’t remember playing Diana! I vividly remember watching the wedding on TV, but I don’t really remember playing at her with other people – it must be some part of my subconscious that feels guilty for apparently being bossy. Sorry about that. 😉

    The Disney industry has absolutely exploded – they didn’t have the Disney Store, etc. when we were kids. I don’t recall being able to outfit one’s room entirely in commercial junk either. Rather than themed merchandise, I had dress-up clothes and had to use my imagination. And so in general I’m more a fan of imaginative play than the commercial stuff. (The bathtime Ariel does sound awfully fun, though!)

    I definitely can’t blame princess-mania alone for the proliferation of entitlement – really I think it’s much more about the way many people parent these days. Many children are led to believe they are the center of the universe. No good can come of that, I think… and it really has a lot less to do with Disney and a lot more to do with the care parents take to discourage this kind of attitude.

  5. Hey, thanks for the link and the shout out! 🙂

    I love that you called out the biggest theme of all the princesses, being kind to animals! ha!

    I’m also shocked at how sleazy some of the baby girl clothes are. I’m not totally prude, but I don’t think babies and toddlers should wear string bikinis or deep v-neck shirts, or have words written across their asses… but ya know, to each their own.

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