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!