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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The evil powers of a princess

Princess Power does not equal Girl Power. Actually, it seems to be Girl Power's Doppelgänger.

I know that little girls like princesses. All things princess. Or more exactly, all things Disney princess. But I have only ever seen it in small doses during playdates. This past weekend everything changed. I witnessed a Princess Party in which "Cinderella" was the guest of honor. This alone was sad because I thought the five-year-old birthday girl should have been the guest of honor at her own party. But she was out-shined by the tall demure blondie in a blue hoop skirt.

While I found Cinderella's show mildly amusing, I mostly felt disheartened by the commercialism. Instead of being uplifted by the spirit of dress-up and make-believe, I was disgusted by the commercialism. And I was annoyed at her overall message of love and helplessness and marriage. She started her show by asking the birthday girl if she was married (reinforcing that if you're not, then you're nothing--even at five).

At one point, Cinderella engaged the enthusiastic group of girls (my two boys were glued to the window watching tee-ball practice outside) in a game involving a red heart-shaped balloon. I imagine she asked for help blowing it up because it would have been unladylike to blow it up herself. While music played, the game was to pretend that the heart balloon was your very own lovesick heart beating--thump, thump, thump--before passing it to the next girl. If the music stopped while you held the heart, then you won a princess ring. I was actually surprised that their gowns weren't shredded back to rags as they clamored for that balloon (each girl showed up to the party in her very own replica of Cinderella's dress).

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for love and marriage. And yes, when I was a little girl, we had princesses. We had Cinderella and Snow White and Smurfette. But we also had Princess Leia. She was bad-ass and her main objective was kicking intergalactic butt, not getting married. And she was far from helpless.

I cannot help but wonder what this kind of reinforcement of helplessness and dependency does to little girls. Women already have a tough time being unmarried in today's society. I know that this is all supposed to be in the name of pretend and make-believe, but we need more princesses who can blow up their own balloons, drive their own coaches, ask guys to dance, and who are not always agreeable for the sake of keeping things status quo.


  1. I'm with you. The whole Disney princess emphasis is disgusting for the messages it sends to little girls.

    My granddaughter has all of the Disney princess dolls as encouraged by her mother. Yuck!

    Where are the role models of pioneer women, Madam Curie, Clara Barton, and women of courage and character?

    I find most of the Disney pretend nausiating!

  2. I agree. I know some little girls who are absolutely in love with princesses! But so far I have been trying to avoid any princess stuff with my own daughter. I just don't like the "princess" message. If she starts to like them on her own, I may allow some princess paraphernalia in our home. But I'm certainly not going to encourage it!

  3. Totally agree with you. My 2 yr old is already obsessed with playing dress up like a princess which I am ok with. But I recently read a hand-me-down copy of Cinderella and Snow White that she was begging to read, and I had forgotten how horrible & NOT age appropriate the messages in the stories are - evil Queens and stepmothers jealous of the princess' beauty (not brains), and sending hunters with knives to kill the princesses. The only thing that saves them is marrying a handsome prince. Oh and otherwise they are happily scrubbing floors and cleaning the dwarfs house & dishes. She will not be reading these stories.

  4. You go girl!!! With a boy and a girl, I spend my days keeping that CRAP out of my house, for both their sakes. I am so offended by the message and the marketing that my kids think I am crazy whenever the "P" word is used around the house. I am appalled when I think about how many girls in this country are internalizing this message, all in the name of making a profit (have you seen how much $$ Disney makes on this stuff?!?)

  5. I imagine that is why Disney keeps coming out with a new princess every couple of years. I originally thought that if you replaced the word "princess" with the word "cars" (matchbox cars, not the Cars movie), then that's what my house is like. But the more I see it, I know it is totally different. Riley parks the cars around parking lots and
    cities that he makes; they drive through play-doh mud; they go to work and the doctor's office... It's really pretty creative. And it's not about Matchbox the brand or a specific story (ie: the domesticity, the dependency, the need to get married, etc.).

  6. Aren't we all reading a little too much into this??

    To me, it's all about how the "princess" phenomena is explained by the parent. In my opinion, it all starts in the home, just like many other subjects.

    I can honestly say that my now 4-year old daughter was innately in love with princesses - Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, etc. She became very into them around the age of two. She had NEVER seen a Disney movie. She had NEVER been around another little girl with Disney Princess anything. How did she know about them? I have no idea.

    And for all you moms/parents hellbent on keeping princesses out of your home, how in the world did you/will you explain your reasoning to your small daughter?

    How will you keep princess play, movies, etc. out of her sight when she's with a friend and what message will THAT send to her? Perhaps that's the bigger issue, and one which may cause more harm.

  7. Sorry, I would comment on this but I am to busy taking Cinderella to parties this weekend to say anything....LOL!!! Seeing that this is my "thing" I was surprised and interested in your article.

    There is nothing wrong with playing pretend and I doubt that 1 hour of playing with a storybook character is going to ruin a girl's life and make them non self reliant. Sometimes happily ever afters don't happen but you still need to think positive.

    Have you ever read a fiction book that was so good that it was almost an escape for you to read it? Cinderella is this for the kids and when you stop thinking dreams come true and that love is only important if you happen to come across it then you will become focused on negative things and become sour. Face it, this world has enough terrible stuff and a little "happily ever after" thinking hope for anyone is not a bad thing. I assure you that my happiness is not because I have found a man that I love but occurs only when I have become content with what I have, but still believe there is a bigger grander world out there waiting for me to fall in love with so I keep on searching and trying new things. Cinderella was confined to her room and spent time serving and cleaning after people that treated her terrible. Its about more then finding love, its about over coming hard times and defeating mean situations (like the evil stepmothers in this world). We celebrate with Cinderella not that she has found love but she has gone from rags to riches all with the humility, honor and beauty of a princess. She doesn't seek revenge on the family, they all bow to her and admit that they are wrong. Cinderella gives us hope that sometimes the good "guys" do get to have the last say ina very "kid-friendly" way.

  8. my answer to the princess problem was to write a book:

    Oh to be a PRINCESS! – It’s a dream of most little girls. The challenge of inspiring these little would be princesses to give the same attention to inner qualities as they do hair, makeup and clothes is one that many parents know all too well. The challenge becomes to define the princess world in terms that a young girl can not only dream but LIVE!

    This challenge was the inspiration for Sandi Stonebraker when she wrote “On Being A REAL Princess, Secrets of the Happy Heart Princess”. This book is about how to be a princess from the Inside-Out! It’s about how it feels to be a princess.

    Featured in the book are sixteen princesses from around the globe who dance into your world with affirmations and messages on what it means to be a REAL Princess. They understand that a REAL Princess is strong, smart and kind. She knows how to think for herself and is proud of who she is and what she believes in. She dreams big and knows that she can make her dreams come true. She understands that everyone is different but each person is special.

    The book includes interactive journaling activities dealing with values, self esteem and decision making. It is a useful tool for parents, teachers, religious leaders and other caregivers to open a dialogue with little girls on all those important issues they face as they grow up in an increasingly complex society.

    The author feels that it is never too early to begin the discussion on these simple values and feelings and although the book is targeted to ages 4 to 10, all ages seem to feel it’s power in reminding them of what it is to be a REAL PRINCESS!

    If you are a parent, grandparent, religious leader, teacher or just someone who has a special little girl in your life, this book is a must!

    Quantity discounts available
    Happy Heart Princess, A Creation of FairyTale Kids

  9. Anonymous6:52 PM

    I do not encourage or discourage the princess think for my now 5 year old daughter....I know someone who to this day thinks a dark handsome man will rescue her and it did not work out for her at ...coincidence that she was heavy into princesses then graduated to romance novels??? I don't think so..I think they are connected.

    I do think that anything is good in MODERATION only and that the OBSESSION with princesses could have long term effects as I have seen it. I don't particularly think the more popular ones are good role models as they do focus on external beauty and male dependance another reader writes that her child just knew about them when she was 2 is a reality. But do we take our little girls to Disney before they go to kindergarten because soon they will have outgrown princesses? There is often an element about the parents encouraging their girls to (likely subconsiously) grow up faster than they need to (a young girl getting a detention at school at 3 for kissing a this truly innocennce or princess obsessed behaviour beginning to manifest at a very young age). Are parents so convinced that they have to give their girls most of what they ask for while simultaneously getting sucked into the marketing of these princess products just to take the next step to Hanna Montana or High School Musical....this issue more about getting their girls into non age appropriate role models (I am not saying that they are not great role models rather they are great role models for older children) I am THRILLED about the book suggestion Happy Heart Princess...I am so glad that this book was written and sounds like a great step to encourage a little girl to transition from make believe to knowing what it is to be a REAL princess...good values self esteem etc......I am going to order the book for sure!!!