Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Anti-Princess Diaries

Back in February I posted the commentary below on my private family blog after a playgroup where Mayumi was playing with a plastic Disney crown.  I was reminded of it when I came across the blog Disney Princess Recovery: Bringing Sexy Back for a Full Refund.  The blog is written by Mary Finucane, a psychotherapist with training in play therapy and mother of a little girl in Rochester, New York.  Her observations are lucid and eye-opening and they struck a chord with me.  I'd love to start a dialogue about this, so check out her blog, read my post below, and let me know what you think.

Princess Maya - charming I know, but I was a bit chagrined when Maya discovered the crown and insisted on wearing it. I made the comment that I didn't want any "princesses" in our home. Bruce (the only Dad in attendance - isn't he great?!) told me that Holly (his wife) had felt similarly but alas! I needed to embrace it because it was inevitable. A bit mortified, I announced I wanted a proletariat household!

Someone asked what I had against princesses and I defended my stance: I feel like there is a certain "princess" mentality that implies a bratty, spoilt, good-looks-and-expensive-jewelry-are-the-most-important-asset sort of mindset. The kind of idea that you can "rule" over other people and that you are entitled to pedestals and special treatment. And I am NOT okay with that. I have to raise a daughter in a society where women are highly sexualized and little girls wear pants with "princess" printed across the butt (or worse yet, "juicy!"). Where people go into debt to buy expensive cars, jewelry and handbags. Where every woman on TV has a 20-inch waist, has had plastic surgery, wears fake nails and is practically naked. The last thing I want to do is re-enforce the prevailing belief that a princess is someone who wears pretty dresses and tiaras and is better than every one around her because she is so beautiful. (For another point of view on this topic click here and here).

Now, I love princesses as much as the next person - I really do! Princesses played a big part of my imaginary world as a child (especially those kick-butt girls like Princess Leia). I'm all about enjoying the beautiful things in life, too. I want Maya to appreciate beautiful things and have an active imaginary life, but please don't fault me for encouraging her to pursue other "careers" like an artist, a scientist, a teacher, a healer, a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, a stateswoman, a civil servant, an explorer... I hope she develops qualities like intelligence, a sense of humor, determination, curiosity, a hard work ethic, kindness, generosity and true leadership. You can argue that a "true" princess would have all those qualities, but when I see t-shirts that pronounce:

I have a hard time believing that being a princess is about more than wearing a tiara.

I'm also a bit miffed that Disney has usurped the "princess" title and left little room for any other interpretations, but that's another story.

If Maya really wants to be a princess, that is fine. But in our house princesses pick up their own toys, wear blue jeans, and get dirt under their nails like the rest of us.

Just to be clear, though, I still respect you if you've got plastic crowns and pink gauzy gowns in your toybox. I don't mean to be critical of moms who love their princess babies. (There's no questions that my baby is also the center of our world.) I'll just assume you're encouraging your daughters to be the humble-but-sassy, hard-working, kick-butt, princess neurosurgeon-type. And that's cool, too.


Emily W said...

I agree with you on this...but my daughter LOVES princesses and is the most girly-girl there is! However, she has also had a pirate stage and a dinosaur stage...though those were a lot shorter than this princess thing. She loves to get dirty and though there is constant drama with my little 3 yr old...I think she can wear a tiara and "kick butt" too! ;)

Kendra said...

I think the child-like version of a princess is the fairy tale princess. And, let's face it - SOME (not all) of those princesses are a little rough around the edges and certainly not high and mighty. The image of expensive cars, plastic surgery, etc is certainly not a princess at all! Maybe the crown can only be worn while helping around the house?

christine said...

My nieces are totally into princesses and so am I when I'm with them. To help them get some perspective I gave them these two books to read and they loved them.

A Little Princess, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Little_Princess

The Princess Academy,

These lovely books show how a true princess daughter of God would act and treat others. I know your daughter is a little young for these, but later on they'll come in handy.

MamaQ said...

kendra- i LOVE the suggestion to wear a crown while doing chores! you are a most brilliant woman and i hope some of those smart genes have rubbed off on me. thanks cousin!

Colleen said...

Princesses are held to a VERY strict code of conduct and must always consider the greater good before their own. I know that you're working against (or with) a Disney idea of princess and not real-world princessness -- but it's perhaps worth remembering.

ginger said...

Looks like you aren't the only one thinking about this today http://www.elsiemarley.com/

Mary Finucane said...

Hi! So glad you wrote this...it's such a sensitive topic with mother's of daughters...and can easily devolve into other parents feeling judged because they have princess gear.
Anyway, well done on a sensitive and diplomatic piece.
My 90 days are closing...but through exploring and researching this topic it led me somewhere unexpected, and it also explains why pretty much every house in the US has some small or massive amount of princess stuff in it: marketing to kids! We're the only industrialized country with NO RULES around it. Our 12 month old's are fair game to a 15 billion dollar industry. No fair! I don't have that kind of cash to fight back :)
My own house was FILLED with Disney Princess stuff by the time my daughter was 2...none of which I'd purchased or even sanctioned, but once entered, it's really hard to remove. And thus, so many parents say, "Embrace the inevitable." Who can take on toy companies that have anthropologists on staff? Not I.
It sounds like you are doing a wonderful job with your daughter, and just using your antennae and being conscious will help you transform "stuff" that seeps in your home into your own stories with her.
I don't think any family is immune to this...but each handles it so differently, and some handle it so creatively. (As evidenced from other commenters!) But wouldn't be nice if we didn't have to transform the stories a company has slyly placed in our home, and instead could implement our own without competition so early on? Here's hoping...

ps---Katie M. is one of my favorite people, so glad to find your blog through her!

Mary Finucane said...

ps---I love the concept of this blog! I have two sisters also...I'm the middle :) Yay, sisters!

MaurLo said...

I have to admit I was slightly annoyed when E at age two started calling herself "princess". I tried to figure out how she had ever learned about them (since I attempt to keep her in the dark about Disney…even to the extent of throwing out a Disney princess sticker book that my own sister gave her before she could see it). I later discovered that she had picked it up from watching two much older cousins playing "pretend" after reading the book 'The Little Princess'. After thinking about it for a bit I realized that her definition of “princess” was mostly shaped by us. The “princess” in the book 'The Little Princess' has lots of money and is technically “spoiled” with possessions, but her character is everything opposite what you classify as “princess’. She is kind, strong, loving, generous, and compassionate, works hard and is full of goodness and hope even when things go wrong and yes, she even “kicks butt”. So, my real question is what do I bring into our house that defines “princess” for E?

We don’t allow Disney princesses into our house at the moment. Maybe one day, (although I guarantee The Little Mermaid will never make the cut…) but at the moment she picks up enough about them from walking through the isle at Target. For now, we read her stories about girls who are developing real character and talk often about the fact that a real princess has to earn the title by becoming a great little woman. I welcome any crown wearing princess who knows how to act well, do her part and works to be a genuinely good human being. Who knows if it’s the right choice but it is working better than trying to tell her she can’t be a princess!

Esther said...

Well, since it was my house that you were at when your daughter discovered the tiara I thought I would put in my two cents. By the way, I have no idea where the tiara came from or where it went after that day. Honestly, H has never seen any of the Disney Princess movies. I doubt she knows who they are. And she hates dressing up for now. Her grandma is obsessed with Disney princess and the whole thing started with her grandma giving her a princess couch for her birthday. It was a little conflicting for me but I figured it wouldn't hurt since she was only one. I never wanted to do character themed anything. But as I looked for stuff to decorate her room I found it way cheaper to find princess stuff so I went with it, figuring she wouldn't care. It does bother me to have her whole room decorated in princesses and my husband and I have decided that we are taking the opportunity to change it all when we move although I think the couch might have to stay, since grandma still asks about it. I kind of feel like I have been setting it into H's mind that she has to like princesses and I don't like it. We accepted what society put out there. What struck me even more was when a 10 year old cousin came over with barbies (another rant in its self) and after playing with them once she points them out where ever we go. It made me realize just how influential she is. We are hoping she hasn't been too damaged by my princess craze and that we can change things with this move to a new house. I obviously have no intention of teaching my daughter that she just needs to be beautiful to be somebody but I do think I should be more careful about what we accept into our home and how we present things to her.