This story begins in 2005, when I gave birth to a baby girl, and began viewing the cultural landscape around me with hyper-protective I’m-raising-a-girl-now eyes.
I quickly realized that something drastic had changed in the land of Disney since I was a girl: the Disney heroines had been bulk-packaged and labeled, collectively, as the Disney princesses. I thought this mixed branding seemed a little awkward, but it seems I’m in the minority–the Princesses collectively took in 4 billion (!!) last year.
My own baby girl grew up (a little bit), went off to preschool, and quickly embraced the previously unknown princess culture. She memorized the names and dress colors of the Disney princesses and quizzed her little sister on them at our kitchen table.
I was deeply uncomfortable with this princess fixation.
I understand that she wants to be pretty, dress up in beautiful clothes, and do her hair nine different ways before breakfast. She’s exploring what it means to be a girl and becoming comfortable in that role. That’s okay. That’s good, even.
But I don’t want her to think femininity is just a cartoon.
The Disney princesses are literally one-dimensional to my daughter. We’ve not seen the movies (too scary for her taste), we’ve skipped Disney World so far. She doesn’t know their stories–the hardships, the victories, the princes(!). The princesses mean only one thing to her: beautiful girls in pretty clothes.
Pretty girls and pretty clothes are a good thing–but heaven help the girl to whom these are the only things.
The Royal Wedding took place in the midst of my personal princess angst. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to watch it with my daughter or not; I was reluctant to add fuel to the princess fire. But after hearing the news and seeing some photos myself, I knew she would want to see a real girl become a real princess. So we cued up the video on the computer and sat down together. My daughter gaped, open-mouthed and hands clasped to chest, for a full hour: the Rolls! the dress! the veil! the carriage! the palace! Swoon!
The next day, my daughters were taking turns being Princess Kate. And it didn’t ruffle me at all.
Catherine Middleton is a real girl. The wedding was almost fairy tale, but it was a real wedding. There was nothing much to buy, yet millions of people turned out, and billions tuned in, to celebrate with the happy couple on their wedding day–to watch Kate become a princess.
After the wedding, my daughter and I talked about the beautiful dress and the veil, the sweet little bridesmaids and groomsmen. We talked about what it must be like to ride in a carriage to a palace, and wave to the adoring onlookers. But we also talked about love and marriage, family and babies. We talked about the duties of a princess–the meetings and trips and charity work that would fill her time, and about her husband’s very real job and his duties as a (real) prince. We talked about history and tradition, and royal succession, and about how Kate’s babies may grow up to be kings, or queens. We talked about a real girl, living a real life. My 6-year-old loved the story.
The Disney princesses are not even a part of their own stories any longer. They’ve been plucked out of their own fairy tales to become a part of the “Disney Princesses” collective. Today’s little girls don’t know the stories. They’re left with nothing to pretend–only a Halloween costume.
My daughter loves to play princess, and I’m not going to discourage her. But I’m much happier when she chooses to be Princess Kate.
photo credit: Gero Breloer