Princess Kate vs. Disney Princesses

Princess Kate vs. Disney Princesses

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.

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photo credit: Gero Breloer

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  1. I commend you for being cautious. I often find it difficult to strike the right balance. I love my daughter too much to just toss her up on the altar of entertainment; however, if I’m too resistrictive, she becomes frustrated. Lots of communication about what she sees is good. Sometimes her insights are wise beyond her years. This sets my mind at ease.

  2. Aimee Byrd says:

    Yes, I had the same reservations when my daughters were younger–and still–with the Disney channel. The theme seems to be: parents don’t really know what’s best for you & follow your dream no matter what the cost. Thanks for the post.

  3. Laura says:

    I really don’t care for the tv shows on the Disney channel. I’m with Aimee on that one. My daughter is 9 and she just loved the Princess Dresses. She would wear a different costume everyday. (to preschool, then school, shopping, everywhere!). Other than that, she never really spoke of wanting to *be* a princess. She just loved the dresses and the glitz & glamor. 🙂
    It’s good to be cautious and think about all of these things. At 9, my daughter is already dealing with body image issues. It’s sad and frustrating.


  4. Great post! Although my daughter is only 4 months old, I have already thought about this since I have friends with older daughters that have also gone through the princess phase. I think what bothers me is that the story ends with the wedding and happily ever after. While this is sweet, it is not reality. Therefore, I will watch these princess Disney movies with my daughter, and also explain the rest of the story 🙂 It sounds like you did just that and it turned out lovely!

      • Jessalyn says:

        I think that Amber makes a very good point relating to life after marriage, and for that reason think it is really great to get to have this real life princess (Kate) to be excited about too. Your girls will grow up looking at Kate and will get to see how real life with sinful, flawed, human beings works. My prayer is that Kate and William live a full and happy marriage together through a common love for Jesus as they “committed” to in their wedding ceremony.

  5. ladyscott says:

    I avoid the Disney Princess franchise even so far as to not buy the Disney Princess pull-ups. However, my almost 3 year old daughter is drawn to them at the stores. She’s not a total girly girl, but she’s still drawn to them. My SIL teases that there’s some sort of subliminal advertising that only little girls can hear! LOL! She’s also drawn to Tinker Bell (discovered she watched a Tinker Bell movie while in the care of Grandpa and Grandma while I was forced to be apart from them while hubby was hospitalized). Frankly, I’d rather her go for the Princesses than Tinker Bell.
    She had her first introduction to a Disney Princess recently when Daddy came home from being away on business and handed her the Tangled DVD.
    Thankfully, she loves horses, too. I keep urging her towards horses.
    Otherwise, the girl who lays in the sandpile wearing barn boots and enjoys getting dirty and beating on her brother wants a princess party for her 3rd birthday. At least princess is broad enough I can delve into something more lovely and righteous than pure pastel fantasy.

  6. Jeanne says:

    I agree with you, but we took it a step further. We took out our Cable almost 16 years ago. We have not surcome to all of the Disney hype nor Nic hype. Little girls need to develop their own princess style and they should learn about what it means to dress like a princess for dinner and walk and act like ladies and our boys should learn to be gentlemen. But we as parents should be teaching this not the disney channel nor CNN with the Royal wedding. Your are right to make this about real people! Great subject!

  7. Linda says:

    My girls and I just watched The Princess Diaries movies over the last couple of weeks. The second movie disturbed me. The message was very much “I don’t need a man to complete me, stand beside me,” etc. I understand that God has it in His plan that some will be single, but I’m very uncomfortable with shunning (for lack of a better word) the idea of marriage, home and children. The princess movies are terifically annoying in general (a mother can only take so much girly screaming, you know), but Princess Diaries 2 went beyond the animated movies. With the animated movies you can at least say “it’s just pretend”, but when the characters are actually flesh and blood it’s harder to make that distinction. Sigh.

    Thanks for letting me vent my frustration!

    • j says:

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say Princess Diaries 2 was about shunning marriage/love/kids. I’d say it was much more about a woman realizing that her life isn’t limited to the man she marries, that she can achieve her own goals through her innate power and strength rather than measure her life by her husband’s achievements. I felt the movie left the sense that Princess Mia would definitely have all of that in the future, but that she didn’t need a guiding male hand to be a good leader to her people.

  8. Jenny says:

    I really commend you on making sure your daughters don’t grow up with this idea of “being a Disney princess”. Yet I do want to point out something in your last sentence–that you want your daughters to be a “Princess Kate”. Having been a royal watcher for the past years, I can say that I never, ever want any daughters I have to be like Kate Middleton. With all the engagement hype people forget that Kate Middleton received her degree (about ten years ago) and promptly did nothing with it until she got engaged. It seems as if all she did for a long time was party and wait for her prince to propose. It’s been spun to death that she did work for her family, etc etc but to be honest the evidence really isn’t there. And her behavior after the 2007 break-up–going to nightclub after nightclub, no sign of getting a job or anything–showed me her character was not very commendable. I want to stress that I’m not jealous and slandering her–I’m not the only one who has noticed this about Kate and in fact the media was printing quite the negative articles about her until she got engaged, when she became their darling.
    Instead, why not praise a princess like the Spanish Crown Princess Letizia, who had a solid career as a news anchor before getting married, or even Queen Rania of Jordan, who works a lot for children’s causes.
    Sorry this is such a long comment about something that really wasn’t the point of your article, but it just jarred that you want your daughters to grow up to be strong women in charge of their destiny and Kate Middleton really isn’t the best example of that. She may change of course, but as she is right now I have reservations.

    • Lisa says:

      I believe that Kate did work for her family while she “awaited the proposal.” However, the big issue, to me, is not that she “did nothing with her degree” while she waited … but that she wouldn’t have had to wait if it weren’t for the skewed morals and bad example of the adults around this couple. While Kate’s parents are still married after 30 plus years of marriage, we all know the marital disaster that was William’s parent’s.

      Everyone is always telling young people “Wait to get married! Use your degree! Get a great well paying job…THEN get married!” Even Christian parents spout this line .. all the while, where does this leave young people, who by their very nature, as God created them … are primed and ready to begin having families of their own ? Do you really expect most kids to “date and wait” to marry until they’re 30 years old AND stay chaste in during those 15 years or so they’ve been allowed to be in the “dating scene” ? Did you? How long did you and those you know wait to be married?

      So William and Kate embarked on TEN YEARS of “dating and waiting” to “try each other out” before getting married. They even cohabitated during those years. Sure, Kate could have gone to work and dated around and become worse and worse and more coarsened and bitter with life … but in the most practical sense of things, SHE WAS ‘DATING’ THE FUTURE KING OF ENGLAND! Maybe she realized that landing him was going to require all of her attention and effort! Too bad for her, she went along with the lemmings and gave up something sacred … because you know, the blackmail: if she doesn’t, someone else will.

      Ugly business, modern life.

  9. Betsy Bash says:

    There are certainly a lot of details like that to take into consideration. That is a great point to bring up. I offer the thoughts above as general inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you bring up where the most important thing will be working in honest good faith. I don’t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I am sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both boys and girls feel the impact of just a moment’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

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