Originally published on Sweetspot.ca
I just spent a week in the land of the mouse. A few days at Walt Disney World book-ended a fantastical trip on the inaugural sail of the Disney Dream cruise ship. Needless to say, there were princesses abound. Not just any princesses. No, these were the top of the line Disney Princesses.
And, of course, I was there with my three-year-old, who happens to be a little princess-mad these days. (Remember when I thought she was a tomboy? Yeah, that didn't last.)
"Are you going to bring a princess dress?" my friend Emma asked before we left. Was I! I was going to bring two or three. I didn't think anything of it. Nor did I cringe in the slightest when we stopped to have a photograph with any princess we came across (and I'm pretty sure we snapped them all).
In the back of my mind, I was vaguely aware that my feminist side was not happy with this behaviour, but I ignored it. Then I came home and read a NYT book review for Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I then started Googling madly, and discovered this excerpt from the actual book (I really must read it now). In the book, Orenstein explores modern girly-girl culture after parenting a daughter herself and finding that even she, in hippie Berkeley, California, could not escape the culture of the princess. So what's the harm?
Orenstein seems to suggest that the princess phase is our daughters' first foray into commercial culture, at a time when their gender identities are being established (about three years old). We seem to find it an innocent concept, but Orenstein argues that the buying into princess culture is like the gateway drug to
I can only speak from personal experience. I was a die-hard princess-lover as a child. If you asked my six-year-old self what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered matter-of-factly, "A princess." It seemed an attainable station in life and snagging a prince definitely seemed like work.
I liked having that dream. I liked drawing pretty girls and castles, or dressing up my Barbies and creating apartments for them on my bookshelf. The fact is, I spent many hours immersed in imaginative play, finding creative ways to act out those stories, while veering off-script and creating new ones. I am positive those early days shaped the writer I am today.
That being said, I did grow up to have many of the issues Orenstein highlights in her book: eating disorders, issues with self-esteem, changing into revealing body-con outfits 12.5 seconds after leaving the house, doing certain things with boys because I thought it would make them like me... (hi mom!) But were my humble beginnings as a princess-wannabe to blame, or was it simply a right of passage; the sad path that we're destined to take growing up female?
After a coming-of-age that involved the many aforementioned poor choices, this princess-wannabe grew up and eventually decided that making a career out of putting words together was something to reach for. I realized that nothing magical happens without hard work; that nothing worth having comes without a struggle. I know that true beauty comes from within. And I'm certainly not waiting for any one to save me (though I did meet my prince — he just happens to be the not-rich kind).
I think, much like believing in the tooth fairy or Santa, there's a certain magic to little girls believing in princesses. What we lose in adulthood is the ability to imagine the possibility of things that are next to impossible. How much of it you let through your front door is determined by you, the parent (last I checked, four-year-olds didn't have credit cards).
Regardless of the obscene amounts of princess marketing, the crazy extremes like Toddlers and Tiaras, the over-abundance of pink... so long as we're having the conversation and keeping the red flags on our radar, I think our girls will be OK. Maybe it's a naive belief in "happily ever after — with some bumpy bits along the way," but I'm still rooting for the magic and feeding the fantasy.
What do you think? Is it harmful to let our daughters buy into princess culture?