Defending our Princesses
I recently came across a blog shared by a friend on Facebook about how the ‘Princess Culture’ is ruining our daughters. How the little girl’s obsession with Disney Princesses is forming their views of themselves, their views of the opposite sex and their views of their gender as a whole. And I found myself disagreeing on almost every point.
I currently live with an almost-three-year-old little girl who holds being surrounded by the colour pink and all things sparkly as her highest priority in life. We are weeks away from hosting her third birthday, which is Princess themed, and my house is literally exploding with pink decor and crowns and wands and all things “girly”.
We are having a pink dress made for her, to look just like Sleeping Beauty, and we have hired a pink jumping castle as a surprise for our budding Princess. Bella is literally in love with Aerial, Belle, Aurora, Cinderella, Jasmine, and of course, Elsa and Anna. She knows every word to the songs from Frozen and currently refers to herself as Queen Elsa. And after reading that blog post, and researching the topic, I found myself wondering: what is so wrong with these Disney Princesses; what is wrong with all things pink and sparkly?
You can read any message into any movie that you watch. Beauty and the Beast has been criticised for being about Stockholm Syndrome. Really?! How about we focus on the story of a young girl who is an avid reader, the same girl who turns down the ‘hottest guy in town’ in favour of focussing on her education. She is not a victim; it is Belle who rescues the Beast in the end, and falls in love with someone in spite of his bad past. Then there’s The Little Mermaid where Aerial is belittled for giving up a part of herself to win the love of a man. Or we could see her as a young girl who fights for her individuality, who stands up for what she wants, who makes her own mistakes and learns from them. Cinderella is apparently the quintessential ‘damsel in distress’ and only finds love when she changes her appearance. But she could also represent a girl who has hope for a better future, a girl who is brave enough to leave behind an abusive family; she could represent hope for the many girls who are in awful family situations, letting them know that one day it may in fact be okay. Mulan wears a suit of armour, Jasmine announces that she “is not a prize to be won” and Anna chooses her sister Elsa over her own life, showing the ultimate act of love and loyalty. These Princesses do not always look good and they do not make being a woman look easy. Most have lost one or both of their parents, most are mistreated or abused in some way, but ALL of them overcome adversity. Yes they may look pretty in the end, and yes they may have found love, but seriously, how bad is it to have our daughters get lost in movies where they all live happily ever after?
Disney Princesses have evolved with the times. Snow White is from 70 years ago, so obviously portrays different values regarding women than what we expect today. Frozen, the latest Princess movie, shows the heroine choosing her family over the man she loves, breaking the mould of all previous Disney characters. The change is evident; Disney is progressing with the society we live in.
What exactly are we afraid of within ‘Princess Culture’? Are we so self-conscious in our own parenting that we think we cannot change the irrevocable damage done by Disney? Consumerism and racism and gender stereotyping are all real issues, but they are not created by Disney Princesses. They are issues that surround our children daily and to blame its effects on our children solely on Disney is ridiculous. How our daughters view these movies will be based on how we raise them, what values we instil in them. They will resonate with a damsel in distress if we ourselves act as one, or they will resonate with a queen in power if we show them that we as women are in charge of our own lives. We as mothers simply cannot tell our daughters that loving Princesses is wrong. We need to raise them to think independently, to know that none of their ideas are wrong. We need to teach our girls to rather see alternate messages in these movies – to see that it is good to voice her opinions, to stand up for her beliefs, to fight for the people she loves, to be loyal to those around her, to be kind to people and animals alike, to be independent and to be brave.
If we as women question why the Princesses must all be so pretty, we are doing exactly what we fear the movies might be doing, which is telling our daughters that you simply cannot be beautiful and strong or you cannot be pretty and smart, it ‘isn’t realistic’ to be both. What a load of bull. Instead we need to teach them to always see their own beauty; teach them that you can be a nerd and still be beautiful, you can wear heels and still stand up for your beliefs, you can be as feminine as you choose and still be the bravest person in the room. You can be anything you damn well want to be! We as mothers cannot blame ‘Princess Culture’ for our daughters being concerned with their looks, or with their body sizes, or with boys. This is sadly the society we live in. These movies are two hours long, what you do and teach your child in the remaining 22 hours of the day is what will dictate how she sees herself and others. Spend time praising her talents, her scientific smarts or how fast she can run. But for goodness sake, let our girls have some sparkle in their lives!
Many of us are guilty of watching the occasional Romantic Comedy, or singing aloud to Katy Perry on our way to work, or buying the latest Cosmo. And what makes us think that Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella is tainting our daughters any more than our own guilty pleasures? Our daughters see photo-shopped bodies in the magazines we read and in the adverts that surround them. They see and hear about wanting ‘true love’ in the music we listen to and the movies we watch. And yet we revel in these pleasures and criticise our children’s choice of escapism and fantasy.
My little girl is obsessed with pink. She likes pretty dresses and she asks me when she will be allowed to wear make-up. I teach her how to paint her nails and how to cook. But I also teach her how to be strong, how to be a good person, how to respect her body and how to value others. Her Dad teaches her how to play rugby and how to swing a golf club. He bought her first music instrument and he will teach her how to change a tyre. We will strive to teach our daughter balance, and above all, independence and integrity. It all comes down to what we as parents teach, how we handle situations and the ways in which we raise our daughters to be strong within themselves.
My best friend only listens to rock music and is covered in tattoos. She has a law degree, owns her own business and is one of the strongest women I have ever met. And she went to Disney World for her honeymoon. There’s a little Princess in all of us, and I for one will not dull that sparkle in my baby girl!