Tuesday, February 15, 2011

To Princess or Not to Princess...

Sadly, we have hit that stage. Pk has noticed and begun to adore Disney's princesses. We fought the fight as long as we could but now, we have lost - the world has invaded. We knew it was only a matter of time but we thought we might have managed to avoid it until school. Not so.

I actually have a hard time articulating what it is exactly about the princesses that I loathe so much. Certainly, in part, it's the impossible-to-achieve standard of beauty and the fact that the "good" characters are always what to little girls would be gorgeous. Certainly, as someone who has battled the self-image struggle my whole life and who still, at 38, has a hard time getting dressed in the morning because I feel so badly about how I look, I want to do everything I can to spare Pk that struggle. On the other hand, I am not naive enough to think that keeping the princesses out of my home would stop Pk from being bombarded by the media and popular culture. The message that uber-thin is what's in and that her primary value comes from her appearance is everywhere. Fighting that cultural message goes a whole lot deeper than banning a few Disney movies and toys.

Part of my dislike is the way that the marketing is targeted at little children. It's crass and frankly, how Disney can pretend to have anything other than cash as it's motivation is ridiculous. That's distasteful but again, I wouldn't say that Disney is much worse than any other company selling to children. For that matter, the whole Veggietales franchise and Big Idea's marketing team, which I really like in so many ways for the values that the movies contain, has really ramped up the marketing machine in recent years and are pushing "stuff" on our kids. I am not boycotting them and, in fact, we have bought more than we should for Pk since she loves Veggietales so much.

In some ways, I don't like the way that Disney seems to move our children along through their machine. Disney princesses seems to lead to the really horrible (in my opinion) tween category (all of which seems to end up being consumed by my grade 2's who are not yet tweens) and then, down to road to the troubled and disturbed messages of the former Disney girls who go off the rails (and you know who I mean). But that isn't all of it, either.

My indecision is what really leads to my dilemma. I know that some of my closest friends "get it" and feel the same way but others do not. There are family members who think the whole Disney thing is just part of the joy of childhood and who would shower Pk with princess stuff. It hasn't happened yet but it will and that leads dh and I to have to make some decisions. If I can't articulate my feelings about why I don't want to go down this road, can I really expect these people to understand? Do I risk offending them by taking a firm stand on the princesses (as I would more confidently with, say, Bratz or crop tops or bikinis)? How do I draw the line?

In the midst of all of this, Focus on the Family's "Thriving Family" magazine had an interesting take of the princess culture that I hadn't really seen as an option before now. The author of the article shared that she had looked at the Disney films for the characteristics demonstrated by the princesses that showed good character (e.g., Belle's loyalty to her father in Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella's hard work) and she framed her discussions with her daughter in terms of character rather than appearance. She selected certain films and heroines as being better than others and allowed her daughter to watch those. She actively discussed the message of each film and tried to focus on what she saw as positive. That might be something we could do. While some of the films really don't have much to grab onto, Beauty and the Beast, for one, does have a positive message that we could share. That would mean having to sit down and watch through a bunch of these films (not something I relish!)

I'm not sure if that is the answer for us. There's only so much that we can do to keep the world at bay and realistically, trying to keep everything out that we don't love isn't practical or possible. On the other hand, I'm not sure how much compromise I am prepared to do on this without feeling a bit like I have abdicated my responsibility. I am not clearly seeing where the line should be and I don't know where the comfortable limit would be for us.

Just curious, what do you think?


  1. Well I'm not sure I've put as much thought into it as you have, but we have the same struggle here with our youngest. We have decided to allow them in moderation. Kayleigh has a collection of "dolls" (the small ones you can buy in check out lines) and dress-up dresses. We also have some books we found at Goodwill. And honestly, those are her favorite books and her most prized possessions and she plays with them daily. Yesterday both girls built "forts" in their room for their toys. Sydney used science books and dinosaurs....Kayleigh used princess books and princesses. Sometimes I look at the princesses and books and wonder why I bought them in the first place, but I see that Kay loves them and plays with them and it seems innocent at this point.

    We have drawn the line at Disney themed bedding, backpacks, pajamas, etc. I don't even like for her to wear shirts that say "princess".

    To balance out the Disney monster we have other "Christian" princess things...."A Little Princess in the Making" by Emilie Barnes is a wonderful book about manners. We have a couple of the Gigi dvds (by Sheila Walsh), but I'm not a big fan. I find Gigi to be whiny.

    We have also watched most of the Disney movies with her, but don't own any so she can't watch them over and over. We fast forward through the scary parts.

    So far our girls don't know Disney World exists and I want to keep it that way for as long as possible. We certainly aren't going to spend thousands of dollars any time soon to meet the princesses!

  2. Thanks, Jill. I value your opinion and I hoped you would chime in. I've wondered about the Gigi stuff.

    One reason I know that I have married the right man is that when it was raised in the extended family that we should do a big family trip to Disney in Florida, I thought he was going to be sick. Poor Pk will be missing out on what seems, at least around here, to be the trip to Disney that is essential to childhood.

  3. I'm not against going to Disney some day - I went twice and loved it. But I was in middle school and high school and my memories of it are clear. I think it's a waste of money to take such young kids. I would much prefer to spend that kind of money and show my girls the world - take them to meet a Compassion child we sponsor and do something meaningful. I have no doubt my girls would love Disney - it's just not the way I want to raise them.

  4. I think that for us, Disney represents something, a kind of mass-marketing to children that we just aren't into. If we were going to spend that kind of money on a trip, there are other things that appeal to us more. I don't know why I have this prejudice (actually, if you knew my father, you probably would know why - to him, Disney represents the evils of the capitalist world in terms of a lack of compassion - how can we spend so much on needless luxury when so much of the world is starving). I am not as extreme as Dad and I can see the fun in letting go for a bit but for some reason, a giant amusement park just doesn't do it for me. I will admit, though, to be surprised when I spoke to friends who just got back as to how much more there is to it than rides...

  5. I am honestly grossed out by the Disney marketing machine, too, and resist it heartily, knowing that it's way out there and that she has/will have some of it despite my opinions. My thoughts?

    - there will be people who buy it for your kid, no matter you opinion. i don't ban it or throw it out, but I'm certainly not buying into it myself. Instead, I buy other fun girly stuff, dressup clothes that are princessy without being branded, etc.

    - I have given her the movie and doll of Mulan this year, though, who is not so princessy, and is a pretty tough little lady - she's her favourite anyhow, which is heartening, but took some wandering through the pinker regions of princessdom to get there

    - I refuse to read the Disney versions of fairy tales, which are of poor quality anyhow, so I tell her my own versions, edited and editorialized to offset the parts of those stories that annoy me - not only the princess' focus on appearance, but also the instant love with the prince thing which, ugh. (Mine always get to know each other and enjoy each other's company and EVENTUALLY get married down the road. I know, I'm an idiot.)

    - Luckily, most princess stories have some scary adversaries in them, so Ppie is not prepared to watch all the way through all the time.

    - I also like to give other options, so her imaginary play and dressup bin includes a bit of princessy stuff, but also cowboy, contractor, firefighter, ballerina, pirate, animals, etc. outfits and a host of tools for cooking, doctoring, building, and so on, too. Princesses can be *one* option among many, and yes, it will be the focus for a while, but once she's done with being three, it will calm back down. It's age-appropriate, much as it makes a more broad-minded mom's heart quail.

    - read some different princess stories! Here's some ideas: http://kittenpiespicks.blogspot.com/2008/06/princesses-with-less-pink.html

  6. I hate the Disney storybooks... our library has a copy of Cinderella (how Pk found it in the fiction section since we are always in the picture book section) and she always wants to take it out. She can tell you that "mummy doesn't like that one". I will have to check out your link, that would be great to see!