Is It Possible to Avoid the Princess Phase?
Down with Cinderella!
My twins aren't even three years old, and I'm already sick of that girly triumvirate that seems impossible to escape when you are raising girls: The Princess/Barbie/Pink matrix. Toys 'R' Us has entire aisles devoted to Disney Princess merchandise, racks of sparkly pink dress-up clothes, pretend makeup and costume jewelry, and of course, those totally weird Bratz dolls with their stripper clothes and drag queen makeup.
I recently spotted a little toy camera at my local toy store, something I had been hoping to get my snap-happy girls. But on closer inspection, it too was stamped with those ubiquitous Disney heroines. And when you looked through the viewfinder -- surprise! -- more princesses. My husband hates the Princess/Barbie/Pink phenomenon as much as I do, and we're determined to avoid it for as long as possible.
Some of my friends have said, "Get used to it," and told me that their girls just gravitated towards pink and princessy items once they hit kindergarten. I suppose if Sadie and Bridget's friends are all into Barbie or Bratz, they probably will be too. And I wouldn't dream of banning all that stuff from the house, because I know well enough that the best way to make a kid want something is to tell them they can't have it.
But is the princess phase really inevitable?
Just to be clear, I loved girly stuff when I was a kid. I consumed Barbies voraciously, loved the gowns and the crowns and the Barbie hairdresser set; totally fell for stories of handsome princes, damsels in distress and happily ever after. But I was also achingly envious of my friend Jill's naturally white-blonde hair, and when I wasn't chosen to be the princess in my nursery school's play, I cried. OK, so all that stuff didn't turn me into a spineless, brainless victim of chauvinism. But I still think that in this day and age, little girls shouldn't have this old-fashioned fantasy shoved down their throats when there is so much more out in the world to explore.
Fortunately, Bridget and Sadie are pretty much oblivious to the P/B/P thing right now. They do play with traditional "girl" toys: Bridget casts spells with her magic wand, they both enjoy their play kitchen and Sadie adores feeding her baby dolls. But they also have a workbench and a dump truck and a couple of really rad firetruck puzzles. And though they've been given a couple of books featuring fairies and princesses, they are just as interested in their books about turtles, stars, bears and trains.
When we went shoe-shopping recently, the salesclerk asked my daughters what colour balloons they wanted. Bridget asked for "green" and Sadie asked for "yellow." When the salesclerk said, "Wow, how original! Girls always ask for pink," I have to admit, I felt pretty pleased with myself. Maybe my girls could buck the odds and end up Princess-free. Could it be possible?
No doubt, the P/B/P trap will be difficult to avoid. Introducing my kids to traditional Disney fare like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Beauty and the Beast would be a surefire way to turn them into tiara-wearing maniacs. So right now, we stick with Treehouse. When I told my friends that I've altered some traditional tales (like Cinderella) to make them more "girl power," a couple of them thought I was nuts. Did I really think I was going to hide the fact that the Prince rescues the poor, helpless maiden when these stories have been told for generations? No, probably not. But I'm determined to allow my daughters to make their own choices when it comes to their self-image, especially now, before High School Musical and Hannah Montana teach them that stereotypical beauty = teenage power.
And I'm sure that I'm not the only one who feels this way.
Ann Douglas is a parenting expert and author of Body Talk, a book for adolescent girls about body image and self-esteem issues, which she co-authored with her daughter, Julie. Douglas says that she also had concerns about the Princess/Barbie/Pink issue when Julie was young.
"I tried to ban Barbie, but people gave them to my daughter as gifts, so we had to live with Barbie," says Douglas. "I tried to buy her one of those Happy To Be Me dolls, which was supposed to be a more realistically proportioned doll. But my daughter took one look at her and said, 'She has a big butt.' So, yes, it is hard. But what we can do is try to get them to think about the amazing things their body can do, rather than what they look like." Douglas also says that as parents, we can counter the negativity coming from ads and TV shows by talking to our daughters about the unrealistic images or sexist messages when we see them.
"It's getting them to critique the advertising themselves," says Douglas. "The sooner they become media savvy, the sooner they will be able to recognize those messages. Then when they see them, they won't just absorb them, which is the worst."
All I can say is, thank goodness for Dora the Explorer. My girls are thoroughly enchanted with Dora on TV and in books, and I'm totally OK with that. Although Dora does occasionally turn into a princess or don a fancy party dress, for the most part, she's a determined little tomboy with a monkey for a best friend who's always up for an adventure. She's kind, clever, sporty and strong, and she speaks a second language (always a plus!).
I'm always on the hunt for girl-positive reads for my book-crazy gals. On the very cool website Mommytracked.com, you can find the Anti-Princess Reading List, which features kids' books with "strong, smart, spunky girl protagonists" who want to do more than marry a prince when they grow up. Bitch magazine also has a great list of books for budding grade-school feminists. And the Dadventure blogger recently came up with a list of the best anti-princess princess books. I share his enthusiasm for The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, one of my girls' favourite reads.
Maybe one of these days I'll have to throw in the towel. Perhaps the first time Sadie and Bridget go to a princess party and put on those satin gowns, one (or both) of them will decide there's really nothing cooler. But until then, I'm going to try to help them see that being smart and capable and courageous is much more fun than just looking good in a pretty dress.