I’ve written about princesses before. I care a lot about the messages I send my kids and that they receive. I care a lot about supporting their interests. Before my three little individuals showed up to challenge everything I once believed about parenting, I had some pretty opinionated opinions about things like parenting. How quickly those were all stripped from me.
One of my ideals had to do with princesses and helping any daughter I had avoid the princess trap – I would never allow those misshapen Disney harlots into our house! But of course, never say never. As luck would have it, my darling son introduced us to the Disney princess phenomenon and his small sister took up that pantheon of goddesses with Enthusiasm. So it goes.
Kids bring their own agenda to the table and it is our job to help them learn about the world through their interests. Hopefully I can use their interests to teach them good lessons about being good people.
Princesses are not inherently evil. What we teach our girls, or let them passively absorb, about Princesses is pretty sinister. But we can choose what we want to direct our kids’ attention to when we interact with the Princess story. We do not need to be stuck in the “classic” messages in this image.
Images like this, that perpetuate the idea that Princesses are somehow inherantly damaging to our daughters make me angry. Because it seems like everyone has missed the lessons that are available. So let’s break it down, one at a time.
The prince doesn’t protect Snow White. He saves her, but he’s actually not there when she needs protection. She runs into the woods and learns to support herself by trading her skills (housekeeping – a seriously valuable skill set that everyone should have) with those who can benefit from them. She is cheerful in the face of adversity and makes the best of a horrible situation. That’s pretty cool.
When she finally realizes that her mariageability is her only asset and that the law governing her is unfair, she runs away. She rejects the premise that she is only a bride. She adventures and fights with Aladdin and at the end of the movie, her courage gets an archaic law changed.
The only person absolutely obsessing over Belle being the most beautiful is the villain Gaston. And he falls from a turret. Of course Belle is beautiful. It’s the title of the story. But she’s also brave – rescuing her father at her own peril. She’s compassionate – caring for Beast when he is injured. She’s a rebel and doesn’t care about other’s narrow judgements – reading and learning when women are clearly not encouraged to do so. These things are all a part of what is inside Belle’s heart. Just as Belle learns to look deeper than the Beast’s appearance, everyone in the story can look past Belle’s appearance and see what a clever, brave, and loving person she is. Everyone except Gaston, of course.
Like Snow White, Cinderella faces up to an awful life with dignity and courtesy and kindness. She finds joy where she can. She takes good care of those around her. Sure, she goes to the ball and the Prince falls in love with her. I know it is totally far-fetched. But so often good things happen to people who look for the good in all situations – if only because they can frame their situation positively. It takes a strong person to stay positive the way Cinderella does.
She always wants to go to explore the land. The whole first part of the movie is about her fascination with this other place and her burning desire to visit it. Prince Eric is her catalyst (and a pretty appropriate one for a teenage girl). She gives up her home, her family, and her voice to follow her dream. That is so brave. That is so strong. She wants this adventure so badly that she makes great personal sacrifices to achieve it.
She’s been my Everest on this one. Mostly because she’s asleep for most of the movie (NOT dead – sorry people, but sleeping and dead are really different things). She’s never in a bad situation that she is aware of. She sleeps through the scary bits. She’s kind of a blank. BUT, while the Prince rescues her with the kiss, he’s not the real hero. The real hero are three middle-aged fairies. It’s the three good fairies who protect her in the woods. They help the prince all along his quest and provide him with the weapons and tools he needs to succeed. Not only that, but as Maleficent chases them across castle, the three fairies turn Maelficent’s weapons (boulders, arrows, etc.) to flowers and bubbles. They do everything they can to save their darling girl and support the Prince on his quest and they never resort to violence. Three middle aged ladies. Awesome.
So that’s what I teach my Princess-loving daughter about her heroines. These girls are brave, determined, compassionate, resourceful, and oh-so-strong.
The creators of Princess Magic are listening to our desire for awesome characters for our girls to adore. Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, Elsa, and Anna are all kick-ass young women who take their adventures and destinies into their own hands. Obviously the tide is turning.
There is still a tremendous amount of work to do with body images (and eye size – what is up with the gigantic creepy eyes?). But we can turn the tide and stop teaching our girls that the lessons learned from Princesses are bad. We as adults are just as guilty of perpetuating the negative Princess story as Disney when all we see or show to our daughters is what is on the surface. When we judge these girls only by their beauty (she’s a Disney Princess…she must be brainless/only interested in marriage/every other negative stereotype) we fail our daughters. We teach them exactly what we fear Princesses are teaching them. That the surface appearance is what matters. We can dig deeper. We can actively give them another story as they play and learn. As we watch these movies with them we can applaud the heroic actions of these girls and play that their dolls are scaling mountains or whacking each other with frying pans.
Princesses are powerful, as I have written about here. As parents we need to choose if we want to perpetuate the story of the helpless princess or tell the other story that is below the glittery surface. I’m not going to judge a book by it’s cover, nor a princess by her ball-gown. My kids deserve to have their heroes and heroines supported and understood and celebrated.
And for full disclosure, my favorite princesses are Belle & Tiana. Who are yours? (I know you have them…)