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Princesses and Tiaras: Are they the downfall of today’s girlie-girls?

February 28, 2011

This week’s post is by WFLC Board Member, Lori Schroeder

As the mother of a three-year-old daughter who on most days insists that she be called either “Princess” or “Mermaid,” I decided several weeks ago that all this princess business needed to come to an end.  It’s not that I don’t care for princesses.  It’s just that I was beginning to see the negative effects of the girlie-girl princess culture on my darling daughter.  Months ago she began to insist on only wearing dresses, even when the air outside is only 16 degrees.  She mostly likes to wear only pink or purple, and the shinier and fancier the outfit is, or the more satin and tule it contains, the better.  She hates to wear a winter coat, lest no one will be able to see her pretty dress.  And worst of all, she is beginning to show disdain for any of her dolls that aren’t “beautiful enough” for her.  This last event was the real eye opener for me.

It all began so innocently a year-and-a-half ago.  An acquaintance of mine, who has two girls of her own, suggested that I come to her tag sale.  I do not frequent tag sales too often, but I was lured there by promises of lots of little girl items, much of it brand new.  When I arrived at the sale, I was shown the basket of dress-up clothes.  When my daughter saw the shiny pink Cinderella dress, the mermaid gown, the fairy wings, and the tiaras, she looked up at me with such a pleading look in her big blue eyes that I just could not resist.  Before purchasing the entire basket of dress-up clothing, along with the Disney Princess book that was included in the deal, a previous conversation with a wise friend of mine echoed in my mind.  My dear friend had proudly informed me that she had successfully kept all things princess-related out of her home for the first five years of her daughters’ lives and that her daughters still did not know who the Disney princesses were.  “What could possibly be wrong with a little princess make-believe play?,” I thought to myself.  And so, it all began.

Fast forward a year-and-a-half later.  Another friend of mine passed along her copy of a book titled “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” by Peggy Orenstein.  As I finished the first chapter, I found myself horrifically disappointed and on the verge of tears.  The author describes how the Disney princess culture was created by a Disney executive in the year 2000 specifically to target and market to young girls.

By 2009, this Disney “Princess” venture had yielded billions in sales and resulted in the display of over 26,000 Disney princess items on the shelves. Orenstein goes on to describe all the negative influences of the princess story lines themselves and the terrible effect that these stories have on the impressionable young minds of little girls.  For instance, the author points outs that in “The Little Mermaid” (which currently happens to be my daughter’s favorite story), the mermaid is so desperate to marry a man that she has only seen once that she gives up her voice to become a woman.  Let me repeat, she gives up her VOICE!  She describes how Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” fell in love with a man who was cruel and violent towards her in the beginning of their relationship and also how, in the other princess stories such as Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, the princesses’ only hope and desire is to be saved by a prince.  The author even points out how, in most of these fairy tales, the princesses usually do not have female friends or role models.

Feeling utterly sick to my stomach, and wondering whether I had harmed my daughter for life, I quickly skipped ahead to read the final chapter.  After reading Orenstein’s grim outlook, I did not feel any better.  In fact, I was left feeling like I had truly failed my daughter for the first time.  I felt disappointed in myself for not heeding to the warnings of my wise friend, and for not educating myself sooner of the long-term effects that this modern-day girlie-girl, princess culture could have on my young daughter.  With a heavy heart, I snuck into my sleeping daughter’s room and took out all the princess books and toys I could find.

Perhaps my disappointment and reactionary attitude were the result of my being physically and emotionally exhausted.  I had, after all, been caring for my two children for nine days while my husband was off on a business trip.  After a much-needed good night’s sleep, however, I put a few of the princess books and toys back into my daughter’s room.  I decided that reading about and playing with princesses was not going to destroy my daughter for life.

I resolved, however, to take several steps.  First, I would engage her in conversation about the negative aspects of the princes culture.  I explained to my daughter over breakfast the next morning that being a princess is not so glamorous.  After all, I pointed out, the princesses never get to have any fun, they are usually locked in their castles, they never have any fun friends to play with other than a squirrel or mouse, and they always have an evil villain chasing after them.  (My daughter’s initial reply was, “But Mommy, princesses DO have fun, because they get to go to the princess BALL!” — I’ll continue to work on this argument.)  Second, and even more important, I resolved myself to continue to talk to her, as I had already been doing since the princess scene began to take over my toddler, about how beauty is on the INSIDE and is not determined by how a person looks or the clothes they wear.  Finally, I owned up to the fact that I myself had gotten caught up in the girlie-girl/princess culture, and I promised myself to start a slow phase-out of the princess items and a more aggressive phase-in of more gender neutral toys that we already have around the house, such as building blocks, puzzles, Lincoln Logs, and Legos.  In fact, since reading Orenstein’s book, I have already noticed that as I engage my daughter more in these types of activities, she is actually receiving much more pleasure and satisfaction that she has ever displayed while dressing up as a princess.

While I do not necessarily agree with Orenstein’s overriding point-of-view that princess play and the resulting girlie-girl culture will only lead to negative results, I do appreciate her for giving me a well-needed wake-up call for getting so wrapped up in it myself.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Liza permalink*
    February 28, 2011 23:22

    Lori– thank you for sharing! It is complicated to try to present the right message for our girls — and to guide that make-believe play in a meaningful way, especially when the pink cuteness is everywhere.

  2. March 3, 2011 20:30

    Lori, I loved your post – in fact, I just finished reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter last night! Even though my girl is not a super girly girl, I’m really concerned for the years ahead and the pressures she is going to face. I think the fact that you are even investigating the issue and thinking about it is a huge step – I find that some parents don’t question the princess culture at all, and even seem to encourage it, which concerns me.

    I’m so glad you’re involved with WFLC – I always loved reading their grants (and trying to support them) when I was at the Community Foundation.

    Missing you in PA – Jess, Katie “Trampoline” and Ben

    • Lori permalink
      March 4, 2011 10:25

      Thanks Liza and Jess,
      I’m now reading Queen Bees Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World. Has anyone else read this one yet? Thus far I find it a fascinating study on the realities that todays’ girls face, especially in light of social media tools like Facebook.
      Jessica, I also thought of you while reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter. I recall a discussion with you once upon a time about Barbie dolls and the negative stereotypes they instill on our young girls. In fact, I recall this conversation every time I see my daughter gleefully playing with the two Barbies that she already has…one of them, in fact, is a Cinderella Barbie!

  3. Lori permalink
    March 7, 2011 08:07

    Here’s a great article I just came across on WebMD examine Cinderella Ate My Daughter and the
    impacts of the girlie-girl culture on young girls!

  4. March 17, 2011 04:22

    Hello Lori, thank you for writing such a mind-opening blog and as a young lady in my twenties, I couldn’t agree more with the fact how the whole girlie girl princess culture (or should I just say syndrome) does leave some negative effects. Growing up as a little girl, I could recall throwing the biggest tantrum when my parents or my relatives tried playing Disney’s Snow White on the VCR when I rather watched or hear stories of some butt-kicking heroines in action. Looking back now it pays off for me and if you ask me what I think of the girlie girl princess culture in this day and age, I can honestly say it is just sickening to the core. I may not be a mum but I am determined to see that if I have daughters in the future, none of them will be growing on a diet of anything girlie girl princess.

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