When I was about my daughter’s age, family lore has it that I demanded to dress in long ruffled skirts and shiny patent leather shoes for nursery school. Every single day.
So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that my own precious two-and-a-half-year-old now dons a shiny lavender purse (even at bedtime), pink sneakers (with flashing purple lights), and is suddenly obsessed with all things sparkly and shiny. Yes, it’s happened. My princess wants to be a princess. Despite my own history, I had dreaded the moment my baby would show interest in tiaras and tulle.
For a while, I actually thought we had smoothly averted the craze that turns spunky little girls into wannabe beauty queens. I was proud that she tussled over trucks and soccer balls with her twin brother and jumped around in the mud … and that she showed zero interest in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty costumes last Halloween. I guess it made me feel virtuous—like somehow I was living up to my feminist obligations because the princess phase hadn’t taken hold. Back then, just about a year ago, White House hopeful Hillary Clinton was still in the game and enjoying historic frontrunner status and I felt compelled to ensure my daughter was going to pursue any dream she wanted. And for me, that track was not going to include a detour to fairyland.
Only it has. And surprisingly, I’m okay with it. Perhaps I’m experiencing what it is to be post-feminist. Is it possible that the allure of the princess does not have to be feared nor resented by anxious super moms? Maybe it’s just a natural exploration of femininity and fantasy that could actually enhance a child’s sense of self later in life?
I started thinking about this when we took the kids shopping for their first baseball mitts. Did you know you can buy hot pink gloves? I cringed at first. But then it occurred to me, as I watched my husband teach my daughter how to throw and catch a ball, does the hue really matter? If it gets her interested in being healthy and active, maybe not.
Not long after the outing to the sporting goods store, we made our first pilgrimage to Disneyland during a family vacation. I still felt so conflicted. As we braved the crowds on a scorching day, we couldn’t help but notice throngs of little ones decked out in glittery gowns and faux glass slippers.
What message would this send to my children about our values, or who we want them to be?
Would this outing lay the foundation for a lifetime of eating disorders and cosmetic surgery?
At two years old, it’s hard to say if my daughter and son absorbed the weight of all this. Okay—they had no idea. But it was running through my mind the whole time until we finally made it to the “princess show” … and I melted. I welled up when I saw the wonderment in my daughter’s eyes as Snow White descended from the stage to dance with the adoring flock of preschoolers. It was, well, magical. I was taken back to my own girlhood love of castles and fairy godmothers and yes, handsome princes. Then I wondered what was I so afraid of? We are raising a confident, happy, well-rounded kid and if right now, pink and princessy is her thing, what’s wrong with that?
Perhaps it’s the context I’ll need to provide as she starts to absorb the narratives around the classic fairy tales. There’s actually a great new book I got my hands on last week that provides some thoughtful help. It’s called Princess Bubble (Bubble Press 2008) and it was written by two former Delta flight attendants, Susan Johnston and Kimberly Webb. The storybook is a modern day fairy tale in which “happily ever after” has nothing to with being beautiful or needing to be rescued.
”We just believe that young girls today are bombarded with so much inaccurate advice on how to build their self-esteem—messages that focus on the outside rather than what’s within. We want to change that message,” explains Webb of her foray into the children’s literary world.
The story culminates with the heroine finding “happily ever after” within herself and her contributions to the world. Her self-worth is defined by her integrity, intelligence, and compassion. Isn’t that what all parents want for their kids?
All this played out in my mind, as I watched Michelle Obama gracefully command the stage in Denver. I was fascinated by the cutaway shots of her mother in the crowd—watching and listening so carefully to her daughter’s inspiring words. I can only imagine the pride. Then I wondered what role princesses played in Michelle’s household growing up? Or in the lives of her young daughters today? I would love to ask her what she thinks about all of the anti-princess hype in the media today? Is it valid?
What I have come away with is that I have to trust my own instincts as a modern mother and I’m starting to believe that no amount of princess marketing to girls can trump the self-confidence and self-reliance shaped by parents. We have the responsibility to fill our children with the sense of possibility—to help them see their innate worth and potential.
So if for now, that journey entails sequins and sparkles, I’m in.