Coming off the heels of the big royal wedding recently, many of us got a glimpse at the princess that may live within each of us: The giddiness at the sight of the stunning gown, the jewels, the horse-drawn carriage, and of course, Prince Charming waiting at the end of the aisle. Every girl’s dream, right?
Except now that I have a little girl, that dream kind of freaks me out. Of course I want her to find love and romance and happiness, and live her happily-ever-after, but on her own terms as a strong, independent woman. So I dodge the deluge of perfect princess characters that abound at every turn. With their coiffed ‘dos, made-up faces, and tiny little waists, they dream of their man coming to rescue them as they bat their inhumanly long eyelashes and leave a trail of glitter wherever they flit off to. In the subtext of the figurines and the branded t-shirts, lunchboxes, backpacks and whatever else, is, of course, that beauty is all-important, and all-powerful.
In her new book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, Peggy Orenstein sites recent research from the American Psychological Association that reveals that these images are not as innocent as those eyelashes suggest. Their findings state that the emphasis on beauty and sexiness at early ages, promoted by these images, is increasing girls’ susceptibility to the dangerous worrisome issues later on, like eating disorders, negative body image, depression, and risky sexual behavior.
Yikes. It’s enough to want to make you ban the “p” word from the playroom.
So I try to dissuade my daughter’s interest, and I avoid the all-pink aisles in the store, trying to give her a variety of gender-neutral toys. But I know that letting a Cinderella doll infiltrate her toy box won’t instantly turn her into a submissive, prematurely sexualized person. And I am not naïve enough to think that I can shield her from all media, all marketing, all negative messages about gender roles. It is up to me and those closest to her to help her manage these images and messages she receives. I hope to have the resources to provide guidance to her as she navigates the waters of gender, femininity, media, and stereotypes in that messy, tangled web in which they all coexist.
So, when I come into the room and she is twirling around in her pink tutu, proudly declaring, “I am Cinderella! My prince is coming!” I won’t tear off the tutu and stick a doctor kit in her hand. But I might say, “Great! Take that prince on an adventure, and show him the rules of your kingdom!” And I have to admit, my heart does warm a little to the idea when I ask her who her prince is, and she declares as though there is no other possible answer, “Daddy!”
How do you handle the princess problem? Do you think it’s not worth getting worked up about at a young age? Or do you think the princess market can actually have negative effects on young girls?