The Juxtaposition. Classic Disney Princesses - the epitome of everything that is wrong with gender stereotypes in our culture, with emphasis put on the beauty, defenselessness, and the need for a man to be in a young woman's life. And of course, the epitome of what little girls seems to gravitate to: sparkly and pretty.
The Conflict. I've chosen to not make a big deal of said princesses in our house and have tried to minimize the exposure to them for the small one. I'm not completely opposed to them, just don't want them to be an overriding influence in her life.
Then came a unique opportunity for me to attend a Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland with my teenage step-daughter. And we contemplated our costumes for the evening and after much debate, we found ourselves agreeing to go as Classic Disney Princesses. Oh no, we didn't pick Mulan or Merida, we went for Classic - the helpless ones.
This initial decision was quick and was somewhat painless, but then it caused much internal debate for me, and so I figured I better explore why:
The Princess. Girls who are princesses have an expectation that everything is handed to them, and that they should be taken care of by someone else. And in the adult world, "Princess" is often a code word for bitch. They are the woman who demand unrealistic things from their partners, often without doing much themselves, and assume that the world owes them something. That is clearly NOT what I want my daughters to be.
I want them to be self-assured women who do not need someone to take care of them, confident in their own right. However, clearly having a partner in life is not bad - in fact, it can be an amazing thing. Real partnerships come with encouragement, laugher, sharing of the joys and pains, not to mention the necessary and beautiful physical intimacy.
The Prince. Disney princes leave a lot to be desired. For the most part, in the classic movies, the princes simply sweep in and rescuse the girl without much definition of their characters. This can be seen in how Disney chooses not to even advertise "prince" outfits for young boys - Why don't we have more little boys running around in "Prince Florian, "Prince Philip", or even "Prince Charming" costumes - or even knowing who they are? Is it that these type of men don't actually exist?
The Dress. I love dressing up and I fully understand the beauty in a "princess dress." What I want my daughters to learn is that wearing jeans and a t-shirt should be no less empowering than a business suit, or no more ugly than a ballroom gown. It is important for girls (and women) to feel comfortable in their own skin, not relying on the beauty of outward garments, makeup and done up hair to put her at ease. The emphasis on beauty from the Princess crew is too often the most powerful message sent to young girls. While physical appearance and hygiene are mildly important, they are very far down on my list of important character building attributes.
The Love. Tis a complicated thing. Those moments of glancing across the room or a single kiss can lead to great attraction, but rarely do they lead to everlasting love. Granted this is the movies, and fantasy cartoons, but it leads our girls to actually believe that this type of love is possible and to be disappointed when it doesn't come. Trust me, all girls have all hoped and dreamed that kind of love existed.
The Justification. Make-believe (cue Mister Rogers) is about experiencing the world through a different lens. Creativity is stiffed if we don't allow ourselves to imagine a world of possibilities and to bend the corners of what is real and what cannot or shouldn't be. Halloween costumes do not define us, they allow us to play a role for a few precious hours before the clock strikes 12. So, in the effort to immerse myself completely into the Disney frame of mind, I will be the original Disney princess today, Snow White. And I will be proudly accompanied by Sleeping Beauty (Aurora), and the little one will be Cinderella.
Here's to "Happily Ever After"....