On Pink Princesses

8 Aug

 This has been on my reading list for a while and the other day Ryan from Pacing the Panic Room wrote this. As always, it was amazingly and thoughtfully written and I haven’t stopped thinking about it

I’ve known since the moment I found out I was having a girl that I wanted to be very careful about how much “princess” stuff I exposed her to. I think she has had one outfit with the word princess on it, and that was a pair of pajamas handed down to me from a friend. She has a pair of Disney princess shoes, a Disney princess towel, and a Disney princess couch, all given to her as gifts. (And in an effort at full disclosre, I love that little couch. It folds out into a bed and it’s just super cute.)

For starters, I think the sparkly pink princess clothes look kind of tacky.  The clothes and costumes are poorly made to optimize proceeds, and you can tell. Also, clothes for young girls are modeled more and more after clothes for young women and I don’t understand the appeal of dressing your toddler or young daughter in clothes designed for teens or twenty-somethings. Not to mention, have you ever strolled through the Halloween aisle at Target? Every year, I am astounded at how skimpy these costumes are for young girls. Sexy cats, sexy pirates, even a sexy Dorothy from Wizard of Oz.  The traditional princess costumes aren’t too bad, but they always come with make-up and a purse and high heels and it’s sending a message that girls have to be “pretty”. 

I once saw a shirt on a 3-year-old girl that said (in sparkly letters, no less) “Flirt”. I can’t even begin to understand why someone would want to put forth that kind of image for their toddler. As parents of really young children, we control what they wear. If we don’t buy it, they don’t wear it. Why would someone want their daughter to wear shirts proclaiming her to be a flirt, or  too-short shorts and not-big-enough tops? I certainly don’t want anyone looking at my daughter in a skimpy outfit when she’s 18, let alone when she’s 8!

I think that allowing girls to become too steeped in the princess culture also teaches them that women have a specific place in the world – to be pretty and wear pretty clothes, and if you aren’t already pretty and wearing pretty clothes, that should be your goal.  Even worse, it perpetuates the assumption that a “Prince Charming” will come and rescue you from all your troubles. And that just covers the Cinderellas and the Sleeping Beauties.

Today’s princess culture is being combined with the “diva” culture and it’s fostering an attitude that being a girl gives you the right to get anything you want – that girls are princesses and divas and people should follow their orders, cave in to their demands and tolerate their selfish behavior. I was watching Toddlers and Tiaras yesterday (SHUT UP. I can’t stop.) and those little girls will flat out tell you, “I am a diva, I get whatever I want and you have to do what I say.” Those parents are doing their children such a disservice. The world does not work that way. You don’t get whatever you want. People don’t always listen to you. And most of all, you don’t deserve to have whatever you want anymore than anyone else deserves to have whatever they want.

I worry that the beauty pageants and dance recitals and cheerleading competitions in which we cake our daughters’ faces with make-up and tease up their hair are sending a message that to be pretty and to get attention you have to change yourself.   That you, and you alone, are not enough. You have to be tan, have perfect hair, wear flashy, skimpy clothes, shake your booty. That you’re only special if people are watching you and commenting on how you look. I feel like it objectifies them. (Please don’t get me wrong. This is certainly not about dancing or cheerleading in and of themselves. Those are sports and it takes talent and practice and skill to be good at them. I would be damn proud if Tessa worked as hard at dancing or cheering as she did at school or soccer or anything else. I’m simply talking about the idea that you have to make yourself look “better” – that simply being talented isn’t enough.)

I know this is more about the clothes my daughter wears or books she reads or movies she watches. It is my job as her parent to provide her with a well-rounded and realistic view of the world. It’s my job to teach her that sometimes life is hard and she is going to have to work hard to be successful – that looks alone won’t carry her. But kids are impressionable and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to keep her from being swept up in this princess culture. She will inevitably be innundated with media forcing the belief upon her that she has to be pretty and dress well and wear make-up and that all she needs out of life is a man to take care of her.  But if I start introducing it to her when she’s too young to understand, even if it’s just in the form of a princess t-shirt or a skimpy Halloween costume, what message am I sending her? I’m forcing something upon her and not letting her decide what kind of woman she wants to be. It minimizes the importance of being smart, or funny, or kind, or creative, or athletic.

My parents certainly didn’t perpetuate the idea that I had to be pretty, or skinny, or wear trendy clothes. But I still felt that pressure. I was never really a “girly” girl, so I always felt less-than in the face of all my friends who knew how to do a perfect “smoky” eye, or who wore the trendiest (and skimpiest) clothes. I felt like those girls were the girls the boys wanted. And I was right. High school boys are caught up in looks. It’s part of being a teenager. But there is a pervasive assumption out there, in high school and beyond, that the only way to attract the attention of a boy is to be skinny, pretty, or have perfect make-up.

I know now of course, that isn’t true, but when you’re young and all you want is a boyfriend, it’s easy to believe that your looks are the most important part of who you are. I just so badly want to raise Tessa in a way that allows her to be proud of whatever makes her who she is. If she is good at sports and her favorite color is blue and she hates dresses, I want her to love that about herself. I don’t want it to make her feel somehow less-than all the girly girls out there.

And if she decides that she likes to wear dresses and 98% of  her clothes are pink and sparkly, and she wants to dance and cheer, then that’s fine with me. But only if she does those things because it makes her happy and she enjoys it. Not because it’s what she thinks a girl should do. I still want to raise a girl who, while she might be decked out in pink and sparkles, can stand up for herself and take care of herself and doesn’t take shit from anyone.

I know that nothing I’m saying here is new or revolutionary and I certainly don’t want to make it about my issues. I’m just terrified of raising a girl who, like me, felt the pressure to be prettier, skinnier, more popular, and more of a “girl”. 

I understand my daughter is only 15 months old. I don’t know what I’ll do when she wants to dance or cheer and I’m forced to tell her yes, you can dance and cheer and I’ll be there to cheer you on, but no, we don’t wear fake eyelashes at 5 years old. I hope I can stick to my convictions. I hope that I can preserve her innocence for as long as possible. I hope that I can help her understand that she is much, much more than her looks and no amount of make-up or hairspray is going to improve upon what is already perfection- her, just the way she is.

6 Responses to “On Pink Princesses”

  1. Life of a Doctor's Wife August 8, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Oh wow. This, uh, hit home with me. I’ve always been super insecure about my appearance (even now – LAME) and I don’t know why. Once you figure out how to shield Tessa from that, please tell me.

    I do think, even if you can’t shield her 100%, that doing all the things you plan to do (support her and praise her intelligence and creativity and athleticism, etc) will help. Because despite the insecurity (LAME), I know in my brainplace that there’s more to life than being beautiful.

    P.S. I’m glad you included that caveat about dancing/cheerleading. I left the speech and debate team in high school to join the cheerleading squad, and my debate coach was AGHAST. But I loved it, and it was a way to be athletic for a non-athlete like me and the perfect way for a super shy girl to learn how to be outgoing. (Being outgoing didn’t stick, though.) Like the other athletes, we had to maintain a 3.0 GPA and act “honorably” (no drinking or drugs or other questionable behavior), and the girls on my squad were some of the brightest and most involved students in school. I think cheerleading gets a – probably somewhat deserved – bad reputation, so I always like to stick up for it when I can.

    • Kristina August 9, 2011 at 8:44 pm #

      I am totally insecure about my appearance and it’s one of the things I like the least about myself.

      Some of my best friends in high school were cheerleaders and dancers and I have a great appreciation for the commitment it takes to do that. I was never coordinated enough!

  2. Erin August 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    This is an argument I vacillate on. I feel like the argument is made so often that I should agree that princess movies/stories set girls up to believe that if they’re pretty enough, the boys will all love them and the fairy godmother will fix everything, but … I just can’t help but feel like girls are smart enough (or should be, and if they’re not then that’s what we ought to be worrying about) to realize that that’s not the case. I mean, I was raised on princess movies and my mom never had to explain to me that being pretty doesn’t make all your dreams come true, and that fairy godmothers don’t exist. I keep seeing arguments that the princess thing is detrimental to little girls because it sets them up to expect to be taken care of in ways that, let’s face it, most of us aren’t, but I really feel that if this is the case, it’s because we’re not doing a proper job of making sure our girls are smart enough to realize that fairy tales are fairy tales, and in real life you have to work hard to get places, that having a pretty face is nice (let’s be honest, having a pretty face is nice) but it won’t get you anywhere in the long run.

    And as for the cheerleading, dance, etc … I do agree with you there. It’s a pity, what those girls on “Toddlers and Tiaras” (no judgement here, it’s SO ADDICTIVE and I can’t stop either) and “Dance Moms” and all are expected to wear. Again, though, I think it’s the fault of the adults for putting the focus on makeup/hair as a tool to win, rather than treating it as what it is — a tool to help those in the back row see your face better. If anything, we ought to be teaching girls that cheerleading and dance competitions are an excuse to put on a character, and the makeup and costumes that go with that character, rather than what we so often seem to focus on — the “look so pretty and you will win and the boys will love you” aspect of it.

    (Also agree about the costumes sold in stores — why, why, WHY does a size 3T “sexy witch” costume exist? Seriously, people. Let’s let kids be kids, huh? They’ve got their whole lives to wear push-up bras and eyeliner, let’s not force it on them while they’re still in diapers.)

    • Kristina August 9, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

      I love this comment and I totally agree. I absolutely think it’s the parents’ responsibility to separate fact from fiction and teach our girls to be strong. But I guess my concern (and, like I said, I wrote this post after watching Toddlers and Tiaras) is the parents that encourage this behavior, and I just don’t want to be one of them.

  3. CathiC August 10, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Well said, Kristina. My daughter is 9 now, but when she was little, we did all we could to keep the princess and Barbie stuff at bay. However, I have a SIL who is all about princess and Barbie, so we had our work cut out for us. It did enable me to have conversations with my daughter early on about what’s real and what isn’t. I guess what I’m saying is that as long as you keep the conversations open and honest with Tessa, you shouldn’t have any problems with her getting caught up in the fantasty-land.
    Also, I’m right there with you regarding the clothes! When I shop with my daughter, I either have to choose between too smutty or too babyish. Thankfully, she knows me well enough to know that we’ll always being erring on the side of babyish. At least until she’s old enough to shop on her own. When she’s 25. 😉


  1. Tidbits « - August 18, 2011

    […] week, Temerity Jane linked to my Pink Princesses post. That was so many kinds of awesome, I don’t even know what to say about it. She is one […]

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