Monday, September 1, 2014

The Princess Culture Has Gone Too Far

When I was a little girl, there were only three Disney Princess movies: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I loved the princesses and definitely wanted to live happily ever after (well, mostly live in Cinderella's Castle at Walt Disney World in real life).

But I loved other things too: Star Wars, Barbies (who almost always came with a matching Ken-Malibu Barbie and Ken, Roller Skating Barbie and Ken, and so on), Atari games such as Pac Man, Pitfall, Frogger, and Donkey Kong, Scooby Doo, playing house and school, riding bikes, and roller skating. I took ballet. I was terrible at softball. I climbed trees and skinned my knees more times than I could count. I played with girls and boys (even boys played house and school back then and we all played Star Wars together).

When I look back at pictures of myself, I see myself dressed as Casper the Ghost, a scary witch, and an Indian girl for Halloween. I was Tinkerbell once, but it wasn't any fairy dress with wings-it was a plastic mask and an ill-fitting "dress" worn over clothes. 

Me as Tinkerbell, circa 1975 (age two).

Imagine the same getup with Casper's image and you have my costume for 1976.

Sophie as Tinkerbell, circa 2009 (age one). Her costume is so much cuter. My mom's decor is also a little fancier LOL.

I'm dressed in lots of primary colors, and clad mostly in jeans and shorts. I have a solid green Trapper Keeper with red, blue, and green folders inside. I have a red bike, followed by a pink dirtbike, followed by a silver, red, and black bike.

Me, circa 1980. I'm about a year older than Sophie here. For the record, I did not have football curtains. This picture was taken at a friend's house-a boy who often played Barbies with me.

Starting with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and all the Disney Princess movies that came after, princess culture was on the rise. And I thought it was first. Wow, little girls can get these amazing costumes I never could when I was their age! They can meet the princesses! So fun!

And unlike some people, I think there are good lessons for little girls in the princess stories. Be kind. Be loyal. Read books (thank you, Belle). Work hard (Cinderella, Snow White, Tiana). And so on.

When I had Sophie, I definitely indulged in the princess culture with her (mostly for myself probably!). And from about two to four, she enjoyed it-she was Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, we had dinner at Cinderella's Castle, we read the books and watched the movies. It was fun. I also introduced her to Star Wars and Scooby Doo.

The first time she put this dress on, she said "I'm so pretty, Mommy!"

She's real! Disney 2011.

Ariel, the one who started a movement.

Last gasp for princess culture at my house, circa 2012.

This is still one of my favorite pictures of her. I can't help it.

And then, at five, Sophie began to move past princesses. She still loves her stuffed animals and she's not much into dolls. She's very into Star Wars, superheroes, Ninja Turtles, Angry Birds, other video games, and the like. Last fall, I introduced Sophie to Wonder Woman, because I wanted her to know a woman can be a superhero too. 

I totally wanted this costume! Look at the boots! Halloween 2013.

She decided she didn't want to take dance anymore, but she did want to play basketball and soccer. She is a much better athlete than me.

Total baller. Little Spurs, 2014.

Her favorite colors are blue, red, and orange. Suddenly, it has become a struggle to find things that fit with her interests, but that isn't "boy" stuff. Take a look around any retailer: try to find a nice blue, red, or orange school backpack for a girl. NOPE. Pink, purple, or teal only.

We settled on a cute R2D2 backpack because Star Wars over everything.

He's pretty cool...lights up and talks at the push of a button.
Sophie actually picked out this yellow and pink ensemble herself for the first day of school. She likes to keep me guessing.

Look for any girl's bike: no primary colors. My parents bought Sophie a "boy's" bike this week because it was in colors she liked. My mom, who like me is more girly than Sophie is, was even irritated. "I like red and blue too," my mom said. "Why does everyone think girls only like pink and purple?"

My Daddy, running alongside Sophie on her red and black bike with matching helmet.

I'm tired of being asked if I want the "boy" or "girl" toy at McDonalds. When I was a kid, there was only one option and boys and girls both liked it, whether it was Snoopy or Star Wars. Sophie likes MarioKart and How to Train Your Dragon. According to my friend Erin, some boys like Beanie Babies. If you're going to give options, just ask which one Moms want...stop categorizing them by gender.

Manufacturers and retailers now want so badly to get in on the many dollars the princess culture generates that they are leaving behind girls who don't fit in to that mold. Girls like Sophie are no different from girls like me from the early 1980s with a variety of interests. It's just today, the princess stuff is seen as SO important that it trumps everything else.

In Sophie's classes, I see lots of little girls who are still engrossed in the princess culture, especially with Frozen coming out last year. Sophie loved Frozen too, but I think that was mostly because Elsa has a superpower and the music was fantastic. Mostly, I see Sophie wanting to play with the boys because she's more interested in the things they like. Her lack of interest in princess stuff sets her apart from the other girls.

This is as close as we came to a princess at Disney this year...she wanted an Elsa shirt and accessorized it with a pirate hat and eye patch!

Sometimes she says she hates all girl stuff and wants to be a boy. Sometimes she goes back and forth between girl stuff and boy stuff. For example, at theater camp this summer, she was Anna from Frozen in the first session and wore a princess dress with a too-large crown and sneakers. The next session she wore a too-small Iron Man costume with cat ears. She doesn't want to wear clothes that are too glittery, but loved getting a mani/pedi with me at the salon last week (blue on the fingers, red on the toes, of course).

As Anna. You can't see her sneakers in this photo. ;)

As SkippyJon Jones, but wearing an Iron Man costume with cat ears because THEATAH! Same sneakers!

As her mother, I love her just the way she is, but I hate to see her sometimes rejecting "girl stuff" because it isn't available in the colors she likes. I'd love to be able to find her backpacks and bikes and other basic things that are "for girls" in her favorite colors. I'm working hard to not let my decidedly more girly nature and interests affect her in a negative way. I'm probably failing more than I'm succeeding, but I'm really trying.

This is 2014. Girls can do and be whatever they want in this world. They should be able to have what they want also, in all the colors of the rainbow, not just pink and purple.

Bring back the rainbows, people. Circa 1982.

1 comment:

  1. This is a fantastic post, mama. I mean, infuriating and frustrating, but you've touched on something that I think should be front and center for all parents. I was the little girl who ditched ballet, so I could play soccer (on the boys team, since they didn't have girls teams where I lived). I think you can absolutely be feminine without being girly - and like to think I've figured out the balance. It sucks you struggle as a parent, because the options out there are so polarized. Kind of feels like our country in a more general way, doesn't it ... way more polarized that it used to be. Or at least it feels that way to me. Anyway, I think so long as you know your daughter and don't try to pigeonhole her, you'll figure out ways to let her shine. Also, feel free to visit my inlaws' basement and take whatever gender-neutral 1970s toys you want - they kept all of them! ha.