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Snow White Dresses and Princess Tiaras - Because every little girl wants to be a Disney Princess.
Toys for an Educated Princess
It's a sad fact of life that every little girl wants to be Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel or Belle.
It doesn't matter what great things women may have achieved, and it doesn't make a jot of difference how much we try to impress upon our daughters that they too can become anything that they put their minds to. A Disney Princess is just everything that they aspire to be!
At least this is true amongst the 3-6 year olds that I know. You ask my 4 year-old daughter what she wants to be when she grows up and she'll tell you a fairy princess. And she means it!
I don't want to stifle her dreams so I'm not about to discourage her, but I'm assuming that she will change her mind at some point.
When she was born I tried to shelter her from all the pinkness. We managed to find some babygros in other colours, although it wasn't easy. And through toddler-hood we dressed her in greens, blues, purples and oranges. I was proud of how she held her own amongst her little boy friends. Dressed in her hard-wearing dungarees she could climb like the best of them, she knew how to have boisterous fun and her adventurousness knew no bounds.
But gradually she has started to request pink clothes, princess dolls, and Disney accessories. She's started to show an interest in kiddie make-up and jewellery, (pink) handbags and (horrendous) plastic high-heeled princess shoes.
Whose daughter is this anyway? Perhaps not mine... I'm a trousers-wearing, no make-up, flat-shoes kind of a woman. This girl is rebelling against everything I stand for!!
She's at the age now where she's no longer influenced just by me and the family. She goes to nursery school (where they dress up as princesses!), she is friends with some real girly girls, and there is also a lot of ultra-feminine stuff on children's TV. Much as I might dislike it, it's out there.
And well, it's a tough one, because I don't want to make her into my clone. There is no reason why her values have to be the same as mine. While of course I want her to grow up a kind and caring person who knows right from wrong, I don't believe in imposing other (less important) views on my child. She is her own person, she must develop her own identity and up to a point I want her to make her own choices.
That's not to say that we buy her all the pink things that her little heart desires. She enjoys doing other things like building Lego towers taller than she is, creating a Playdo menagerie and making loud music with whatever she can find.
But there are a certain number of princess accessories. Not all of them are pink. And some of them are even educational!
A new breed of princess?
One thing that shocks me about this whole princess phenomenon is how early gender stereotypes develop.
While my daughter and her female friends are dressing up as princesses, her little male friends are playing with trains or dressing up as superheroes and pirates and fighting imaginary monsters.
But the two make-believe worlds don't seem to collide. At no point have I seen any little superheroes rescuing any princesses (or vice versa). Girls and boys seem to live in separate imaginary spaces, and neither is the least bit interested in visiting the other one!
The important question for me is to know whether this princess phase is necessarily a bad thing. At first it might seem like a kick in the teeth for feminism; a return to the cultural norms and values that were in place back when these Disney princess movies were created.
However, from my own personal observations of the way my daughter and her friends play, it's more about casting spells, escaping from witches and twirling around, than needing to be rescued by princes. These are empowered princesses!
Yes, handsome or otherwise princes don't actually come into it, because when you're four, boys are silly. And it's really just as well they're not required, because the boys look quite happy in their own train/pirate/superhero-filled universe, and they're not about to leave it to rescue a couple of girls!
Another positive aspect of the whole princess thing, is that dressing up of any kind is a healthy activity for kids. It helps them to engage in role-play and use their imaginations, which is very good for their development.
And although little girls are a lot more girly than they were in my day (the 1970's and 80's), their princess infatuation just seems to be the latest trend (in the same way that at one time all little boys wanted to be ninja turtles!) - rather than a backwards step for feminism. They are following the crowd. And like all trends, it will run its course and then the next big thing will take over.
What the next big thing may be, I dread to think!