Repackaging Princesses

I’ve been saying for four years that I am not anti-princess, I am anti-limitation. Princesses (and knights and castles and kings and queens) as one piece of the pie in childhood is super great. Princess Culture, and the limiting scope it puts on femininity with a big focus on external beauty and materialism is not great and not healthy for girls.

I love when parents repackage and widen the definition of “princess”. Take for example, this fantastic drawing and story from PPBB Community Member Hannah Wahl……

“My daughter loves princesses right now, and asked me to draw her a castle scene. I made “Princess Reads-a-lot”, which she liked, but felt wasn’t really “princessy” enough. So I drew “Princess Adventure”. That sparked a story and we went on to make a queen chef and a king astronomer. I tried to placate her need for a maid with a magical cleaning prince, but she insisted that castles need maids. So I drew a unisex scuba diving maid cleaning the moat. She loved it and went on to draw her own pictures of the inside of the castle!”

Nice work, Hannah!

A princess drawing by Hannah Wahl and her daughter.

Ordinary Moments and Marriage Proposals

Big expectations can trump ordinary moments. Image: Disney (C)

Eleven years ago today my husband asked me to marry him. I remember it was Martin Luther King Day because we had both had the day off, a rare event for him as he was serving in the Navy at the time. We were living in San Diego, and had spent the day with an early walk on the beach and then went to Balboa Park for a picnic and an afternoon spent reading while sprawled on blanket in the shade of the giant trees.

That night as we were getting ready for bed I was picking up our clothes from the floor, and stood up to find a little box with a ring in it sitting on my night table. I was completely caught off guard, which is what my now-husband wanted. He laughed and pulled me into his arms.

He said that he had thought about doing it at the beach or Balboa Park, or a fancy dinner downtown, or maybe a hot air balloon at sunset over the bay or a rowboat on the lagoon, but he wanted to propose during an ordinary moment, because our life together would be full of ordinary moments with a few big moments sprinkled in between. He wanted to know if I would love him through the years of ordinary moments.

I said yes and we kissed and then he put the ring on my finger.

We didn’t have the money for a carat diamond like most of my friends at the time were getting, but he knew that kind of thing wasn’t important to me. He could have planned something over-the-top and flashy so I’d have a great story to tell while my friends admired my ring, but flashy isn’t really our style. Technically my proposal came while I was picking up dirty socks that had fallen short of the hamper, but it felt more romantic than what it sounds.

As we were laying in bed together I laughed and told him I always thought I would be proposed to on Christmas morning or in a rowboat. He said he had thought about Christmas morning, but that my brothers had told him that would be like a bad diamond store commercial. (I didn’t share those sentiments and was pissed for two weeks.) But I’m glad that I didn’t have a Princess Complex about all of it, hung up on the carat diamond or the perfect proposal. I’m glad that I was able to get out of my own way and see the value in a guy who wanted years and years together of happy, ordinary moments.

He asked why a rowboat, and I said it was from watching too many romantic comedies in high school and college with my girlfriends. I told him I called it the  “The Little Mermaid  Complex” that builds girls up into thinking the perfect guy would provide these mind-blowing dripping-with-love romantic moments so that you know he is the one. He said flying magic carpets and rowboats were romantic, but they didn’t give you happy ever after.

“But then you get off the rowboat, and then? You never really see the happily ever after in those movies, do you?” he asked.

“That’s because they don’t make enough movies about the ordinary moments,” I answered.

 

I’ve watched a few people get engaged, like at the ballpark or a restaurant. I clap and cry every time. I love the story of my best friend who ruined the first two proposals in a tale of hilarity but is now happily married with a beautiful son. Or my other friend who did have the picnic at sunset on the bay and then a small group of friends surprised her at a beautiful Italian restaurant for dinner. Her husband had written her a beautiful poem, and he had me proofread it for him and then try to keep it a secret for three days. One girlfriend just got engaged a couple of weeks ago, and her fiance was so nervous he dropped on one knee outside Starbucks just to get it over with so he could breathe again. I love their stories, perfect for each of those couples. And I love my story, dirty socks and all. I didn’t love it at first, but almost nine years into marriage, I value it now.

With all the focus on little girls being princesses and grown women being in shows that compete for husbands or act horrible to each other once they are the housewives of rich husbands, I hope other families are focusing on the ordinary moments like ours does. There is a special beauty in the authenticity of it all.

Maybe a rowboat at twilight with fish spontaneously deciding to be fountains while a handsome prince sings to me the second time we meet would blow my mind. But I’m thinking probably not.

As I look over at my kids while I write this, one is in his underwear jumping on the couch pretending to be a spotted dolphin and the other is setting up a dolphin aquarium built inside of an igloo tent. There is popcorn on the floor and a basket of laundry that needs to be put away. There is always a basket of laundry that needs to be put away.

I’ve never been married to a prince and I’m sure that is a sweet gig if you can get it. But I think I like my guy and our extraordinary children, and all of our ordinary moments.

A Different Narrative

My daughter has been raised with stories about strong girls. Since she was a baby, it has been one long and steady stream of girl empowerment. If a female character was passive or needed rescuing, or used her beauty as a weapon or currency, she didn’t make the cut. She has been given a narrative of girls who are clever and brave, adventurous and kind. Hence, we’ve been rather light on the Disney Princesses here. (Yes we love Merida, and Mulan is pretty rad, too.)

Amelia has been given a different narrative for what it means to be a girl. More “Violet the Pilot”, Ramona Quimby, and Amelia Earhart (her namesake) stories than Sleeping Beauty. Amelia doesn’t own a pair of play high heels, but she does have purses and a tiara stuffed into her dress up drawer, along with her swords and capes and binoculars. She has fancy dresses and mermaid tails, and superhero masks and pirate outfits. She gets to decide what her story is. We don’t buy packaged or character dress up outfits.

Amelia has been raised with a different narrative. She sees things differently. She defines things differently. Not better, just differently.

Amelia loves mermaids, and there was no chance of keeping Princess Ariel out of the house. My husband let her watch the movie this summer, and she regularly checks out Ariel books from her school library. I take it all in stride, even though that is the Disney Princess I loathe the most.  But Amelia doesn’t like Ariel’s story, and spends hours at our kitchen table writing and illustrating different versions. Amelia has a different narrative for what it means to be a princess, to be a girl.

I look at one image, and see a girl ready to take on the world. I look at the other image, and see much less of that.

Amelia will be given the space to define herself and her place in this world.

So far, I really like what I see. I like how my little girl plays princess.

7yo Amelia dressed as a character she created called Princess Kitty.

These ladies have not made the cut for us. Disney (C)

 

Judgy: Girls, Heels, and Playtime

Image via Ritika Kamal

We enjoyed the evening at a park watching the sun set while the kids played and splashed in the stream. A group quickly formed, with the older girls initiating a building project on a rock in the stream while the little brothers brought them giant handfuls of sand. The girls would get the sand wet, and then drip it onto the tower that was forming. During this a girl walked up in an all-pink and sparkly outfit, tiara headband thing, complete with white tutu and white heeled sandals. The girl then proceeded to kick off her heels, and get right into the mix, getting wet and grimy from the sand and even became the leader of the project. A bit later I watched her climb to the top of a nine foot log in her heels. She wasn’t able to run or climb as well as the other kids, but she was right in the thick of it.
Her outfit isn’t something I’d send Amelia in to the park to play and explore, but it was an important reminder for me that we can look critically at media and products for our kids, but we need to see the child first and foremost. We can disapprove of the inappropriateness of girls clothing without disapproving of the girl. If there is one thing this group knows, it is the limitlessness of how amazing our girls can be. No matter what they are wearing.

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When I posted this on facebook last night, a large discussion followed mostly from moms defending their daughter’s right to be a princess. I agree, their daughter has the right to be a princess…..and a doctor and a potter and a organic pepper farmer. I’m anti-limitation, and that’s it. My issue isn’t with sparkles and tutus. It is with the limitation of play and movement that girls apparel can create. I replied with this:

“I love childhood. I love the little people who compose it. But when we teach half of those people that their role is to be pretty and sweet and to act in a certain prescribed way, I have issues. Certainly, we can redefine what “princess” means in their play and many of us do. But there is a larger cultural context that is much harder to escape, and one which “little girl princess” becomes the gateway drug to the fast-forwarded tween years and the age compression, Beauty Myth, and consumerism we see going on. (Ultimately, no matter how you play, being a princess is about entitlement, which I’m not big on.) I love me some sparkle and bling and fair wings. Both Ben and Amelia have been known to rock that look. And my kids wear super hero masks and take magic wands to the park, so I can’t very well be snarky about a tutu and some sparkle.

But what I do have issue with is the restriction of movement and play. A visual example of this is the video I posted in the beginning of the week that shows young teen girls on the soccer field at play, only to be brainwashed by the beauty messages coming over the loud speaker and leave the field teetering in heels and hot pants. The Beauty Myth is constricting, both emotionally and physically, and that is my focus here.

I’ve seen girls tear around in dresses or skirts or fancy outfits, so that isn’t an issue for me. I tend to offer my kids soft leggings or jeans and t-shirts to romp in, but to each their own. My issue is the shoes, or the outfit that is so fancy the girl might not want (or not be allowed) to get dirty. Amelia has and loves her sparkle shoes, and didn’t mind when she busted the sparkles off while playing on the playground. If she had become fussy about that, she would have been told to leave them at home for dress up and get her sneakers on. Play is the work of the child, and she needs to dress appropriately for work. If what she is wearing inhibits her play and her gross motor movement during play, then she is asked to change. We see how skimpy and tight older girls clothing is, and the ridiculousness of their shoes. I hear time and again from coaches and dance teachers how oddly some girls move their bodies, because they are used to standing still and being pretty due to restricting clothing. I remember seeing this myself when I was a teacher of elementary girls wearing tight, low cut jeans and belly shirts. They had to stand perfectly still in order for the outfit to work. When we know sports (including dance) to be a partial cure to the wretched body image stats we see coming out of the 8-18yo demographic, I connect the limiting of movement and play into the spoon fed monster that is poor body image.

Girlhood is a magical time to be whimsical and imaginative and enchanting. If the girls are also encouraged to be astronauts and artists and farmers, playing princess can be great. Girls need the freedom to move their bodies comfortably during play to really be able to fully explore and take in the world. Many times their apparel does not allow them to do that, and we need to question that. But we have to stop and ask ourselves, is this a question we have to ask of our boys? If the answer is no, we need to take a look at why then is it only an issue of limiting our girls, and why we accept that.”

High heels cause damage to the feet, knee ligaments, and bones in the legs, feet, and back.

Disney Almost Gets Brave

With any children’s movie made these days, it is a sure bet that the products meant to bring ancillary revenue will immediately follow. And so it is with Pixar’s “Brave”. I loved the movie, and have been anticipating the roll out of the merchandise. You may have already read my comparison of Mattel’s sexualized Merida doll to the toys offered at the Disney store, which is where we will be shopping for the very first time this weekend.

“Brave” is actually not the first movie we have seen as a family that has rubbed off on my kids. Other movies that my six year old daughter has loved:

1. “Nim’s Island” — she carried a blue rubber iguana around for months

2. “Land Before Time” — she was obsessed with dinosaurs and volcanoes for two years

3. “Free Willy 4” — an exhaustive internet search found a Bindi Irwin scientsit surfer girl from the Sydney Zoo

4. “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” — fueled Amelia’s passion for mismatched socks and disgusting names for sandwiches

My daughter saw “Brave” on opening night, and we are going again as a family + grandparents this weekend. Both my six year old girl and four year old boy are in love with Merida’s character, and because I have advocated and waited so long for a heroine like this, I’m going to eat some crow and let them pick a toy from the Disney store. I’m thinking we’ll pick up some of the little action figure toys, as I’ve been saving cardboard boxes and plan to spray paint them in order to turn them into a castle and bear’s lair.  I always like to be an educated consumer, so I took a look on the Disney store website so I will know what to expect when we get to the store.

First, I noticed that with the box office success of the film the options for merchandise have quadrupled. I think Disney was holding back to see whether or not the film flopped. Second, I still really like the dolls and plush toys from Disney over what Mattel created for the big box shops. I am really pleased that Disney left Merida looking natural and just like a sixteen year old girl should look. Third, I immediately noticed some disconnect with the princess I saw in the film, and the princess Disney is marketing to my kids. Mostly, I cannot find a bow and arrow set, but do have the choice of a bedazzled magic wand.

Disney, you almost got it.

The princess dresses are your standard Disney fare that I was expecting. There is a lot that could have been done with the dress up collection that wasn’t. Shame.

I cannot recall Merida wearing feather bejeweled kitten heels in the movie. I imagine those would have made her action scenes a tish more dicey. Also, those heels make me think of the Playboy Mansion so we’ll be leaving those at the store. The description for these is ridiculous, as golden jewels do not a heroine make.

Brave slippers for girls from Disney. Indeed.

Great moogly boogly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next is the golden gladiator sandals which, again, Merida never wore. That’s the thing about 10th century Scots, they weren’t big on the bling. But Disney sure thinks it is in the genetic code of 21st century girls! Squee!

A step up from the bedroom kitten heels.

This description does encourage some adventurous play. I wonder if the constricting sandals would allow it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, I’m wearing gladiator sandals today (magenta pink, to boot) and I suppose I could run and play in them. I’m not sure I could fight a bear in them, but then again I’m also not willing to try. I do like the description for these better than the heels, as at least this focuses on what a girl is doing, rather than how she looks. I would like Disney to have the foresight to create deep green soft-soled ballet flats just like Merida’s from the movie, adorned with a Celtic knot….something to run and climb and jump and play in, just like Merida.

I’ve saved the best for last. I paid very, very close attention the movie. I recall Merida climbing a waterfall, commanding her giant horse, wielding a sword, and showing time and again that she is an expert archer. My daughter really loved the archery theme to the movie, so I was looking for a bow and arrow set she could play with outside while she defended our tree fort. Would you believe Disney doesn’t carry one? Amazon does, so I’m hoping Disney just sold out of theirs. Because I missed the part when Merida was holding this:

What. In. The. World.

Wouldn't shimmering jewels and flashing lights attract bears? Me thinks yes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still plan to let my kids pick out some little figures from the Disney Store that they can use in the castle we build, but I won’t be getting them any of the dress up clothes. I need my little Scottish adventurers to be running with wild abandon through my backyard (using pool noodles for bows I suppose). And because I’m writing a book on the gendered marketing towards girls, I won’t have the time to fix busted children’s high heels or torn jeweled sparkle dresses.

So while “Brave” sits at #1 across America this week and is earning an A rating from audiences everywhere, one could assume Americans were ready for a self-rescuing, doesn’t-need-a-prince, adventuring not-focusedon-my-looks princess. I guess Disney wasn’t.

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Update: I love to make things and craft with my kids, so I knew if I spent enough time on Pinterest I’d a way to make our own bow and arrow so that the kids can pretend to be having adventures right along side Merida. It took me all of 15 seconds to find this project, which we’ll be doing this weekend! I think I’m going to have the kids include the colors from our family’s tartan and draw our own Celtic knots to adorn the bow.  Find the project HERE.

 

Make your own bow for a little Highland Games action in the backyard!