A Little Girl Defines Princesses

This story was sent in by PPBB Mom Katie N:

“She gets it! My seven-year-old daughter overheard me make a hypothesis.

Last night a young friend declared that princesses need rescuing. During my lengthy argume– discussion with him, it became apparent that this was very deeply ingrained. As far as he had been taught, princesses are always needing to be rescued. His dad is very anti-princess. My hypothesis was that his dad didn’t want his sister to be into princesses because he also believes that princesses are weak and always needing rescuing.

My daughter asked me why he believed that. I said he probably believes it because that is what our society teaches. That’s what video games show and what stories often tell.

She got a little riled up: ‘But princesses aren’t like that! Princesses are strong and brave! *throws up bicep curl/victory fist* So are girls. Girls are just like princesses!’

She walked on for a bit, seemingly over her moment of passion. But then she stopped to let me catch up. She told me that tomorrow we should have some girl time to see how strong and brave we are.”

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Image via thedeadintern.tumblr.com

Further reading: 

Historical warrior princesses vs today’s “princess camps”: A Princess Camp Worthy Of Our Girls

How parents can help redefine what “princess” can mean: Repackaging Princesses  and A Different Narrative

Pointing out how ingrained in culture “princess = girls” is: A Sparkly Mermaid Princess Did Not Remove My Gall Bladder

A book list that helps shift the princess image: The Redefine Princessy Book List


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Being Choosy About Princesses

Someone asked me the other day why I hate princesses. I don’t hate princesses at all. I hate the way their stories are being told. I want a different narrative for my daughter.  I want princesses who don’t give away their voices or freedom, whose end game is marrying a prince. I want princesses who define their own stories, not sleep peacefully waiting for a magic kiss.

When I first picked up the Merida doll at the Disney Store (first ever purchase from there, 6.75 years into parenthood) I was annoyed Merida was in the dress she was stuffed into by her mother to await her fate and see who would win her hand. Darn it! I thought, that goes against the whole point of the movie. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the dress had been torn in the places Merida had needed to break free, loose her arrows, and determine her own fate. Purchased immediately!
Media aimed at my daughter will tell her to beautify herself, quiet herself down, and be well behaved. It will tell her to look a certain way and she’ll accomplish a huge feat in life – attracting a man. Whether she is four or fourteen or twenty four, this is the message media will try to send to her.
That’s just not how we roll. So it is not that I hate princesses. I’m just really choosy about the ones I introduce to her. Here are three princesses she received as gifts for her birthday last night – Cinder Edna, Princess Smartypants, and Merida.

Empowered princesses for my empowered girl.

Book Review — “Princess Recovery: A How-To Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters”

I love this book from Dr. Jen Hartstein!

 I’m told the first 35 years of parenting are the most difficult. I tend to agree. Today’s parents face the extra challenge in our culture of wading through the omnipresent Princess Culture with their daughters (and maybe sons). Some little girls are drawn to frilly and princessy things, and that is a wonderful part of childhood for the young imagination to explore.

But there is another side to princesses. It is often called “Princess Culture”, and is defined by the obsession of all things pink, hyper-girly, beauty-focused play, and a sense of entitlement. Lacking from this is the idea of teaching girls to be confident, competent, and able to rely on themselves. It leaves our girls with a skewed sense of the world and their place in it. 
I have many parents email me asking for help with their girl who is princess crazy, and demonstrating some undesirable behaviors as a result. Maybe the little girl is too focused on her looks, is behaving with a sense of entitlement, or insists on playing the same princess story line over and over and over again. Parents want to know how to break the focus on beauty and vapidness, or maybe expand their daughter’s definition of what it could mean to be a princess and offer her different ideas of play.
I now have the perfect book to recommend to them — “Princess Recovery: A How-To Guide to Raising Strong, Empowered Girls Who Can Create Their Own Happily Ever Afters”  by my friend Dr. Jen Hartstein. This book is fabulous, I loved reading it (three times now!). My girl isn’t a princess girl, but I see how the info in Princess Recovery can help me navigate the waters of girlhood because the marketing to our daughters on how they should be a girl is relentless.
Dr. Jen’s book takes parents through the idea of using media literacy skills, creativity, and tangible tips and activities to get girls in the mindset of being strong and empowered and writing their own stories that get them to their own happy ever after. She takes us through the problematic lessons girls learn from Princess Culture, to the steps she’s termed ‘The Princess Recovery Program’, to chapters that give a Princess Symptom and a Heroine Value.
The book isn’t so much about tearing princesses away from our little ladies, nor does it advocate raising girls in a protected bubble. This book is all about striking balance, and making sure our girls are getting the best out of childhood and their interest in princesses, and giving them lessons and experiences that build them up and leave them prepared and ready to take on the world. Because this book has such a balanced approach, I feel confident in recommending it to our Pigtail Pals Community because as we all know, there are so many ways to be a girl.
Princess Symptoms like “Appearances Are Everything” and “Entitlement” and “Rescue Me!” are countered with Heroine Values like “Smarts Pay Off” and “Hard Work” and “Set High – but realistic – Expectations”. This book does such a great job of helping parents draw out the best from their girls, while not taking anything away from them or telling their girls that what they love is wrong or silly.
Even if you don’t have a princess girl, I think this book is still a great resource for raising girls in today’s culture. And to be honest, I even picked up some tips for helping me with my son. When I first met Dr. Jen and she told me about her book, I was a little leary it would be off-putting to parents who would feel like they would be on the defensive for their princess girls. I am so pleased I was flat wrong. I promise you, this book will leave you feeling optimisic and excited about new ways to challenge your girl, and open her world even wider. I read this book once because I had to in order to be able to review it. I read it twice more because I loved it.
I asked Dr. Jen why she was inspired to write this book, and she answered: “I work with lots of young women in my private practice, and I notice that many of them (too many) are focused on their appearances, what other people think of them, and how they present themselves to the world. They look to the external world to provide them with a sense of self, meaning, and understanding.

When I stood back from it, I realized that these feelings are rooted in their childhoods, so I started to do some research about what kind of influences start so young, and are so powerful, that these young women, who have so much to offer, cannot see it.

This brought me to the princess culture, and to Peggy Orenstein’s fabulous book, “Cinderella Ate My Daughter.” Her book highlighted what the problem was, and motivated me to provide a guide that could help parents begin to know HOW to deal with the problem, in the hopes that these young women would feel more in control of their lives earlier in their lives.

Next, I asked Dr. Jen about the feedback she has gotten: “The feedback that I have gotten from parents has been really phenomenal. I think most have been able to utilize the strategies and ideas with their daughters, and have found the recommendations to be practical, useful and easy to implement. In fact, some mothers have stated that they are starting to think about how they are going to utilize some of the ideas for themselves!
Overall, I think people have really received the book well and are finding that they can utilize the ideas to shift their princess to heroines…and they girls can wear their tiaras as they play in the mud.”
Dr. Jen Hartstein
Dr. Jen is a nationally recognized child, adolescent and family psychologist based in New York City. She is also the mental health contributor on CBS’ The Early Show and regular contributor on the Anderson show with Anderson Cooper.
You can find Dr. Jen and her blog HERE.

One Slice of the Pie

Childhood is a time of discovery, exploration, snuggling, storybooks, and play. It is a beautiful, beautiful time of life. Let’s not limit it.

Pigtail Pals is not anti-princess. We’re not anti-pink. We’re anti-limitation. We want our children to have all the room in the world to be who they love to be, and the room to define what that is. We need to agree to give them that space.

Playing princesses is fine. But it’s just one slice of the pie. Let’s teach our children that life is a marvelous feast. Let’s give them idea after idea to devour. Imagination is a hungry beast. 

Let’s allow them to be a princess one day, a pirate or explorer the next….whether they are a boy or a girl.

Let’s get out of their way, and allow them to be children.

The Feminist Mom and the Princess Party

A guest post, by Dana Hernandez.

Dana's daughter desires a princess party.

“Mommy, I want to have a princess party this year for my birthday.”

Suddenly the air was sucked out of the room and I waited for the oxygen masks to deploy from the ceiling as the living room nose-dived.

“What?” I coughed out, wide-eyed to my 4-year-old daughter.

“A princess party!” she smiled, cheekily. “And I can dress up as a princess for Halloween!” She took off in a happy spin as I plummet to the soon-to-be-memorial ground below us. 

Welcome to my surprising life as a stay-at-home mother of two daughters, who is grasping at the label “feminist” with all her might. I thought my role as the Coordinator for the SPARKteam, which stands for Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, and Knowledge, provided me with a shield that protects against anything that is sexualized, pink, princessy, and stereotypical for girls. I was wrong. Really, really wrong.

Let me introduce you to my 4-year-old. She’s the oldest and most graceful of my daughters, with beautiful long, curly locks that bounce down her back. She loves wearing her black tennis shoes, running through mud puddles, playing with cars (especially Lightening McQueen), soccer, swimming, watching baseball,  and drawing. Oh, and she wants to be a princess when she grows up. (Yes, I am clawing at the oxygen masks and the under-the-seat life preservers as I gasp for air.)

Now, I know she is too young to read our blogs at Spark Summit that battle against the sexualization of girls and counter the whole princess-movement for children. I also haven’t read her the Holy Grail of parenting books, “Packaging Girlhood” at bedtime either. And she’s too young for programs at the city non-profit Hardy Girls Healthy Women that I work for.  (Not much longer, I’m sure, once they see me hosting a fucking princess party.)

“She is so pretty,” is the most-often heard compliment I hear about my first-born. And yes, she is. Very. Much prettier than I was or ever will be. She reminds me of “Missy,” the most popular girl in my high school class that had the perfect curly hair and the just-right clothes. You know, the one I was taught to dislike because she was so perfect.

Let me make this clear as I brace for impact: I do not own one princess movie. My daughters’ favorite movie is Cars and there are more matchbox cars, books, and musical instruments than any other toys in our home. I admit, we do own various Tinkerbell fairies and her fairy friends. (Yes, Tinkerbell has lots of skinny, perfect looking friends, too, with perfect hair. Don’t hate.) But, each fairy has a talent and show bravery and courage at various times throughout the films. I also believe it teaches girls about friendship and forgiveness. So where in the hell is this princess shit coming from?

Get this: A book. One stinking old princess book in a huge box full of books on Craigslist that we bought for $10. It’s like giving Kool-Aid to a baby and expecting her not to like it. Seriously, one look at that dress, that damn carriage, and the dancing with the prince at the end and suddenly everything changed. It’s as if Disney created the brainwashing technique for the United States military. Who can battle a singing mermaid, a fairy godmother, a prince, and a beautiful blue dress with glass slippers?

I never called myself a real feminist before my work with SPARK. I mean, I chose to be a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. I believed that real F-cards were handed out to career-or-nothing-types, until I discovered feminists who taught me about real feminism.

SPARKteam Blogger Stephanie Cole said it best in “The Loaded F-Word” when she redefines a feminist as someone who “keeps an open mind, and tries to always be aware of patriarchy and sexism wherever it occurs. She or he also tries to educate others who are unaware, as well as speak up and take action against inequality.

And my friend Dr. Lyn Mikel Brown, co-founder of Hardy Girls Healthy Women, put me in my place when I questioned if I could be kicked out of the feminist club for allowing my house to become a pink castle. “Feminism gets a bad rap as being one very strict thing, when there are so many ways people are feminists,” Brown said. “My feminism is one that doesn’t turn people away from the honest struggle you are having.”

But, how can I be a feminist and a stay-at-home mother at the same time? Especially when I have failed in the princess debacle?! The answer is simple for me. I follow my gut. I was once on a path to save the world as a high school teacher. Yet, everything changed once I met my daughter. Everything. I left my career as a teacher and moved across the country with my husband to become a stay-at-home mom and homemaker. (Full disclosure, I suck at the homemaking part, but I’m a damn good mom.) Two years later, I had daughter #2–an identical piece of sass with curls.

It was a gutsy move and the best decision my husband and I ever made. I honor the fact that we’ve bloodily scraped by on a one-salary income so I can host play dates, kiss boos-boos, find blankeys, and read stories at naptimes. The monotony of my days is often monstrous and hard.  Though it’s not for everyone, I know it’s something I will always treasure..(Seriously, I don’t really know how “working moms” do their jobs either.)

I have activism in my blood. When I look deep enough, my feminism and my loathing of inequality has always been there. Am I political? Yes. Opinionated? Yes. Strong-willed? Yes. (My husband would say “Hell YES.”) I feel feminism is inherently found in the voice of a mother raising her children, too. I am fighting so hard for my girls to be strong, focused, secure, loving, and determined young women. I abhor a media that labels my girls “tom boys” because they love a good play in the mud or cars.

Real feminism is about choice, right? The choice for me to instill in my girls and others how powerful their lives can be, even if they choose to be stay-at-home moms who let their daughters dress as princesses.

“Why do you want a princess party?” I later asked, when I felt the crash landing had aborted.

“Because I want to be a princess,” she answered.

I shrugged, “But what do they doooo that you like?” I asked, drawing out the verb and trying to crack the code.  My daughter shrugged, “They’re princesses, Mommy! They wear those dresses and are pretty. Do you like princesses, Mommy?”

I think she already knew the answer… “I think they’re kind of boring. They don’t run and play sports, have fun or draw like you do.”

“Then I can be your princess, Mommy,” she said with the biggest smile in the whole wide world. “I can be all of it.”

Yes, she can.

I learned four lessons today: First, I have no idea what I am doing. Second, I am doing a pretty damn good job at it. Third, I just may be hosting a “You-Can-Be-It-All” Princess/Cars party in my future .

And last, my daughter is one awesome princess.

And yes, I am a feminist.

 Dana Hernandez is a feminist, a stay-at-home mama to two, writer, activist, and SPARKteam Coordinator for SPARK Summit.