Our house is currently taken over by all things princess.
My daughter’s feet are clad with fancy flip flops bearing the image of seven popular princesses. A sparkly pink crown is abandoned in the kitchen and three princess costumes are strewn throughout the living room. Several princess dolls are tucked ever-so-carefully into ‘bed’ on the couch.
I have a clear memory from when I was little of wanting to be a princess when I grew up. (For a while I was convinced that there must be some kind of royalty in my blood, but I digress.) I remember watching the Disney movies about princesses; especially "The Little Mermaid." Oh, did I love her! I pretended I was a mermaid swimming through the water with my red hair flowing behind me. One of my most prized possessions was "The Little Mermaid" soundtrack on cassette tape.
When I started teaching, I quickly learned some people have very strong opinions about princesses, especially those portrayed by Disney. They see these characters as weak and timid and strive to eliminate their presence in the classroom. In fact, some of the books that children brought in to share with the class were looked down upon because they included a princess in the Disney-fied version of a traditional fairy tale.
I had no idea anyone could be anti-Disney or anti-princess and, quite frankly, didn’t personally see anything wrong with it. That is, until I became a mother of a daughter.
Suddenly I had strong opinions of the characteristics I wanted her to embody – I wanted her to be strong, a girl who knows her own mind, one who’s not afraid of digging for worms or splashing in puddles. I didn’t want her to be thrust into the girly-girl category if that isn’t who she wants to be.
I became more aware of how gender-specific products are marketed in the store and shied away from buying things that were all pink and covered in sparkly flowers or sassy sayings. I wanted her to have a vote regarding what she likes; not just push things on her because they are what society feels little girls should play with.
I must confess, when Anna started talking about princesses this past winter I tried to downplay it. I inwardly cringed at the idea of embracing all things pink and sparkly. After all, my daughter is the girl who picks up chickens and wanted a blue room last year. I brushed it off at first but those darn princesses kept cropping up. She began weaving their names into our conversations and heaven forbid if we passed an item at the grocery with a princess on it.
I slowly began to embrace the princesses when I saw how much my daughter was drawn to them. Quite frankly they are probably here to stay for a while. I mean, the products are shiny and sparkly, why wouldn’t she be drawn to them? I’ll admit it, they are pretty. And fancy. And what four-year-old doesn’t want to be fancy from time to time?
But those are only surface level characteristics; the glitter will rub off after some time, one of the green high-heeled shoes will be lost under the couch, and the doll once coveted will begin to look ratty and worn when her hair gets tangled. But what will remain, and what I choose to focus on as her momma, are the timeless stories that accompany those showy princesses.
I have a choice as a parent; give her flashy surface-level princess or push past the commonly portrayed character in order to delve deep into the story itself. We can get lost in the story and imagine what it would be like to be stuck in a tall, tall tower. We can look at several versions of the same fairy tale and talk about the similarities and differences. Or she can use her body to act out the story and enlist her little brother as the handsome prince. (Or evil sorcerer if it’s that kind of day.)
Tonight she donned a pink dress with purple shoes, adorned herself with colorful rabbit jewelry, and wore a white headband as a crown when she transformed into Cinderella. We danced in the living room until suddenly she ran away leaving her shoe behind. Her brother and I grabbed her shoe, found her, and declared her the rightful owner.
Whether she realizes it or not, we have embarked on a literary journey where the Disney-version of the fairy tale is just one of the stories she is exposed to. Darn it, I am going into full teacher-mommy mode finding all the different versions of the fairy tales that are appropriate for her to listen to at four years old. (Note to self: always pre-read more traditional fairy tales. There might just be talk of cutting off important body parts, i.,e. a foot, that isn’t quite appropriate for this age group.)
Sure she might conjure up an image of a blue-clad woman when she thinks of Cinderella but is that a bad thing if she can also vocalize the gist of the story?
So yes, my daughter checks out Disney books at the library, proudly wears a Rapunzel shirt, and carries a princess umbrella when it rains. But she also reads from an anthology of traditional fairy tales, listens to vintage princess audio books, and acts out the stories during playtime.
We've embraced the princess around here and, you know what? She's still digging for worms in the garden and chasing chickens around the yard.