From a very young age, my daughter has loved princesses.
At first, it worried me a bit. Some people were telling me to avoid Disney movies at all costs because Disney Princesses would ruin her forever. Then, others are telling me that it doesn’t matter. Disney movies are fun and my little girl is a princess!! they’d say.
So, where did that leave me?
I was trying desperately to figure out how to strike a balance. A Balance between letting a little girl indulge in her love of princesses and still raise a child who wasn’t defined by the stereotypical Disney princess. If your daughter loves Disney princesses (like mine), here’s what you need to know.
In Disney’s Defense, the princesses have changed a bit over the years.
Belle was probably the most refreshing princess to hit the market when I was a little girl. She loved books, her family, her own interests, and she didn’t have any interest in the man who was practically stalking her, Gaston. She even fell in love with a beast. But, Kind-hearted Belle is still drop dead gorgeous. Especially at the end of the show when she comes out with her stunning yellow dress (at least it wasn’t pink, right?).
Here’s the thing…
My biggest concern for my daughter is that Disney story lines always get tied up in a beautiful little package in the end. In an hour and a half, all of the troubles and worries that the princess faced melts away and the story ends with her true love.
The danger here, in my opinion, is that when kids hear the same story over and over and over (princess needs rescuing, prince arrives, they live happily ever after, etc.), it starts to become their notion of what life is really like.
Life isn’t that simple or formulaic.
The Disney Princess Effect
In an effort to do some research, I read an amazing article by Stephanie Hanes called, Little girls or Little Women? The Disney Princess Effect that discusses how marketers are selling “sexy” to girls at younger and younger ages. She notes that even if we limit TV consumption, children are still inundated with media messages whether that’s on the radio, grocery store magazines, billboards, schools, etc.
So, what do we do about it?
“Many are trying to intervene when girls are younger, like Finucane, who doesn’t advocate banning the princesses but taking on the ways that they narrow girls’ play (advocating more color choices, suggesting alternative story plotlines).”
Finally! I found something that resonated with me! I didn’t want to ban princesses, but I didn’t want to let my daughter passively consume information in Disney movies, movies that she idolized, without thinking more critically about the plot lines and characters either.
Raising Media Critics
Beyond the younger years, the article suggests that we point out stereotypes to our daughters as well. In other words, raise girls who are media critics. With a BA in communication and an obsession with media studies, I couldn’t agree more. One Mom within the article paused movies and pointed out to her daughters whenever there was a blatant stereotype or misrepresentation of women.
Think: a Doctor working a 24 hour shift who looks like she walked out of a magazine. That’s a great time to pause and ask, “Do you think that’s what she would really look like?”
While I’m not quite to the point where I will pause and talk about gender stereotypes, the princess interview that I designed to talk to with my daughter about what happens after the movie is a nice start. My hope was that I would encourage her to think beyond the Disney plot line and start thinking of her own story. Work through problems that might occur or think about what life really looks and feels like after happily ever after.
Simple Ways to Get Girls to Think Critically About “Princesses”
- Conduct a Princess Interview where you’re daughter becomes the character after the story. Download the princess interview here.
- Write a sticker story! Let kids use stickers about their favorite character. Place the stickers in a line at the top of the paper and then have them write their own story about the stickers. If children are too young to write, write the words for them.
- Research and Learn. Older kids can research about princesses. Why are there princesses? How do you become a Princess? Which leads me to the next point…
- Find REAL Princesses. A good friend of mine gave me this tip. She said that she looks up what real princesses look like across the globe to give her a daughter a sense of what it really means to be royal.
- Play “What If?” Switch details in the traditional plot lines and let kids guess what would happen! For example, What if Olaf wasn’t a snowman, but was Anna and Elsa’s little brother? What would have happened differently? Or, what if Belle was actually a boy?
Note: Playing “What If” will really give you a sense of how strongly kids are attached to the original plot line. They might even refuse to play because that’s “not how it happened!” Remind them that all stories can change and start playing the game yourself first if they are hesitant.
So, is Disney Banned in my home?
Nope! In fact, I just went live from Disneyland this weekend! And, we’ll be going back many, many times from now.
The point is that we are getting our children to think beyond what they see and what they hear. That is when the real magic happens…
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