Monday, February 21, 2011

In Defense of Princesses

When we watch a princess movie, not a detail -- not a tiny bit, not a passing whim -- is left unquestioned.  We go over what makes people sad and why they behave in ways we don't understand.  We unpack motivations and fears. 

Oh, we talk about the dresses and jewels and castles, too.  Our interest is piqued, as always, by the magical lives of these adventurous girls.  (And I admit -- I'm included in that 'our'.  I've always loved fairy tales, whether Disney-altered or otherwise.)  Mia talks about the kind of princess she wants to be when she grows up: an artist princess, or, lately, a baker princess.  But the job title of 'Princess' is seemingly non-negotiable, here. 

And there is no question that her princessly future will include a prince.  Recently, she pretended for most of an entire, homebound snow day, that there was a young, blonde, kind, funny, slow-eating prince in our house.  He was going to take naps here -- he would sleep on the couch, and I should take care not to be worried when I heard his massive, rumbling snores.  Later, at night, she trusted that he would sneak into her room and play with her, because he is a new genre of prince that I've never encountered in my sheltered life: a Nocturnal Prince.  But during the day, I'd be hearing snores.  I might laugh, but I mustn't hurt his feelings.

Yes, we are a princessy household.  As sure as I am that these pretendings and imaginings are healthy and fun for us, I can't help but notice all the ways young girls might be waylaid by the princess-mentality.  The beautiful, entitled, womanly, rebellious, happy-ending mentality.  My only argument against those things are to assert that our family doesn't live in a world that encourages diva behavior, and our princess fixations are playful and sweet.  Our daughters don't wear flimsy, grown-up clothing or behave provocatively, and if they wander in those directions, we'll handle it. 

I agree that it might be worrisome if the only pretend games we played were princess-centered, but I know otherwise: we are pirates and skunks and lions and ladybugs.  We imagine we are islanders or mountaineers; we sail the oceans and explore in caves.  We run the full gamut of imaginary lives in any given day, and I feel that my children are gaining well-rounded ideas of what life is or could be. 

As for the happy-ending part, I'm torn.  I think a good dose of hope and positivity is helpful in navigating life, and I harbor no illusions that my girls will grow to the age of 18 without understanding that princess stories are fantasy.  I like the innocence of a baker-princess.  The creativity of an artist-princess.  And I like that my girls can dream themselves into unreachable positions before realizing the truth of hard work and dedication.  'Thinking on the bright side' is not something to be ashamed of, in my opinion.  Even if that bright side is unrealistic, there are good aspects of our princess dreams that are worth aspiring to: kindness and adventurousness, helpfulness and creativity, curiosity and perseverance.

The other thing is, sometimes your dreams do come true. 

In Beauty and The Beast, one of Mia's newest favorites, we don't know the name of the prince.  We know he is a vain and selfish prince in the beginning, a temperamental beast in the middle, and a handsome, tattered man in the end.  We've discussed his lack of a name and wondered why he's only known as The Beast, and now Mia's come up with a solution: we must name him. 

She cocked her head to one side and scratched her ear. "Mama, I think the beast DOES have a name.  His name is Justin."  And off she skipped, dancing to a self-made tune and imagining herself as Belle with a no-longer nameless prince.

I don't think it's merely a lack of other boys' names on her mind that made her choose her daddy's name for the prince.  I don't think it's an accident that she sees her father as handsome and valiant, brave and strong, kind and generous.  And I don't think it's an impossible dream for Mia to imagine herself dancing off into the sunset with such a man. 

It's an attainable princess-hope.  It's a dream come true -- in reality, though. 

It's a happy ending (and beginning) in the real world.

10 comments:

  1. I LOVE this post. I 100 percent agree. Also, I think we were created with a desire to be someone's princess. And I think your summary of what she can hope to expect is perfect. Will her prince be perfect? Nope. But he could be loving and kind and valiant and strong and all the other good things God created man to be.
    Also, have you read Captivating by Stasi Eldridge. It is a MUST read. I could go on and on about how we are all princesses waiting for our Bridegroom to sweep us into Enternity, fulfill our souls, but I'll let it rest with the book rec. :)

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  2. Thanks, Hy! I'll definitely look up your book suggestion :)

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  3. I don't have any daughters. I have 3 sons, so all my thoughts on this are hypothetical. :-)

    I don't think princesses or princess play are "bad". I don't think they are necessarily "good" either. I think they exist. What we do with them or how they are presented are what are good and bad.

    Do I think it's right or wrong for a little girl to pretend that she is dressed in beautiful clothes or that she has a castle or that she's special in a certain sort of way that not many other people are? No.

    I do think the problem comes when people or kids have the idea that they must have a prince to be happy or they must be pretty to be happy. I think that there are ways that princess play can be less that great.

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  4. Casey, thanks for your thoughtful comment! I think you're absolutely right -- the princess culture itself isn't good or bad, it's where we take it from there that matters.

    As far as the pretty-factor, I guess I'd rather my daughters learn about beauty (or perceptions of beauty) from a princess cartoon that can carry positive values and the possibility for GOOD attitudes and hopes, than from the pop-culture icons who spread their skewed beauty-propaganda in our childrens' lives. I mean, the message that our daughters get -- on beauty, relationships, morals --from popular singers and actresses seems more harmful than all the princess characters combined. If our girls are going to be influenced by beauty and actions anyway (because our culture makes it nearly impossible to avoid those pop stars), I'll take pains to set them up with healthier princess ideas than otherwise.

    And your first comment comes into play here perfectly, too: all of the perceptions about beauty that every girl in the world grows up with can only be tempered by the message she receives from her parents and how they proceed with those ideas. We have to be diligent in raising kids, in ALL areas of their development -- and helping them navigate self-concept is no different.

    About needing a prince to be happy, I feel much the same as on the beauty issue: I'd rather my daughters aspire to finding ONE 'prince' to spend their lives with, than hop around from guy to guy having tons of terrible, 'fun' relationships along the way, the way our pop stars seem to do. If finding one prince equals happiness, I'm a fan of that idea for my daughters. And I'll help them work towards the self-confidence that will help them reject lines of careless relationships in pursuit of endless attachment. I'll try to help them feel comfortable enough with their values and importance to hold out for the 'one'.

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  5. Agree, agree! I would be more articulate in my agreement, but you've already said it so perfectly. I've read several articles about how Bad princess culture is and Boo Princesses, and... meh. Let's not be spoiled brats, but do let's be poised to be swept off our feet!

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  6. Oh I love! I love the imagination that blossoms in your house (and anywhere else you girls roam) and I love the ending...brought a happy tear to my eye, so sweet!

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  7. My daughter is going to be a nurse-princess. Either that, or a Minnie Mouse impersonator. =>

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  8. I love the positive spin on the princesses complex and I agree. We are Just at the cusp of princess domination in our house and I think, as you said, it's actually a much healthier example than the Miley's and Lindsay 's that are being shoved at our girls.

    Now Barbie is another story, mostly because I think she has been pimped out and over sexualized. But that debate is for another day :-)

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  9. I think what matters is that you *think* about it.
    I think you make informed choices about play, toys, TV etc.
    You should strive for balance because anything denied is craved.
    I think that you should know that EVERYTHING has repercussions - so think your choices through .
    I think you have it covered!
    Great post.

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?