“Guess what?” I say as I approach my daughters, sitting at the dining room table coloring. Their markers strewn across the table are mostly faded and dried out. The new colored pencils, our family’s solution to the dried out markers, lay scattered around them in a mini tornado of coloring utensils. I sit down beside my daughters.
“We are going to Disney Land for my birthday. Mom is going to celebrate her birthday with her twin sister and we are going to Disney Land!” I am thrilled about my plan. When I discovered my birthday fell on my daughter’s fall break, I never booked a trip so quickly. I have never been to Disney Land and have received a giant amount of grief for this for my entire life. I will finally experience this American rite of passage on my 35th birthday with my twin sister. But then I start thinking about the details of our “vacation”. For three nights my husband and I will share a hotel room with our three tiny children, one of whom is up several times a night. We will spend our days at an overcrowded theme park. I don’t like crowds. I don’t even like street fairs. This may be my own personal hell, perhaps not a vacation at all, but rather a very expensive and rare form of torture?
“Mommy hasn’t celebrated her birthday with her twin sister in 20 years,” I tell my daughters who by this time have completely checked out of the conversation and are dreaming about Anna, Elsa, and their cousin who they adore. “Mommy has never been to Disney Land.” I say animatedly and slightly irritated by the way I am talking about myself in the third person.
My four-year-old jumps from her seat and shouts, “ I can’t wait to go to Disney Land and see the princesses in their cages!”
“I can’t wait to see the princesses in their cages too,” the three-year-old screams, mimicking her sister.
I smile. My girls think that Disney Land is a zoo for princesses. A modern day feminist’s dream, the dangerous Disney Princesses with their svelte bodies and flowing tresses, all locked behind bars. These princesses who brainwash our preschoolers to think that being skinny and pretty is everything. The insidious belief that if a young girl is thin, pretty, and waits patiently, her prince charming will come, kiss her, and carry her to a glorious happily ever after. Some feminists blame princess culture for everything. Disney Princesses, the slippery slope that set our daughters on the path to body insecurities and eating disorders.
It would be nice if life were that simple? If banning princesses from our homes would guarantee that our daughters would grow-up with high self-esteem and aspirations to be whoever they want to be. It would be lovely if banning princesses would prevent my future adolescent daughters from obsessing over whether society/ adolescent boys find them pretty or not.
From my experience raising two daughters, three-year-olds gravitate to gender stereotypes. My daughter insists on wearing pink and purple twirley princess dresses every day. She scoffs at pants and shorts. My oldest did the same thing, but now she is five, she only wears pants, and her favorite color is green.
Princess culture is fleeting. The stereotypes in the princess books are pathetic, but this too shall pass. If my daughter develops body insecurities as a tween, it won’t be because of Ariel’s shell bikini. It will more likely stem from pop culture where the media photo-shops images of already dangerously thin supermodels.
As a child I did not own a single Disney Princess. I spent most of my time coloring my barbies and chopping off their hair. My barbies were skinny and pretty, but they were dolls. At 11-years-old, I obsessed over whether I was pretty or not. I spent hours thinking if only I was skinnier, had longer legs, or a different nose. Embarrassingly, I believed that being “pretty” was everything. The pretty girls were the popular girls and I wished I could be one. As an adolescent I wasted so much time worrying about how I looked.
I wish it were that easy. I wish I could lock the princesses in their cages and save my daughters from the masochistic adolescent activity of dissecting their looks. I wish I could save them from the monstrous teenage time suck, that is spending endless hours worrying about whether they are pretty or whether a certain boy will like them. I wish I could save them the heartache of feeling ugly, different, or less than. But alas, annihilating the princesses is not the answer. Society’s fixation with beauty is pervasive. It sucks.
“The princesses actually walk around Disney Land,” I say to my eldest daughter. “It is not a zoo. You can even shake their hands.” I laugh out loud and kiss her soft face.
Her cheeks flush. She is embarrassed. “I know that,” she says, “Princesses live in castles.”
“Of course they do,” I say, “and we are going to visit them on my birthday.”