For a while, I actually believed I could stop the avalanche of Disney princess crap. I really did.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not anti-Disney. Far from it. I own a collection of Disney movies, love going to Disney World, and I look forward to someday taking the kids on one of their cruises. I’m just conflicted about the princesses. Specifically the classic Disney princesses, you know, before the days of Ariel and Belle, who finally grabbed the bull by the horns (Belle almost literally) and took the hero role.
I thought maybe, just maybe, Nica would just skip this phase. She didn’t seem at all interested in Disney films or Bedazzled polyester-and-tulle dress-up outfits. She enjoyed building with blocks! drawing and painting! playing with baby dolls! pretending to be a doctor! playing cards and board games!
And then she started preschool, and it all went to hell.
She was in constant contact with many girls who wanted to be princesses, fairies, mermaids and ballerinas. Now, I have nothing against fairies, mermaids or ballerinas. Because they actually do stuff. Being beautiful is just part of the story, and play is unscripted and open to anything the imagination can conjure. But the princesses most admired by the preschool set only want to be pretty and idle. If they’re feeling extra-energetic, they might sing or dance, or clean some mean person’s or dwarf’s house, but they’re otherwise in passive distress or just plain lying down, waiting to be kissed or have a shoe placed on their foot, ultimately to be carried off to be wed to a royal stranger. All this is OK for an older girl who has more of a sense of the world and the possibilities out there; she can put it all in perspective. But for someone as young and impressionable as a preschooler who doesn’t even care about romantic love yet? I feared that it would have a limiting effect or put age-inappropriate thoughts in Nica’s head.
She soon began to talk about princesses and wanting to dress like a princess. “Wouldn’t you rather be a queen?” I said. “At least a queen can rule.” But Nica did not want power. Just the thought of all that work seemed to make her feel faint. She just wanted to primp. I was dismayed. But I also began to fear that if I kept Nica from the princess experience, it would become all the more special and precious to her. And then she would end up like one of my college roommates, who hoarded candy and ate it by herself at night because all her childhood she had been forbidden to eat sweets. So, I decided to stop being so uptight and just let it happen, lest Nica turn into some weirdo Miss Havisham type.
The princess toys started to trickle in at birthday parties and Christmastime. Then one of Nica’s grandmas started buying princess stuff. A couple of friends here, an aunt there, a Disney gift certificate here, and suddenly we are knee-deep in princess dolls, princess accessories, princess stickers, princess shoes, princess handheld video games, princess pencils, princess dress-up pieces, princess playing sets and a princess learning laptop. And I know this is only the beginning.
For a couple of months, it was just as I feared. Nica only cared about being “pretty,” which to Nica and her cohorts meant “like a Disney princess.” She only wanted to play according to the fairy tales’ scripts. The ultimate goal in any game was the same:
But to my immense relief, Nica eventually began to move on. She still plays princess, but at least it’s all part of a larger repertoire of play options. And as I go through all the princess merch that Nica has acquired, I see that in the midst of the idiotic stuff there are some good, fun items too. More on that next time.