This just in: Disney recently announced the addition of a brand new younger princess named Sofia. You know, because the ten that are already out there, and the thousands of products that line store shelves, are just not enough. The thought is that a younger (she looks to be about seven) princess will have greater glitz appeal to children from age two to seven (they will be marketing her specifically to the Pre-K set). But, wait, aren't girls in that age range already donning tiaras and sparkly gowns? Aren't they already hooked? This is just added insurance that little girls will be even more taken with the princess ideal by seeing one who is closer to their own age. Disney Junior Worldwide said, "In Sofia, we have a 'peer to peer princess,' a relatable girl experiencing the same social issues as our young viewers - learning how to fit in, making new friends, conquering new skills and building sibling relationships."
Well, that all sounds fine and good. Of course, that's not the end of this story. First, the term "peer to peer princess" is telling. From what I can gather, the rest of the princesses are somewhere in the teen range: Snow White is fourteen, Cinderella is around seventeen, Ariel is sixteen. By birthing a princess who is a child and whose future is unknown (this is to be a movie and a television series unlike a single story), Disney has created a princess with whom little girls can literally grow up. And when they do, they will have the others to pick up where Sofia leaves off.
And making that personal connection is what Disney does best. In this case, they conducted focus groups with little girls to ensure that the connection was there. Nancy Kanter, general manager for Disney Junior Worldwide, said “We saw girls have an instant relatability to this character. If kids relate to what they watch — if they can put themselves in that world — that’s where real learning can start.” Of course, that's true, but does it suprise anyone that girls had an "instant relatability" to Sofia when they have already been primed from birth to accept the princess model as their go-to fantasy? It is not a stretch to introduce another princess and find girls who approve. Tell me something I don't already know.
Inevitably, though, Disney is about making money. The ultimate hope "is for the character to spawn all kinds of consumer products. It’s a solid business bet; the Disney Princess toy line generates about $4 billion in annual retail sales." There you have it. This is not about churning out a positive role model for little girls--this is about another $4 billion in sales. The sky is the limit and your daughter is who they are using as their betting chip, and children in general. Don't fool yourself--marketing to kids is a highly formulated and calculated business. To understand just what I am talking about, watch this video called "Consuming Kids," which highlights the history of marketing to kids and the trillion dollar children's industry that views your child as a consumer who begins making purchasing decisions as early as he or she is able to point.
I do know one thing. If the consuming public continues to buy into this model and provide Disney (and others) with insane profits that are based on your daughter's insatiable need for more princess, princesses will be the main way girls think of themselves as they begin their journey of self-discovery. And, while Disney is saying that the character and storyline "will focus on learning" and lessons about "the importance of getting along with siblings and how to be a kind and generous person," aren't there other ways to convey these messages? Or how about messages to girls that they can achieve and be anything they want? There's nothing wrong with being kind and generous, but those always seem to be the default traits when it comes to the female standard. And must it always be packaged in a tiara, gown, and updo?
So, when someone on my Facebook page asked what I thought about this latest princess, I felt I needed to weigh in. For what it's worth, here's what I think: In a culture that is overly saturated with the princess model for little girls and is already a billion dollar business, why go there again? I suppose Disney's creative executives (who shockingly seem to be mostly women) think, "if it isn't broke, why fix it?" It may not be broke in terms of dollars, but it's definitely faulty when it comes to the future of our kids--both boys and girls. By producing more princess, we continue to define girls in very specific, limited roles, with boys absorbing this limited definition of feminity. What is even more disappointing is that Disney is the kind of organization that could actually produce change on a massive scale in terms of new and exciting characters, with the best chance of making it stick. What is stopping them is their absolute certainty that all things princess reign. It's up to us to tell them that our girls don't need another princess.