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If it isn't broke...but it is. Disney Adds Another Princess To Its Repertoire

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.





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Reader Comments (9)

A "peer to peer" princess? They are increasingly out of touch with reality.....yet I'm sure they will sell millions of these horrible things.... sigh...

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Drury

Are we absolutely sure that this is all bad?

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

"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."

Pre-K children should not be worrying about how to fit in, they should be focused on having fun and being themselves. Go away, Disney.

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRuth

Yuk! Yuk! Yuk! So utterly bored of this princesification of girlhood. We used to have an old wedding dress in the dressing up box at nursery and that was the only flouncy thing available. Now it's EVERYWHERE! I second, go away Disney.

December 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

We most likely will not be tuning into Sophia the First, unless she climbs trees, rides bikes, plays sports, gets dirty and imagines herself flying planes or riding dinosaurs or exploring the sea in a submarine.

My daughter doesn't need a "peer-to-peer princess", she needs media that embraces her childhood, and shows girls taking up space in this world.

December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Wardy

It's bad enough Dora is turning tween... if they had to make a peer to peer princess, couldn't they at least have given her a red, green, blue, or yellow dress?! Purple, really? Le Yawn.

December 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

Okay. This is so right on. I blogged recently about this very thing. And the viewpoint I express here was from a little girl. Not me. So yeah! I think we are making a difference. I think little girls are getting it.

December 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia Wylie

@Melissa Regarding the NY Times piece you posted, I actually sent a letter. Here it is:

I would argue that, while Ms. Wolfe makes some excellent points about the changing archetype and deconstruction of the princess model, most girls today do not know about all of the trials and tribulations of real life princesses, or view them the way she outlines as possessing agency in their own narratives.

She says, “little girls are obsessed with princesses for the same reason little boys are obsessed with action heroes.” Really? I think if you asked ten girls why they like being a princess, I don’t think one would say “[i]t is about power and the recognition of the true self” or anything even close to that. I believe they would say it is because they get to wear a gown, a tiara, wave a wand, and look pretty. And, while there are a couple of princesses (Mulan is technically not a princess) in the bunch that take an active role, there is nothing heroic about waiting for a prince to kiss you so you can come out of a coma and have a giant wedding. Or giving up your voice so that you can be with the man of your dreams who you’ve only spent a few hours getting to know. Meanwhile, ask ten boys why they want to be a super hero—they probably wouldn’t answer that it’s because they get to look good.

The other point I would make is that there are plenty of little girls who do not go through a princess phase or have the desire to be a princess—my daughter happens to be one of them. I still remember her attending a princess birthday party where she stood on the sidelines while all the “princesses” were getting their nails done by a made-up Ariel—so much for being active. My daughter wanted to go out and play. The princess obsession ostracizes girls who do not like dressing up and wearing a tiara, and you cannot go into any girls department without feeling like it’s princess or nothing.

I do agree with Ms. Wolfe that the obsession with princesses is never going to go away, and that it’s not the end of the world if your daughter likes to dress up as a princess, or learns that being kind to “little creatures” is a good thing. But let’s not pretend that little girls want to be princesses because of their heroic feats.

December 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterMichele

@ Michele - I wasn't a pretty, pretty princess type of girl growing up. I went outside and played with all the kids in the neighborhood, boys and girls. There was a healthy balance in my upbringing on what to play with. I honestly don't feel like I was pressed to go any which way. I was just a kid. Television wasn't a priority past the hour when I would sit in my pajamas and watch early morning cartoons. Really, the first point of contention I have with your points is the fact that you are somehow saying media is suppose to somehow be a substitute teacher. If you don't like it, there's more than just Disney. Everyone has seem to forgotten that there is Nick and PBS Kids - both on public television stations. Furthermore, kids are home for longer hours without parental control more now than they were when I was a kid. Who did the media market to before that? Oh yes, women because they were the homemakers and the ones who spent the money on groceries and such. It should be no surprise that now that there are more women working that they would move onto to next target.

So they added another princess, you, as a parent, have a choice in how you want to raise your child and what you introduce to influence your child. Yes, Disney is making millions off their princess line, but do you know how much more they make from the icon figures that aren't princess related? Their theme parks generate so much money and run without the focal point being their princesses. And I feel that you are not giving them credit for what they have done. They have Toy Story where they have Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl. They portrayed Barbie as what we all figure she'd be like if she could talk, but still could somewhat smartly execute a plan of escape. Eve, who is a updated female robot that is fearless. The Incredibles - need I say more. On Disney Jr, they have Doc McStuffins and Issy in Jake and the Neverland pirates. On top of that, they have little to no advertising on princess merchandise. So why the princess line? I honestly don't think it's purely based on gender so much as it is that the adults have grown up on these timeless movies, which were not all princesses. I mean, give Disney-Pixar some credit for not going at the wayside.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHitomi

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