by Michele Yulo
A few years ago, and right before I started Princess Free Zone, my non-princess daughter got invited to a princess party. The invitation said to "dress as your favorite princess" and that the Disney mermaid princess, Ariel, would be making an appearance. Now, for some girls, this might seem like a dream come true. Not for mine.
This definitely presented a bit of a sticky situation for Gabi, and I wasn't sure if she would want to attend, but I left it up to her. We discussed the party and the friend--she wanted to go because of her friend, but wouldn't dress up. There was not a lot of wiggle room on the directive to dress like a princess so she wore pants and a tee.
We arrived early, before any of the princesses, and happily greeted the birthday girl. Soon all the other girls arrived in their pink, lilac, and pale yellow gowns with jeweled tiaras atop their coiffed hair, and faux glass-slippered feet. All of them immediately congregated in the center of the room to admire each other's grand looks. And Gabi? Well, she was with us on the sidelines watching the now very whimsical scene. I will say that she didn't seem upset--a little puzzled, maybe even bored. (I kept wondering about what the other mothers were thinking.) She simply wasn't part of the group--it created a very obvious dynamic. When Ariel arrived, the girls squealed and giggled. She gathered the very excited princesses to paint their nails from which Gabi also refrained--the only colors available were soft pastels. I thought, "maybe if Ariel had brought bright blue..."
Okay--some girls just aren't going to dress up as a princess. Period. But what happens when the two worlds collide? When there is an obvious divide that separates the princess from the non-princess? My daughter has many girlfriends who she loves to play with--and somehow they get along. They manage to find their common likes without alienating one another in a non-prescribed environment. I know there are plenty of girls out there who wear tutus and carry light sabers--and I think that's great. But what about those girls (and there are many) who simply reject not just the tiara, but wearing a dress or skirt as well? Should they be considered when planning something as specific as a princess party? (Not to mention, what about boys?)
I think this is an easy fix and one that can be a teachable moment about inclusion and acceptance. This is where we can say to our children, "All girls/boys are not the same." A parent can ask their daughter, "It's great if you want to dress up as a princess, but what about someone who may not want to?" And then ask, "How can we include them?" Honestly, I really don't think it's that difficult to broaden the spectrum a bit and, by having the discussion, we may just give our kids something to think about.
In the past, when planning my daughter's birthday parties, we've been as inclusive as possible--especially since both girls and boys have always been invited. For instance, Gabi had a Batman party a couple of years ago--complete with an actual Batman and Robin attending--but instead of making it just about Batman, we decided to go with a "Come as your own super hero" party. That way, both girls and boys could decide who they wanted to be (or make one up of their own). I was well aware that the girls, especially, might not be into Batman. For the particular princess party Gabi was invited to, I believe the invite could have been a "Come as your favorite fairy tale character." That would leave room for kids to decide and for all to take part.
I suppose I could have just as easily suggested to Gabi that she not go. Or she could have made that decision on her own. But I believe that in order to give our children the tools they need to go out into the world, it's better to help them to see it the way it really is--diverse. At the same time, I also know the world is not always considerate and accommodating. However, for something like a five-year-old's birthday party, shouldn't we at least make the effort?