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Monday
Apr092012

When Princess and Non-Princess Worlds Collide

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?

 

 

 

Reader Comments (4)

Michele, this is so poignant. I raised Charlotte before the princess era, and this never came up. Birthday parties were not like this at all, and everyone could fit in, including boys. It is unfortunate how separate boys and girls are now...not only do girls' worlds now collide, but there seems to be even further separation between the worlds of girls and boys. They start not playing together beginning in preschool, when they begin extremely gender-segmented play using toys according to what is marketed to each gender. Walk into any preschool classroom, open your eyes, and think back 15 years, or to your own childhood. It's remarkable. It's SAD.

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLori Day

I say way to go for you encouraging her to go, however she wanted to dress! The easy way out would be to plan something else for Gabi, I.e. let's go to a jumpy place. You know? But what that taught her speaks volumes, stand up for what you believe in and go have fun. Xx

April 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMandy

I have a girl and two boys, so I see the princess issue from a few different sides, as they've gone through different stages. I feel bad for what your daughter went through, but if any other parents out there have the same situation, here's some ideas for other Disney Princesses that that aren't all about looks and froufrou.

- Nala (Lion King) - lion costumes are findable and warm for halloweening in northern states

- Mulan (Mulan) - armor and sword version is best but hard to do unless you're a skilled costume maker, her grey practice clothes are easier to make. If you have to use the dressy clothes, make sure to include a fan so she can be undercover and ready to do serious martial arts.

- Pocahontas (Pocahontas) - it's still a dress, but at least it's easy to move in and not pastels

- Pirate Princess (Jake and the Neverland Pirates) - her outfit is still purple and fancy, but it has pants under the overskirt, and she gets a sword and magic powers, so it's passable.

- Merida (Brave) pixar - not out yet, but looks promising

Plus, Disney has backed some studio ghibli films in the US, and so if you count them, there are some fantastic lead girl role models that are age-appropriate and have costumes that are for adventuring, even if they're not all traditional princesses:

- Chihiro (spirited away) - not technically a princess, but close enough. It may be a little scary for very, very young kids
- Brunhilde (Ponyo) - a very alternate little mermaid princess
- Arietty (The Secret of Arietty) - not technically a princess, but would pass in a pinch, and I love the explorer personality she has
- Nausicaa - (Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind) - princess and explorer in a sci-fi-ish setting; may be a little scary for very, very young kids

And if you go outside of Disney altogether, you can find some princesses with cool costumes and great stories that are age-appropriate. My family's favorites right now are from the Nick series, Avatar: the last air bender and from Avatar: the Legend of Korra. All the female characters there are strong in different ways, and they all have really cool costumes that don't frustrate the feminist in me - Korra, Katara, Toph, Suki, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee. Ty Lee's is a bit sexualized for young girls, but it fits with her character as an acrobat and it's not as bad as Disney's Jasmine.

Also, http://www.parenthacks.com/2006/09/talk_amongst_yo.html is a post about strong princess character

May 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCathyb

Thank you for this. I have a little boy, and it's amazing how much exposure he's had to the princesses just from two mornings a week of preschool--that seemed to be all the girls were interested in. We have skipped "Pirate and Princess" events: although there are two options, neither is a very good role model! (Okay, kids, do you want to be a marauding felon or a helpless spoiled brat?!)
I can only imagine what the princesses will be like for my son to date someday.

November 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterM

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