Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Princess Mania: Good? Bad? Or Ugly?

My daughters are princess wanna-bes. The rooms in our house are filled with a dazzling array of sequined ball gowns, plastic heels, purses and other princess-related paraphernalia. However, despite favoring pink as a wardrobe choice for my eldest ( it complemented her coloring perfectly!), I didn't do much to encourage this love of all-things princess. Instead, their knowledge of princess culture came from outside the home. As many parents of young children can tell you, "princess mania" is similar to a virus, running rampant through daycares and preschools, infecting children in epidemic proportions. And, truth-be-told, although I didn't actively encourage their interest in all things princess, I really enjoy this stage of their childhood.

That was, of course, until the recent frenzy surrounding Peggy Orenstein's book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From The Frontlines Of The New Girlie-Girl Culture**, forced me to question my stance. In her book, Orenstein questions whether our fascination with princess culture is a "gateway drug," leading to a later obsession with our body, low self-esteem, and low aspirations (she later concludes that this is not the case). The resulting media buzz has focused on highlighting the perceived drawbacks to exposing our young girls to princess culture. In an effort to counterbalance this, I thought I would share a few of the positive impacts the inevitable "princess culture" has had on my daughters.

  • I have been able to use my daughters' love of Disney's Cinderella as a spring board to introduce other versions of the story. We have read An Egyptian Cinderella, A Korean Cinderella, and their current favorite, Cendrillion: A Caribbean Cinderella. In addition to introducing them to different cultures and dialects, it has provided us the opportunity to compare and contrast multiple versions of the same story.

  • My oldest daughter's initial interest in Princesses and ball gowns has morphed into an obsession with ballerinas. Her prefered activity these days is to dress up in her tutu and dance along to a ballet video on the television (a great way to burn off extra energy during the New England winter!). Not only is this a great form of physical activity, but she is regularly exposed to stunning examples of classical music and choreography. We are even reading summaries of "Swan Lake," "La Fille Mal Gardee" and "Coppelia" in order to better understand the ballets she is dancing to.

  • Because my children will eagerly devour any princess book, I have been able to introduce them to some great examples of 'anti-princesses'- plucky, independent leading ladies who create their own destiny! We have moved away from the classic stories of young women waiting in towers to be rescued, in favor of heroines whose quick thinking saves the day, or who rebel against the confines of castle living.

As with anything, princess mania has both its benefits and drawbacks. My advice would be to embrace this fleeting stage while you can, and use it as a springboard to other interests, books and ideas.

Click here to view Laughing Giraffe Books' collections featuring some of the books mentioned above.

**Orenstein, Peggy. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From The Front Lines Of The New Girlie-Girl Culture. New York: HarperCollins, 2011.


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