The Pretty Princess Phenomenon

I have been bombarded lately with differing views of the Princess culture that is influencing young girls today. Movies, books, toys, clothes, etc. are all feeding the princess frenzy.

In Dr. James Dobson’s book, Bringing Up Girls, his daughter Danae described why the princess story line is so captivating:

“1) Beauty. Every girl wants to be considered physically attractive, and princesses take it to the highest level…”

“2) Song. Every Disney princess has a beautiful voice, and some of the story lines are based around that talent…”

“3) Beautiful clothes. Princesses wear lovely gowns in bright colors, and little girls love to mimic their heroine’s attire by donning similar costumes…”

“4) Handsome suitor. A princess is always pursued by an attractive male prospect, and he’s usually a prince–someone any girl in the kingdom would love to have. Through all the ups and downs in the story line, a princess always gets her man in the end…”

“5) Rags to riches... One thing is true for all: in the end they all live in a castle with the man of their dreams and with riches galore…”

“6) Happily ever after. This is true for every Disney princess, but unfortunately not for the rest of us. Nevertheless, the concept of marrying a handsome prince and living happily ever after (no conflicts or problems) is appealing to young dreamers who hope that one day they will have the same privilege…”

“7) Dreams coming true. A princess expresses her wishes and dreams early in the story and always sees them come to life in the end…”

“To be a princess is to be considered beautiful, to be pursued, and to see all your hopes and dreams come true. Now who wouldn’t want to be a princess?”

Dr. Dobson quotes another woman (Riann Zuetel) as giving another perspective:

“I think wanting to be a princess is more than just feeling beautiful. Girls and women long to be treated like they are something special and worthwhile. Our culture often treats women like brainless sex objects who are put on this planet to satisfy men’s desires, sometimes at the expense of their own sense of self-worth… When a girl sees herself as a princess, she feels valued for who she is. Being beautiful is just the icing on the cake, so to speak. She is equal, worthwhile, and special. Most important, she has the confidence to wait for Prince Charming to come and not settle for second best or a loser, no matter how long it takes.”

The other side of the story is explained in the July 2010 issue of Parents Magazine. An article called “The Princess Diaries,” written by Gayle Forman, suggests that the princess fairy-tale culture is responsible for young girls growing up too fast and becoming “racy.”

“Around age 6, a girl’s interest in Belle or Tiana will probably give way to a fascination with iCarly and High School Musical. She may also become more interested in edgier clothing, from short skirts to T-shirts with slogans such as “Flirt” and “Daddy’s Expensive Little Princess… There’s a name marketers use for the idea of pushing young girls to dress and act grown up: KAGOY, and acronym for Kids Are Getting Older Younger. It started more than a decade ago with the newly branded “tween” market and has shifted toward ever-younger girls–who are being encouraged by companies to wear makeup, high heels… and skimpy crop tops…”

“…there’s no doubt that marketers are amplifying both princess culture and the precocious look that many young girls gravitate toward. Although you may have pretended to be Cinderella when you were a kid, your daughter likely takes the royal role more seriously and might want the Tinkerbell sheets, the Little Mermaid wallpaper, a Disney Princess kitchen set, and a Barbie Sparkle Lights Doll to fuel it. And while you may have borrowed lipstick and mascara from your mom’s drawer just for fun, your 6-year-old might take it one step further by buying a $9 preteen makeup kit with her allowance.”

Dr. Dobson addresses this view by saying:

“I’ve seen no evidence to support the supposition that little girls who think of themselves as princesses are more likely to become brats or strippers when adolescence approaches. That strikes me as ridiculous.”

“Admittedly, however, life is not always a Cinderella journey… But we are here talking about children, after all. There will be plenty of time for them to learn about pain, sorrow, and other intricacies of adult life. Or as one mother put it, they have the rest of their lives to become jaded. Let’s let children be children while they are children.”

Earlier in the chapter, Dr. Dobson actually suggests that the princesses promote purity:

“Modeling virtue is one of the reasons I like the movement. In a subtle way, the Disney stories present a wholesome image of virginity until marriage and then lifelong love thereafter. They also promote femininity, kindness, courtesy, the work ethic, service to others, and “good vibes” about one’s personhood. Where else in the popular culture do you find these values represented in such an attractive way?”

Another big concern that parents have with the princess culture is that it leads children to think that every girl should be beautiful, thin, and “perfect.” Dr. Dobson also addresses this:

“Not every little girl can be “the fairest in the land” and look like Ariel or Sleeping Beauty. There is, therefore, an aspect to the princess fantasy that parents should recognize and respond to with wisdom and sensitivity. An overemphasis on physical attractiveness throughout childhood can create an expectation that some kids will never achieve…”

As someone who loves the Disney movies; I have never had a problem with the princesses. It wasn’t until recently that I made a decision to get rid of some of our Disney movies which included a few of the princess themes. My reasons had nothing to do with the princesses themselves but because I didn’t want to expose our girls (ages 1 & 3) to the scary images along with the evil things portrayed in those particular movies. We are perfectly fine with them liking the Princesses themselves–and they do love the princesses! We just decided that there are other ways to let them pretend, play with, see, etc. the princesses without them watching the movies.

Personally, I think that pop culture is more responsible for sexualization of younger kids than the princess movement is. Consider real superstars such as Brittney Spears, Miley Cirus, Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, etc. These real idols tend to dress provocatively. As girls get older; I believe that they look up to actresses and musicians more so than fictional fairy tales. I believe that clothing lines are mimicking real people and not the princesses.

Bottom line is that we are the parents. If we have a problem with what clothes are on the market; then we should find a place that sells what fits our standard (I always had to have a one piece swimsuit). If we have a problem with a 6 year-old buying makeup with their allowance; then we should tell them that they are not allowed to buy it (I wasn’t allowed to wear make up in public until I was in 7th grade). I agree with Dr. Dobson’s view on the parent’s responsibility and so I will allow him to have the last word:

“[We should] carefully scrutinize and select that which will be allowed into the lives of our children. Our job is to teach and interpret for them what they need to understand. They will learn far more directly from us than from storybook fantasies. The princess movement can be handled in this manner. Ultimately, mothers will have to decide whether or not to introduce their girls to this and other forms of make-believe. It is my belief that the good outweighs the bad in the princess movement…”

*****

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Bringing Up Girls: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Women

By Dr. James Dobson / Tyndale House

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13 comments on “The Pretty Princess Phenomenon

    • I know you do Kim. This wasn’t necessarily to change anyone’s mind. I just thought that Dr. Dobson made some good points which confirmed my views. I think that there are other influences that are a whole lot worse than the princesses.

  1. Hi Alysa,

    I completely agree with you (I have 2 daughters, 13 & 4, and I also loved Disney Princesses as a kid). While I don’t agree with Dobson on everything, I’d have to agree here, as well. As you said, we’re the parents; and we certainly don’t have to cave in to pop culture and encourage racy stuff for our little girls. I never have, and they both have had perfectly happy and well-adjusted childhoods.

    I also can’t see a 6 year old getting an allowance such that she can afford a $9 makeup kit, but that’s just me. 🙂

    Great post!

    • I haven’t stepped into the allowance world yet so I have no idea about that. I just know that as the parent you can overrule whatever the child thinks she is going to buy. My mom wouldn’t let me wear shorts that came higher than my finger tips or dresses above my knees. Although, I hated following the rules at the time; as a mother I can see why she had rules set in place.

  2. The pastor I work with bought his granddaughter all the princess dresses for Christmas. It was the first time I had ever heard of it. When he told me about it, I thought it a bit strange and indulgent. Something I would probably never buy my granddaughter. Seems like it might make them a bit self-absorbed. I suppose if it’s just playing dress up, there’s no harm in that, but could this lead to a superiority complex?

    Of course I’m all peace and love and all that jazz…an old hippie. I think I would prefer to buy some flowers, water colors, and butcher paper. Let her be creative all over my dining room table with friends from different walks of life… princesses and paupers alike.

    • My girls love to play dress up. I was thinking about getting my girls some of the princess gowns for Christmas (I don’t have enough money to buy all of them) so that we can have a princess tea party for their joint birthday party next year. I think that dress up and pretend is definately okay. When I was a kid my sister and I would play princess and queen just using blankets and sheets. We often would pretend that we were Queen Esther or the Queen of Sheba too.

  3. When i read this part in dobson’s book it really made sense to me. I think that parents just need to use discretion in not be over indulgent because i think it is easy to do that. Our culture promotes giving our children everything and you and i did just fine with sheets, blankets and good will (oversized dresses) 🙂

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