Saturday, October 13, 2012

I'm Going To Tackle This Princess Issue

Oh boy, what a post. It's been rattling around in my brain now for almost a year and I think I might have things figured out. Regardless, I can say that I've come to my own "happy place" and things are much better now that I've sorted out a few problems. So, here's how I feel about

It all started with a dress. A dress from my mother. A garage sale treasure that couldn't be passed up. I had a very hard time watching Sylvia climb into a Snow White costume for hours on end because I have learned, in my adult life, that princesses (especially Snow White) are degrading to women. They undermine all that today's liberal, hard working, MegaWomen stand for. But guess what?  There is no Hilary Clinton costume, at least none that can be found at a Northern Kentucky garage sale.  So, strike one for the good guys. I mean, girls. Whatever.

After two dresses (Rapunzel somehow joined Snow White), things shifted from an intellectual/body image/political issue to a marketing/consumption issue. I don't want princess crap in my house. I don't want The Walt Disney Company controlling my tiny toddler's mind. I don't want to spend money on "the machine." Besides, what will my liberal feminist hippie friends think? I decided that these princesses had to go. I proclaimed to my family that there was an official princess embargo on the Fasciotto house.  No princess items were to cross the threshold! This embargo still stands, by the way, regardless of the numerous loopholes that have surfaced since its inception.*

Then I went and had that darn baby. While I was in the hospital, the border control totally fell asleep on the job and my mom bought Sylvia a princess magazine with a princess poster which she hung on the wall over Sylvia's play kitchen. Gah!! I hate that poster so much. I hate the images of the girls. I hate the "come hither" eyes and the tiny waists. You might as well have slapped a playboy magazine foldout on the wall. But Sylvia loves it, and not because they have pretty eyes and tiny waists. She loves it because they are dancing. To music (apparently). And she would spend a good thirty minutes a day wearing her dress and listening to music and dancing in front of the poster, reciting their names " dress! Aurora daaaaancing!" 

During that new baby haze, I decided to let the poster stay.  After all, it kept Sylvia occupied and we could at least practice her colors and count the princesses, so it wasn't completely useless.  Things had shifted from a marketing/consumption problem to a let's-just-survive-the-summer-without-Mama-losing-her-mind problem.  In a last-ditch effort to keep Sylvia occupied and happy for as long as possible each day, especially on those ungodly HOT days, I decided to let her watch movies.  Which brings me to the surprising conclusion of my saga...

We found my old VHS tapes.

We dug out boxes of old tapes from our basement, we found an old VHS player, and the rest is history.  We popped in Beauty and the Beast and suddenly, it all came rushing back to me.  I became very nostalgic and I even choked up when Belle started singing, "I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere...."  Oh my heavens.  How many times did I watch that movie as a kid?  Thousands.  Easily.  I suddenly remembered - I used to love princesses.  It hit me like a freight train.  I used to sit in front of the TV, especially at my Dad's house, and watch those movies over, and over, and over, and over...  I wanted to share them all with her.  I wanted to talk about them with her.  I wanted her to love them as much as I did. 

I went on the hunt for my other favorite movie - Cinderella.  It wasn't in my box.  I couldn't rent it on Netflix and you can't buy it because it's in "The Vault."  I mentioned this to my step mom and she pointed to the drawer under her TV.  "Rach, it's right down there.  With the rest of your old movies."  Ack!  More movies!!  We dug through that drawer like it was a treasure chest.  And we found many treasures, including Cinderella. 

I admit, Sylvia watched WAYYY too many movies this summer.  I used that TV as the world's greatest babysitter, but at least I sang along to all the songs while she was watching.  That's another thing - the music!  Holy cow, those movies have some snappy tunes!  I remember dancing around my room, singing every song to whichever movie was my current favorite.  And hearing Sylvia sing "I know you....I walked with you once upon a dreeeeeam!" really did make my heart melt.  Now I have a whole play list of Princess Songs on my computer.  We sing and dance a LOT around here.

After a couple of months, we seriously cut back on the movie watching and started going outside again.  Now that I'm back to work and things are back to normal around here, we're down to one good movie night on the weekend, if that.  And I have to say, these new princesses are something else!  That Rapunzel is just adorable and her song is fantastic.  So is Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog, which is also an awesome story with fabulous music.  I have to give Disney credit, they know how to play a good story.  I can't wait to see the new one, Brave, but we'll wait until we can watch it at home.

I still have issues with some princesses.  I won't go into a diatribe on Ariel, let's just say she's my least favorite (she gave up her VOICE for a MAN!  Seriously?  Not cool.)  I was also surprised to find that I really don't like Jasmine.  She and Aladdin are a little too "cozy" for kids to watch, I think.  Other than those, I'm really okay with the message and the content of the other movies.  And Sylvia's seen more than just the traditional princesses.  She loves Mulan and Pocahontas.  Her current favorite is Tarzan, which thrills me because Jane isn't a princess, she's a SCIENTIST!  Yay!!  Also, if you liked that when it came out, I DARE you to watch it after you have kids.  You.  Will.  CRY.  A lot. 

So now we've moved beyond the image issues, the political issues, the marketing issues, the developmentally inappropriate issues and we stand here: these are just fairy tales.  Fairy tales can be endearing for kids and are absolutely fine when enjoyed in the context of lots of other stories.  Sylvia has checked out the Tarzan book from the library four times in a row (I better just buy it for her), and she has about three different versions of the Snow White story on her bookshelf.  She's starting to make CONNECTIONS between the stories and real life.  She knows the stories inside and out, which is exactly what I want her to do with books.  As a teacher, I couldn't be more delighted to hear her compare the water tower at the mall to Rapunzel's tower: "Dat tower have waaaater.  No go up dere."  And to see her build castles and towers with her Lego's: "Dis where Cinderella live!!  And Prince Chaarrrming!"  At the end of the day, they're nothing but stories.  Stories that I used to love and stories that I'm glad she's learning.  Princesses aren't so bad.

 But those FIVE other dresses that Mom bought at a garage sale will absolutely STAY at her house!  A Mama's gotta draw the line at some point.  The embargo still STANDS,  gosh darn it! 
*Border control approved a pair of light-up princess shoes because Sylvia's old shoes were too small and these were just as good as any of the other options.  Sylvia also has a stuffed Baby Snow White which became her own, real baby when I brought Margot home from the hospital.  She pretends to nurse her Baby Snow White, so I can't really take that away, now, can I? Oh, and she acquired a princess beach towel, but to be fair, that was the item that initiated the embargo in the first place.  Overall, I think we've done well, considering the amount of princess crap available in the world.  Seriously.  Walk down the princess aisle at Target and try not to puke.  I dare you.

Up next: I might tackle my issue with ballerinas and how they give my daughter an inflated sense of coordination and grace which, I guarantee you, she does NOT HAVE.


Meredith said...

I think you said it best with "these are just stories". My kids are scared to death of the actual movies - they all have a scary scene: a mean step-mother, a scary beast, lightning, witch, dead parents, etc. My kids just have to wait a few years before we can watch almost any Disney movie without tears or nightmares (The first 10 minutes of Finding Nemo scarred my oldest for life). The actual pretty princesses are just fun for them to dress up as and play with the "fancy" clothes. We have all the dress-ups, shoes, crowns, etc. We just went to Disney World and had a special lunch with all the princesses, and the girls held (fully-clothed) Ariel's hand as they led a princess parade. It was adorable.

Do I think that I have failed my daughters or that they have a distorted view of body image or sexuality? NOPE.

You just have to know how and when to reign it in, and be such a strong role model that a cartoon or model or commercial, billboard, store-front display (Victoria's Secret!), or mean-girl doesn't shake who they are and what they believe.

Meredith said...

I guess I should also mention that my kids have a wide variety of toys, books, and play options. They spend most of their time outside running around and trying to catch bugs or pick flowers. They read lots of books, play music, watch TV for an hour a day (while I cook and/or clean), do puzzles, etc, etc. Princesses are such a small part of their play. I guess if they got too into it, or started talking about looking pretty to find a prince, I'd be concerned and set more limits. :)

And what about Barbie??? That's the one I fret about! She has breasts, and they're huge!

Kate said...

I feel the EXACT same way... with a little less feminism but whatever ;o) I think its a mark of a good mom if you see the major flaws with Jasmine & Ariel :o) The pepto pink & goofy looks on the princess faces make me want to vomit and Joe keeps buying it for them because they LOVE it and he LOVES them and that is what I have decided to be thankful for. A daddy who gets excited about showering his girls with girly gifts!
Also as Annie was dreaming about living in a castle one day I was able to tell her that My father in heaven is a king which makes ME a princess and she can be a princess too if she chooses to follow Jesus. I told her all about Gods love for her and that He has a castle for her in Heaven. For the first time ever she was excited about Heaven (our prior heaven talks have always ended in fear of death) and said "mommy we have to tell everyone about Heaven, will you help me!?!" so I guess I have Disney Princes to thank for my first successful God talk with my little girl ;o)