Taking on the Princesses. Me vs. My Two-Year Old Daughter’s Heroes

ScoutFor years I dreamed of Scout.

That is how I used to imagine my future daughter. Smart, inquisitive, able to stand up in a fight and not playing with dolls, finally growing into a person like Harper Lee. Inventive. Creative. Empowered.

That is not to say I envisioned myself as an Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. I’m not that great, and when I do heart-to-hearts with my kids they are never that lyrical or profound. Usually, it seems to me, that my big parental moments are always about the importance of sharing and taking turns (from toys to parents). Ah, the life of a father with two little ones.

Whatever the case, my daughter is over two now, almost two and a half, and all of the popular girl trends I hoped to avoid with my daughter have taken over and laid waste to my Scout dreams. Where there should be overalls, there are pink leggings, where the toys should be educational and gender-neutral, her likes lean towards the pink aisle of the toy store, the one boys avoid like the cooties.

Yes, my daughter is a full-on little girl, surrounded by Care Bears, babies that need rocking, a lot of pink, and I am at a loss… and then there are the princesses.

My daughter’s favorite princess is Cinderella, but she calls her Pizzeralla.

I have no idea how pizza entered the equation, but I have never dared to complain about pizza and I never will. Does my daughter imagine her slaving over a stove preparing a cheese pizza each night for her horrible step-sisters? Is this part of the Disney princess duties I was not aware of? Favorite Italian dishes? Does she make breadsticks as well?

The funny thing is for my little one all of the Disney Princesses are Pizzeralla. In her imagination, Alice is her when she is younger and Sleeping Beauty is later on. I think even Wendy Darling and Tinkerbelle sneak in as well, all taking the mantle of the great Pizzeralla.

I like to give Disney the benefit of the doubt.

I have discussed my love of Disney before in posts (like here), with a strange obsession for Disneyland and the sheer creativity that gave birth to it (My hope is to actually take my kids there for the first time next year)… but princesses?

Why my daughter latched on to Cinderella, I can never guess. She doesn’t have a bunch of pets (we have one dog and she has yet to make a shirt for it), definitely no mice, and we are hardly that cruel to our own little princess.

Now before my daughter and son were born, I collected Disney films, preparing for them, stocking up before Disney put each of them back in the “vault” they are always threatening us fans with. And even though I owned all of the princess movies, I had watched them probably once, rarely more than that.

Now I can easily say I have seen Cinderella over ten times (no pizza anywhere in sight), and while she is a very nice character, she is almost painfully too nice. For example, do you remember the scene when she gets in trouble for the mouse being with the breakfast food and she didn’t do it? That is a broken individual that walks into her stepmother’s chambers, not someone preparing to stand up for her side of the argument.

The Cinderella in the film is more than broken, she is a prisoner, already assuming her voice, her opinion, her rights are all gone. And even in that moment when her step-sisters destroy her dress (the one made by the friendly mice) she takes it, not fighting back. Frankly, it’s a pitiful sight.

CinderellaBut the thing that gets me… the one moment she has to stand up to her step-sisters and stepmother, put them in their place, show some strength, she doesn’t do it. At the end, after her stepmother has destroyed the one outrageously small glass slipper, Cinderella merely pulls the other one out of her pocket. And, in probably the nicest sarcastic joke I have ever heard, merely says, “If it may help, I have the other one.”

That’s it? Really?

Maybe I am missing something, but I want the scene of her “family” getting in trouble for treating her awful for years. I even want an investigation into how her father died! (Come on, aren’t we all a little suspicious of the stepmom???) I want Cinderella to declare, much like a diva from a 70’s disco song, that she has survived their torment and she has won out.

We don’t get that… instead we are off to the wedding and the movie ends.

I’m strangely becoming a scholar in princesses. While I do have issues with Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty seems to have even less of a personality.

TianaI think my favorite is Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. A strong character, independent, with no desire to be a princess or be fawned over. She is going to do it her way, succeed on her own. What is also great about that film is her best friend, Charlotte, is almost given to us as a caricature of an old school princess, wanting nothing more than a prince to sweep her off her feet. An idea that Tiana would laugh at. Again, Tiana never had to be a princess… Well, she did to break the curse, but I mean more… oh, nevermind.

  • I like the independence of Ariel, but she does get married far too young, her dad was right to hold her back. She was… what… 15?!
  • I like how smart Belle is, but remember she had no idea that the Beast was actually a human. She fell in love with a talking animal! Doesn’t that disturb anyone else like it does me?
  • Snow White is a little embarrassing… Yes, a classic, but a little embarrassing. She is the princess no one would invite over to a party.

Jasmine from Aladdin is probably my second favorite, but it feels weird to have her try and seduce the bad guy in a children’s cartoon. Could it be one of the most inappropriate things in a Disney film? Possibly…

Honestly, I have yet to make up my mind around Tangled and the character of Repunzel. I enjoy the humor in the film, but so far I feel lukewarm around the character. My gut reaction is I kind of wish she didn’t need a thief to help her escape, she could have just used her hair as a rope, said goodbye to the friendly lizard, and left… chasing the lights on her own. Strong.

The thing I always wonder though, as I sit down to watch another film like this with my daughter (and my usually reluctant five-year old son) is what is the message we are giving to her with stories like this? I know I can’t point my finger solely at Disney; we have had fairy stories like this for generations. But they are the obvious target as my precious daughter goes to bed each night hugging her doll of Merida from Brave (that she calls her baby).

And, of course, my daughter is my daughter, which means, even if she is wearing a pink skirt she is probably wearing a Star Wars shirt with it. Making her the first real Jedi princess… Oh, wait that is Leia… right… Well, the second real Jedi princess.

The one thing all princess stories have in common is they rise up in the end, becoming something more than what they were in the beginning. Yes, many times that is through a marriage, but for a few it is through strength, finding one’s voice, discovering some truth. That I appreciate, however you have to search for that point. It is not always spelled out so easily… at least not easily enough for a young mind to grasp. And I kind of wish that speech, that moment, was put in each of the films. The “Ah ha! Now I am strong because I did…” speech.

Sigh… What was that thing Cinderella sang about wishes?

Oh well…

Last week my little one got a haircut. It was a “Scout” cut again. For me, the dream survives.

Did I mention how awesome Tiana is?

A Jane Austen DaydreamIf you liked reading my article, why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had four novels published in the last few years, the new A Jane Austen DaydreamMaximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous DareMy Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or Doors and Megan as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!

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17 responses

  1. Interesting post. Don’t let it bother you too much. I’m betting she’ll learn far more about being strong from mom and dad than from any movie. When she get’s a little older she’ll branch out into other things. As a practical matter though, if you take her to Disneyland be prepared to stand in line to meet princesses. 🙂

  2. Try Mulan and Pocahontas, especially Mulan—now there’s a princess with some gumption. We had the same issues when my daughter was young. She’s now 16 and driving. Take the princess moments, whatever they are, snuggle up, have tea parties, are cherish them. It goes too fast. :).

    Seriously though, there’s something about Cinderella that calls to them. She was always Emma’s favorite too, even though my daughter spent much of her youth with a plastic sword tucked in her frilly pink/purple skirt playing in the sandbox. I don’t know.

    If it’s any consolation, when Emma read TKM in high school, she LOVED it (how could you not?) and immediately decided to someday name her daughter Scout. There’s a Scout in your girls…but the glitter is hard to compete with when they’re young.

    • What a great comment! Thank you… And Scout is a great name (I did argue for it and lost).

      I could have gone on about my daughter, but I didn’t want to make it too longer. She does have some spirit in her. Trust me, she has her own lightsaber and has been known to chase her brother around the living room with it.

  3. Try Mulan and Pocahontas, especially Mulan—now there’s a princess with some gumption. We had the same issues when my daughter was young. She’s now 16 and driving. Take the princess moments, whatever they are, snuggle up, have tea parties, are cherish them. It all goes too fast. :).

    Seriously though, there’s something about Cinderella that calls to them. She was always Emma’s favorite too, even though my daughter spent much of her youth with a plastic sword tucked in her frilly pink/purple skirt playing in the sandbox. I don’t know.

    If it’s any consolation, when Emma read TKM in high school, she LOVED it (how could you not?) and immediately decided to someday name her daughter Scout. There’s a Scout in your girls…but the glitter is hard to compete with when they’re young.

  4. I think Disney Princesses get a bad rap. I can remember feeling the same way about my eldest daughter, wanting to be able to support her choice to be a tomboy, and watching her choose being a princess instead. (And she doesn’t get it from her mom–my ex-wife is a historical reenactor who makes her own knives.)

    My daughter recently got married, and it was a fairy tale wedding–literately, she and her husband are members of a cosplay group and most of the wedding party was in costume–the groom wore a full suit of armor and a real sword.

    Looking at the young woman that my daughter has become, I can see how she was shaped by the virtues demonstrated by Disney Princesses. Cinderella wasn’t weak, she was magnanimous.

    Snow White demonstrated quiet leadership with the dwarves, she took charge of them without having to raise her voice or threaten, simply because she was a more competent manager than any of them. (See how lost they seem at the funeral without her guidance.)

    I think the message of the Disney Princesses to little girls is that you don’t have to be as noisy as a boy or punch as hard as a boy to get what you want out of life, and I think that’s a positive message. I don’t think that finding a partner is necessarily a bad goal, either.

    I cried at my daughter’s wedding. I cried a lot. It was beautiful, and I know that my son-in-law sees my daughter as a partner, someone to work with, not just someone to take care of.

    • A real princess wedding with a knight. Wow. And guests in costumes? The wedding photos must have been awesome. (And I am sure I am going to cry when my daughter gets married, I get emotional with every milestone she hits already.)

      True about Cinderella, but people did take advantage of her because of it.

      Snow White? The dwarves were pushovers. LOL.

      Thanks for writing! Cheers.

  5. This was fun to read. We all have some slightly unreasonable aspirations and expectations for our children, and the important thing is to be aware of them and to be flexible! What’s sad to me is that the only stories some girls are exposed to are the Disney princess stories and other mass culture creations. There are so many amazing girl characters in children’s literature that before long they will probably replace the Disney princesses in her imagination. For now, you could read “The Paper Bag Princess” to her and many other stories that challenge the typical princess narrative. There are also tons of excellent novels out there about racial injustice to read in the years before kids are ready for To KIll a Mockingbird.

    • Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll be sure to check it out.

      And we didn’t even start this Princess thing! It is something that came home with her from daycare (that and playing with “babies”). I don’t think we had a single princess anything in the house (save the movies) until she asked.

  6. I am reliving all the princesses with my granddaughters and some that came along after my daughters were no longer interested. My oldest granddaughter was infatuated with Cinderella and Elmo. So her baby sister’s name was going to be Cinderella Elmo. Enjoy this wonderful time in her life, princesses and all. She will grow up way before you want her to and you will be dreaming of watching the princess movies with her.

  7. Pingback: To all children I am your father, thanks to mine | The Reluctant Kenyan

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  9. Our daughters would love each other! My girls are insanely obsessed with both princesses and Star Wars. The Little Mermaid is their favorite Princess movie. They’ve never seen any of the Star Wars movies (they scare easily. We told them they have to wait til they’re 7) but they’ve got lots of Star Wars books and toys and I think they’re more educated in both trilogies than my husband. Definitely more than me.

    Emma calls herself Jedi Princess Ariel, and Sophia is Princess Leia. Sometimes she’s Darth Vader and Emma calls her Daddy. They both have lightsabers and a bajillion tiaras. Their room is pink everything with twinkle lights. Emma is actually planning her 7th, 9th, and 11th birthday parties (she’s 5 now) with various princess and Star Wars themes.

    I absolutely love all of it. I don’t want them to ever grow up.

    By the way, do you have Vader’s Little Princess? A children’s book about Darth Vader raising Princess Leia from toddler to teenager. It’s a follow up to Darth Vader and Son. Sooo cute! I bet she’d love it.

    • I saw that book in the store, but didn’t get it. It looked cute. I’ll have to check it out.

      Jedi Princess Ariel. LOL. Awesome.

      I dread my kids growing up. I videotape everything. Trying to capture what I can. What I really want to do right now is interview her. Just collect her thoughts and speech.

      Cheers!

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