Instead of What would you like to be? it’s Which Disney Princess would you like to be?

Cinderella and her princess pals have been taking over girlhood for a while but now it really is time to desist. There is no alternative for little girls to dress up as, no alternative for little girls in the role play castle at school, no superheroine, no female space detective, no astronaut, firefighter or pirate. No Bex the Builder. On a good note, CBeebies have finally noticed that females make up over half the population and have brought us Katie Morag. Inquisitive, adventurous, at times grumpy, with the female line of her family a focal point. When will everymum and everydad start to question the body policing limitations of Disney Princess, and see it as the capitalist machine it is? Disney Princess makes girlhood a sexualised stereotype where prettiness is all. The endless pink products to live in ‘princess culture’ promote obsessive grooming and self-decoration as the highest achievement, so you better wax it all off , stop eating and get that boob job if you want validation. Let’s not forget the favourite Disney princess films were made in the fifties, a frightening time of domestic curtailment for women. The power of Disney is truly awesome. Is your little darling good enough to be a princess? I say tell her she’s better than that, and get Gravity and Hunger Games on DVD (OK, start with Whip It). News of artists casting Disney princesses as porn stars isn’t shocking,  it seems like their inevitable career trajectory. I recognise that recent films Frozen and Brave depict their princesses as having agency and adventures. But they still lead girls back to the all pervasive, self-grooming pink world of princess culture. The girls still want to sit pretty and be rescued by the boys in the playground. It’s the monumental lack of alternatives that is the problem. Here’s the letter I sent to my son’s nursery school when, on a dressing-up day, it was overrun with princesses. The nursery believed in reading real stories to the children, not fairytales.

I’m writing today in regard to the fancy dress for charity days, which of course is a fantastic and fun idea. I noted that Superheroes are not allowed. I am no fan of the superhero ideal for boys as it promotes an alpha male ideology that entails fighting and weaponry. Plus there are no superheroines celebrated in the general consciousness, so it is pretty sexist. I would be interested to know why the nursery does not permit the Superhero, yet the Princess is not questioned. As we can all see, an extremely high percentage (all?) of girls have come as Princesses or very similar such as Little Red Riding Hood and Fairy. The Princess model, like the colour pink, is not a problem in itself, the problem is where it signposts girls to. The problem is that girls are given almost no other role models. While toys for girls and boys have become gendered, pink toys are largely about self-grooming and domesticity. In contrast toys marketed at boys stimulate more learning, such as building and science sets. A double page spread in the Early Learning Centre catalogue showed FIVE girls seated at mirrors. Pink of course. The princess model tells girls, and boys, that girls’ value is all tied into their appearance, and if they work hard at being pretty, then a boy will notice/rescue them and make them worthy. Storybooks about Princesses being rescued by Princes ingrain children’s understanding of what is expected of boys and girls.

The gender debate has moved on from just giving girls equal access to boys. Girls need diverse and positive role models, they need to know that the Princess narrative, like the fifties housewife, is no longer relevant, and they can be an adventurer, pirate, firefighter, astronaut too. Disney Princess is so overwhelming prevalent in the media that girls need help to see that alternatives exist. It’s worth considering the morals of a just a few Disney Princess stories. For example, Beauty and the Beast tells us that it’s acceptable to be an ugly male but not an ugly female. Cinderella tells us that a man with lots of money will make you happy, but only if you are beautiful as well as good. It’s a huge challenge as few parents are able to see the limitations and pressures they are placing on their daughters. They want them to be Princesses too and enjoy the dressing up. Most of the girls will grow up to see they are not Princesses and therefore lacking.  An APA study showed that poor body image affects girls’ academic performance and contribution as well as their mental health. While girls are increasingly told to view themselves as objects, boys learn to objectify and disrespect girls too.  Will you consider setting the girls and parents a challenge next time fancy dress day comes along?

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