The Princess Principle

Here’s another guest blog post, up this morning on  “The Stir” at Do you have a daughter? Is she obsessed with princesses? Read on:

Before I had a little girl in my life, I was certain about one thing: If I ever had a daughter, there would be no princess stuff in our house. No explosion of Pepto-Bismol pink. No Disneyification of everything from her toothbrush to her sippy cup.
We actually visited the Magic Kingdom just before I conceived my daughter. Walking around with my two little Toughskins boys, I rolled my eyes at the two- and three-year-old girls standing in line for the Dumbo ride in their polyester crinoline finery and senior-prom updos. First of all, it’s a little hot in Orlando for synthetic fabrics. Second of all, allowing your little girl to be all princess, all the time, seemed so anti-feminist. So unoriginal. How could these people encourage their daughters to aim for being pretty, passive, and little else? When I came home from the Magic Kingdom and discovered I was pregnant, I told myself that any daughter of mine was going to run and jump and tomboy her way through life.

Smash cut to three years later. I have a daughter who does gymnastics all day long, who easily keeps her two older brothers in line, who is the very definition of self-esteem. She also does all this in the same fuchsia polka dot leggings, purple T-shirt, and ratty hot-pink sneakers she wears every single day. If it’s not pink and/or purple, Maggie’s not wearing it. The muted French schoolgirl blouses and navy-blue dresses I bought for her last fall hang in a row in her closet, forlorn, under-worn. It is really only worth the struggle to get her to put one of them on if it’s Easter Sunday, or picture day at Gymboree. Otherwise Maggie is adamant about her early-Belinda-Carlisle look. “I love pink!” she shouts, then strikes a gymnast’s I-stuck-that-landing! pose.   

Similarly, Maggie is drawn to all things princess like a moth to a flame. For the first two years of her life, she was fairly oblivious: If she saw Snow White on a paper plate or Cinderella on a coloring book, she’d crow, “That you, Mommy!” Close family members stayed away from the princess-based gifts for her, even as her three-year-old cousin had an All-Princess Christmas. But then one night, Maggie’s doting babysitter brought her a gift: a toy cell phone. A pink cell phone. A pink princess cell phone with Cinderella on it. Maggie clutched it to her chest, madly in love. The floodgates were opened.  

We went on vacation last month, and sitting on the chaise lounge next to us, reserving the poolside spot for some other family, were a pair of Disney princess flip-flops. With genuine imitation jewels. Which looked like they had logged many miles. Maggie spotted them and gasped, like Cinderella seeing her glass slippers, like Carrie Bradshaw seeing the latest Christian Louboutins.

“Would you like to try them on?” I asked Maggie. She nodded, wordless, eyes wide. Once the flip-flops were on her feet, she turned them from side to side, admiring her feet in them from every angle. “Dem for a pretty princess,” she breathed. And in that moment, she became one. 

Maybe it was crazy to think that I could keep everything princess out of my daughter’s life. It’s a $4 billion a year industry. We would have to be living in a cave for Maggie not to see this stuff, and want it. And there is no denying that it delights her. Maggie is overdue for new sneakers, and part of me wants to go to the shoe store without her and just guesstimate her size, since if my daughter comes with me, she will no doubt pick the most bedazzled, Sleeping Beauty-covered ones in the store. But if those are the ones she chooses with her heart, why should I tell her she can only have the understated tiny Tretorns I prefer? My job as a parent is not to shape her as I would wish, it is to encourage her to be herself, to dream big, and to follow where that leads.

Last night, after I read Maggie her bedtime story, we had a little talk.

MOMMY: So, Maggie, what are you going to be when you grow up?
MAGGIE: A princess.
Just as I had suspected. I tried redirecting the witness.
MOMMY: That sounds fun, but it might be hard to make that happen. If you can’t be a princess, then what will you be?
MAGGIE: Um. A queen. 
MOMMY: Okay, a queen. Huh. That might be hard too.  What if you can’t be a queen either?
MAGGIE: Then I be a tiger.
Well, that was more like it.
 MOMMY: A tiger! Wow, that sounds exciting. Where would you live if you were a tiger?

Maggie looked at me. Wasn’t it obvious?
 MAGGIE: In da castle with da queen and da princess.
My daughter has her future well-planned, and who am I to tell her differently? Princesses know what they want.

And now, a plug for When Did I Get Like This?, still in its first week of bookstore life. Find out more (and read the first chapter) here. Get news updates on Facebook here. Follow me on Twitter @amywlsn. And if you like it, spread the word! Thanks.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Erica B. April 23, 2010 at 1:39 am

Hi Amy! It's so good to get to hear a bit more about your and your kids' lives. I hope you are all doing well! I'm teaching Montessori now and I saw this post about princesses ( on a Montessori blog. It's an interesting idea… The author discusses the way she turned the princess obsession into a more valuable lesson by focusing on the lives and work of real-life princesses. It seems like a good way to learn a bit about other cultures and philanthropy.

Congratulations on your book! I can't wait to read it.


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