Is princess culture a bad influence on your daughter?
Most little girls like to pretend to be princesses and are obsessed with the ones they watch in Disney cartoons. But is princess culture actually a bad influence on your daughter and potentially damaging her behavioural development in the long-run?
When Alisha J., a professional musician, was once babysitting her niece and asked her to put away all her toys after she was done playing, the six year old promptly crossed her arms and replied matter of factly, “No, I’m a princess and princesses don’t have to clean up!”
Alisha blames this sassy attitude on her niece’s obsession with all things princess and how her own family indulges the young child’s fantasy by treating her like royalty and encouraging princess culture.
Even though she herself grew up watching Disney princess cartoons, playing dress-up with pretty costume jewellery and a sparkly tiara, and was also called Princess by her family when she was a child, Alisha notices that this whole princess mania might actually get out of hand for some kids.
But is it wrong that your daughter dreams of becoming a princess some day?
How exactly is this detrimental to little girls?
What can you do as a parent to make sure that your child does not develop negative traits due to princess culture?
Damaging gender stereotypes
If you want your daughter to have high aspirations for her future career and understand that there there are so many options out there that await her, such as being a doctor, an astronaut, or even the first female Prime Minister of Singapore, princess culture might be negatively influencing your child with damaging gender stereotypes in the long-run.
Anea Bogue, M.A., an acclaimed self-esteem expert, educator, certified life coach and creator of REALgirl® empowerment workshops, explains, “Princess culture encourages girls to be damsels in distress whose role it is to look good and wait for a handsome prince to swoop in, ‘save her’ and bring value to her self and her path. Unless we are going to start encouraging ‘warrior princess’ mentalities and behaviors (active, heroic in her own right, in charge of her own destiny), we are going to keep our girls stuck with the feeling that they are not really relevant and valuable in and of themselves, but only in their attachment to men.”
The negative effects of gender stereotypes on girls is that it could hold them back from participating in activities or life experiences that may be deemed as “unfeminine”, such as playing certain sports; or having an interest in science, engineering, or computer studies.
They may also grow up with the warped perception that there are different and limited opportunities available in life to women.
As innocent as wanting to be a princess may seem to be, if you have watched how such characters are portrayed in cartoons and movies, you might see that there is usually a lot of emphasis on being sexy, or behaving in a sexually suggestive manner to attract the handsome prince.
Peggy Orenstein, wrote a book titled Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, after noticing her own daughter’s sudden obsession with all things princess, and she also coined the term, KGOY: Kids Getting Older Younger.
“While girls may be physically developing at a younger age, psychological development hasn’t changed. So girls are playing with toys or wearing clothes or watching videos or otherwise partaking of a culture that is too mature or sexual for them, and they’re encouraged to sort of play-act at sexy”, she shares.
Although this may not appear to be an issue when your child is still a preschooler, as she grows older and approaches her vulnerable tween years, the yearning to be popular and fit in with the crowd may be misunderstood as having to appear sexy and display sexually suggestive behaviour, due to what she has learned from the princess culture.
Alisha recalls that when she was in her pre-teens, she felt that she had to wear a lot of makeup to attract boys and that the girls who already had boyfriends were deemed as popular:
“Back when I was about 12 years old, for a girl to have a boyfriend at that age meant that she was mature and pretty enough to get a guy’s attention — so the ones who were still single were seen as ugly and still a kid. I think we don’t realise it, but the subliminal messages we picked up from all these Disney cartoons were kind of implanted in our brains to make us think that a woman’s worth correlates to her physical appearance and ability to find a man to come swoop her away to a life of happiness”, she says.
What are the other negative effects of princess culture and should this mania be avoided altogether? Keep reading to find out!
Issues with body image
Another way that the princess culture may have a negative impact on young girls is that it may affect their self esteem and also cause body image issues.
According to Sarah M. Coyne, Family Life Professor from Brigham Young University, “Disney Princesses represent some of the first examples of exposure to the thin ideal. As women, we get it our whole lives, and it really does start at the Disney Princess level, at age three and four.”
The princesses portrayed in storybooks, cartoons and in movies are always thin and beautiful — whereas the opposite body image would often be reserved for the undesirable characters such as the ugly stepsisters in Cinderella, or the evil sea witch in The Little Mermaid.
This could potentially give young girls the impression that in order to be “perfect like a princess“, emphasis has to be given on being beautiful, fashionable and sexy, as opposed to focusing on other important attributes as well.
Should princess culture be avoided altogether?
Even though there a few cartoon princesses that are breaking out of the stereotypical self-entitled prissy or helpless damsel in distress role (such as the ones featured in Tangled, Sofia the First, and Brave), it is still a slow transformation and young girls of this generation (and the past) have already been exposed to the traditional breed of princesses.
It is also unrealistic to try and keep your daughter away from princess culture altogether, nor would it be fair if you removed all traces of it from her life entirely.
Being a princess is not necessarily a bad thing and there are many positive traits and abilities real princesses might possess, such as helping those in need, or having great academic accomplishments.
As a parent, it is important that you also point out other good attributes of your daughter’s favourite princess, such as Belle’s love of reading, or Ariel’s natural ability as a strong swimmer, or Cinderella’s kindness towards animals.
Try to encourage your daughter to explore other interests, learn about different strong female role models who possess admirable qualities — you can also let her play with other toys that challenge gender stereotypes, such as the ones created by GoldieBlox.
Remind your little girl that being a princess does not necessarily equate to having servants wait on her hand and foot, or striving to be the prettiest girl in town, or just sitting around waiting for a strong, handsome prince to save the day.
Let her strive to be the queen of her own castle and create her own happy endings.