My three-year-old daughter refuses to wear pants. She will only wear dresses, and they almost always have to be pink. She adores Cinderella, Beauty (what she calls “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast), and Tinkerbell. Her favorite pastime is to dress up in a tutu and dance around the living room to the sounds of Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. In other words, Cinderella Ate My Daughter.
The funny thing is, I don’t allow princess toys, clothes, or books in our home. So how did my daughter become so obsessed with fairies and princesses? Through the slow, insidious infiltration of gender socialization into our household. Here’s how it happened.
When my son was born, our bathroom and bedroom were painted green; the rest of our house was yellow. I couldn’t bear the thought of another green or yellow room, so as much as I hated the idea of pushing traditional gender roles on our children, I chose to paint our son’s bedroom blue. Fast forward, and after dressing my son head to toe in blue for two years because it was so difficult to find little boy clothes in anything BUT blue, I reluctantly painted my newborn daughter’s room pink. Purple wouldn’t have matched any of the bedding available for baby girls, and blue, green, and yellow were, well, taken.
My friend Sarah, who has so generously been lending her daughter’s clothes to my daughter for the past three years, divided her hand-me-downs into two categories—gender neutral for her nephew and pink for my daughter. Between her pink room and her pink clothes, it didn’t take long before my daughter was obsessed with pink to the point that she refused to wear any other color, or eat out of any bowl of any other color. Yeah.
Then there were the pull ups. Our preschool wouldn’t allow cloth or Seventh Generation pull ups (which are beige except for a faint Lorax printed on one side) and wasn’t happy with the Winnie-the-Pooh Pampers either because they didn’t open easily at the sides, allowing the teachers to change the kids’ pull ups without taking off their shoes and pants or tights. That left us with Huggies, the kind that open easily on the sides but which only come in two designs: Cinderella and Lightning McQueen.
Determined to keep our home Cinderella-free, I bought Lightning McQueen diapers for my daughter. She was okay with that until the day she accompanied me to Costco and saw that they also sell Cinderella diapers in her favorite color—pink. She begged. I acquiesced. When that box was depleted, I bought another box of Lightning McQueens. She begged again for Cinderella. I reluctantly gave in. Feeling guilty, I made my next purchase a big box of Seventh Generation pull ups. Now that she only needed them at night, I didn’t have to worry about preschool rules. The result? Bed soaked. Pee everywhere. Seventh Generation pull ups don’t work.
Tired of changing wet sheets and fighting with my daughter, I ordered two months’ worth of Cinderella Pull-Ups, making it clear to both of my children that I didn’t like Cinderella because Cinderella is “a silly story.” I routinely recycled any princess books that make their way into our house (except The Paper Bag Princess and The Paper Princess, which are great books) and let our babysitter know that princess merchandise was forbidden.
When my daughter turned three last fall, I knew that what she wanted more than anything in the world was a princess dress. I broke down and bought her a ballerina dress with matching fairy wings and a wand. She was in heaven. I gave up trying to get her to wear jeggings and T-shirts and bought her more dresses, so she wouldn’t have to wear the same two day after day. I even stopped arguing with her when she insisted on wearing a dress to gymnastics, stipulating only that it be a comfortable dress and that she wear leggings underneath.
We still don’t allow princess costumes or Disney products in our home, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve steered my daughter wrong, that by painting her room pink, dressing her in pink clothes, and agreeing to let her wear Cinderella Pull-Ups, I’ve set her up for a lifetime of depression, underachievement, and promiscuity. I’m only on Chapter Two of Peggy Orenstein’s book, but page 16 horrifies me:
“There is … ample evidence that the more mainstream media girls consume, the more importance they place on being pretty and sexy. And a ream of studies shows that teenage girls and college students who hold conventional beliefs about femininity—especially those that emphasize beauty and pleasing behavior—are less ambitious and more likely to be depressed than their peers. They are also less likely to report that they enjoy sex or insist that their partners use condoms.”
People tell me that my daughter will grow out of it, that all little girls go through a girlie-girl phase. I hope they’re right. In the meantime, I’m going to buy some Dora the Explorer “Easy Ups” and pay a visit to Benjamin Moore. Maybe a purple bedroom will snap her out of the spell her evil Disney stepmother has cast upon her.
What about you? Has Cinderella eaten your daughter? Have you witnessed any of the negative effects of the Disney Princess culture on any of the girls you know?